City delays depositions in Bradenton Beach sunshine suit

It looks like the tables have turned.

A lawsuit filed in August 2017 by the city of Bradenton Beach alleging six former board members violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law is being met with frustration from the defendants, the same former volunteers previously accused by city officials of delaying depositions, failing to provide documents and prolonging the suit.

The city now has claimed scheduling delays as the defendants attempt to set depositions for city planner Alan Garrett, city clerk Terri Sanclemente, city attorney Ricinda Perry and ex-mayor Jack Clarke.

Clarke initiated the suit that was joined by the city.

At past city commission meetings, Mayor John Chappie and Perry accused the defendants of deliberately dragging the matter out but recent scheduling snafus look like a turnabout.

The defendants are Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent.

The suit alleges violations of the Sunshine Law with regard to unnoticed meetings and emails of a grass-roots organization, Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, between the members, some of whom served on city boards.

A deposition scheduled for Jan. 4 for Garrett was canceled the day prior due to scheduling mix-ups by Michael Barfield, the paralegal for attorney Robert Watrous, who is representing Clarke and the city, according to Barfield Jan. 4 during an interview with The Islander.

Perry’s deposition, originally planned for Dec. 17, 2018, has been postponed for medical reasons until mid-February.

Unless another cancellation occurs, Clarke was to be deposed Jan. 7, as The Islander went to press, and Sanclemente was to be deposed Jan. 9.

All but two of the pretrial interrogatories of the defendants have been conducted by Watrous and thousands of pages of documents have been submitted by the former city board members.

Defendant Mapes was deposed May 30, 2018, Martin June 1 and Shay June 5. CNOBB founder Bill Vincent was deposed Dec. 12.

Metz and Rose Vincent are yet to be deposed.

Commissioner Randy White — not a defendant, but a supporter of CNOBB — was deposed Nov. 14 allegedly for communication with defendants before and after his election in November 2017.

In an August 2018 email from Watrous to the Vincents, who had a vacation planned months in advance of the deposition scheduled by Watrous, the lawyer wrote, “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.”

In an interview Jan. 3, Martin said the city has the burden of proof as the plaintiff, but the defendants also have the right to conduct their own discovery.

Martin said Chappie and Perry have publicly stated the defendants should admit guilt and settle.

“Has it ever occurred to them that we have done nothing wrong?” Martin said. “I can’t live my life under this suit that the city has brought against us with no evidence.”

Except for Metz, represented by attorney Thomas Shults, the defendants are not represented by attorneys, citing increasing legal expenses as the case crawls along.

When the investigation for the lawsuit was approved by the city in 2017, the commission voted to execute a contract with Watrous and Barfield, not to exceed $5,000.

Since that vote, the lawsuit has cost the city more than $110,000.

At a case management conference Dec. 3, Judge Lon Arend of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court ordered a nonjury trial the week of March 18.

Judge Edward Nicholas is assigned to the case going forward in 2019.

Additionally, a hearing for a motion of partial summary judgment for legal fees is planned for Jan. 31 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

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