BB again offers settlement in Sunshine lawsuit, citizens decline

The case of Bradenton Beach ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and the city versus six former board members is headed to trial mid-July.

But the city is looking to settle.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

Defendant John Metz, a former planning and zoning board member, and the only defendant who has an attorney, filed four motions heard May 3 by Judge Edward Nicholas of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

The motions were to compel completion of a deposition by city attorney Ricinda Perry to disqualify her as co-counsel in the lawsuit, to compel answers to interrogatories and for award of attorneys’ fees, as well as a motion for production of documents from the city.

“Mr. Metz filed four motions, all of which were denied. It is significant, we think, that the judge made a finding that at least two of the motions were not ‘well-taken and not even a close call,’” Michael Barfield, paralegal for Clarke and the city in the lawsuit, said May 4. “That determination by the judge has a legal consequence that Mr. Metz, as an attorney, certainly knows about.”

But Metz disagrees. He said that initially the plaintiffs denied more deposition time with Perry. Without the motion, the plaintiffs would not have granted the continuation of Perry’s deposition.

“The city only offered the additional three hours because we filed the motion,” Metz said. “So we did not lose everything. We achieved something; it was just a little harder than it should have been. What they are doing is stonewalling until after the work has been done and the money has been paid.”

Metz added that “none of this matters” when the case gets to trial.

“This is going to look totally different when it gets to trial,” Metz said.

Both sides have attempted to settle.

In March, the city made an offer that would have required the defendants — Metz, Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent — to each pay fines of $500 and admit they violated the Sunshine Law during meetings of the grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, of which the defendants were members while also serving on volunteer city boards.

The defendants responded with an “offer to compromise,” to donate $10,000 to the Annie Silver Community Center and exclude any admission of guilt and the $500 per-person fine.

The offer was declined by the city.

Then, in April, the city came back with another offer — this time, the case would be closed without an admission of guilt from the defendants — if they pay the court costs incurred by taxpayers totaling more than $200,000 as of May 10.

“I can tell you that the combined attorneys’ fees for the defendants is in the same magnitude as the city,” Metz said. “So, you’re talking about six retired people, who just to maintain their innocence, have had to put out a significant amount of money. And, when this goes to trial, the costs will vastly increase.”

In light of rising costs for both sides, the city has encouraged the defendants to reconsider previous settlement offers.

According to Perry, both offers still stand, even though the city previously gave the defendants deadlines — since expired — to respond.

“By my calculation, Mr. Metz’s actions (May 3) wasted approximately $15,000 of attorney time and taxpayer funds, and three hours of court time in his ongoing feud to attack the city attorney and avoid responsibility for his actions,” Barfield said. “Notwithstanding, the city continues to urge the defendants to give due consideration to the favorable settlement offers made in this case.”

As of May 8, the defendants, who met privately to arrive at a collective decision, did not intend to accept either settlement agreement.

“When you change your offer from $500 to $200,000, now we know what it’s really about,” Metz said. “If they lose, they will also have to pay our attorney’s fees.

They stand to be out a great deal of money in this case. And we still have a long ways to go.”

Depositions canceled

Another one bites the dust.

The discovery in a lawsuit filed August 2017 by Bradenton Beach ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and the city of Bradenton Beach against six former city board members has involved multiple depositions, with more to come before a mid-July trial.

Defendant Rose Vincent and witness Michael Bazzy’s depositions, set for May 8, were canceled May 6 by the plaintiffs — the city and Clarke — apparently due to health issues.

This was the fourth consecutive cancelation by the plaintiffs of Rose Vincent’s deposition.

Defendant Tjet Martin, a former member of Scenic Waves, said she is frustrated with the plaintiff’s repeated cancellations. “They have accused us of slowing this down, but they have been the ones canceling,” Martin said May 8.

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