TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for a Lakeland firefighter have asked the Florida Supreme Court to step into yet another decision made by the 1st District Court of Appeal in a case heard while the appeals court was building a controversial $50 million courthouse.
Firefighter David Bivens and the city of Lakeland had appealed a lower court decision in 2008. The 1st District Court, in a decision written by Judge Paul Hawkes, refused to approve workers compensation medical benefits for Bivens.
Lakeland was represented by Dennis Ross, a Lakeland lawyer who was a member of the state House of Representatives at the time. Ross has since been elected to the U.S. House.
Ross is the connection between the Bivens case and the much-criticized "Taj Mahal" courthouse.
The appeals court judges named Ross as one of several "heroes" who greatly assisted the court in its lobbying efforts, in part because of his help in getting money for the new courthouse.
Geoffrey Bichler, the Maitland lawyer representing Bivens, contends that the court ignored evidence presented in the case and should have disclosed the relationship between the judges and Ross.
In a petition filed with the Supreme Court last month, Bichler asked that the court overturn the 1st District Court and assign the case to appellate judges from another district.
On Wednesday, the court designated the appeal as one of significant public interest and posted all pleadings on the court's website.
A similar appeal was filed last year on behalf of property owners in St. Joe who say the appeals court failed to disclose relationships between the judges and the St. Joe Co. when it overturned a class action approved by a Gulf County judge.
The Supreme Court rejected that appeal.