A lawsuit with a weighty discovery process is leading to conflicts.
And not just for scheduling.
About half the pretrial interrogatories have been conducted and voluminous documents collected in a lawsuit filed in August 2017 by Bradenton Beach ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and the city of Bradenton Beach against six former city board members. The suit alleges violations of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.
The suit claims some members of the planning and zoning board and the Scenic WAVES Partnership Committee violated the law by discussing city matters at meetings and in emails without proper notice to the public.
A notice filed Aug. 10 with the Manatee County Clerk of Court by the city’s attorney Robert Watrous states, “This action is at issue and ready to be set for trial. It is estimated that five days will be required for a non-jury trial of this action.”
Thomas Shults, attorney for two of the six defendants, former planning and zoning board members Reed Mapes and John Metz, filed a motion Aug. 15 to strike Watrous’ notice.
Watrous apparently countered Aug. 16 with a notice filed for an Oct. 2 hearing for a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed Oct. 3, 2017, by all defendants except Metz.
Mapes was deposed by Watrous May 30, while Tjet Martin, one of the accused and former Scenic Waves Partnership Committee chair, was deposed June 1. Former P&Z member Patty Shay, also a defendant, was deposed June 5.
Watrous canceled depositions that were scheduled earlier in the year, according to Martin.
Other defendants — Metz and former P&Z member Bill Vincent and Vincent’s wife, Waves member Rose Vincent — are yet to be scheduled and deposed.
Martin, Shay and the Vincents have dropped their attorney and are representing themselves.
Commissioner Randy White — not a defendant — is to be deposed, allegedly for communication with the defendants before and after his election in November 2017.
White received his summons Aug. 1 for an Aug. 15 deposition but had to reschedule to Sept. 18 due to a conflict.
The Vincents originally were scheduled for a June 4 deposition, but Watrous canceled due to requirements for Bill Vincent, who is legally blind.
Bill Vincent wrote in an Aug. 13 email that he and wife Rose would be on vacation for part of September.
“As a pro se defendant (you) have to make yourself reasonably available for court proceedings and depositions,” Watrous wrote in an Aug. 13 response to the Vincents.
He added, “You do not have the automatic right to declare lengthy vacations on a last-minute basis. Indeed this appears to be a delay tactic on your part.”
Upon reading Watrous’ email, Martin wrote an email to Watrous, saying she also will be unavailable some dates September. She wrote, “Excuse me, for you to accuse any of us of delaying these procedures is beyond the pale. You, sir, have canceled depositions twice. You have had a year for discovery.”
She added the defendants without lawyers should be given the same consideration when determining deposition dates as the defendants who retain attorneys.
As for Watrous’ Aug. 10 notice calling the action to trial, Metz said, “That’s like a comedy. We still have a lot of depositions to take.”
Metz said his legal team also must schedule depositions.
He said Clarke, city attorney Ricinda Perry and the plaintiff’s paralegal, Michael Barfield, have yet to be deposed by his and Mapes’ attorney.
Martin and Metz are city commission candidates for the Nov. 6 election. They are running against incumbent Commissioners Marilyn Maro and Ralph Cole.
Metz said there is a “bad faith element” in the case and Perry could have presented other options to the city commissioners that did not involve suing the six people.
“This is clearly a political case against the volunteer board members, because we did not always agree with the people in charge,” Metz said.
He added, “This won’t go to trial until probably 2020.”
As of Aug. 15, a court date had not been set.