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Oldsmar road dispute to get its day in court — again

OLDSMAR — Two Pinellas Circuit judges have heard the case.

So have three appellate ones.

Now a road dispute that began more than five years ago and cost both sides hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees is headed back to the lower court.

That was the order of a federal judge — the sixth person to hear the case of James and Betty Pasco vs. the city of Oldsmar.

"My clients and I are very pleased that (U.S. District) Judge (Susan C.) Bucklew denied the city's motion, and we look forward to our day in court," said Bryan Kutchins, the onetime city attorney who represents the Pascos in the road dispute.

They sued Oldsmar in December 2004 for paving across their front yard. The city had long maintained that it had a legal right to do so. It didn't acknowledge until the mid 2000s that it had no right.

Eight months after the couple filed suit, Oldsmar tried to settle: $250 for James Pasco, $250 for Betty Pasco. They turned down the offer and eventually lost because of a technicality. Florida law deems a road public if it has been maintained or repaired continuously and uninterruptedly for four years.

Asked if Oldsmar had maintained the road since it was constructed, James and Betty Pasco, through their attorney, said yes. They didn't clarify until later that, according to their recollection, the city had swept the street only once, in 1999, and cleaned out a drain once in 2003.

A 2nd District Court of Appeal judge reversed the lower court's ruling in 2007.

The city tried to settle again, this time for $9,000. Betty Pasco walked out of negotiations, but her husband and their attorney stayed behind. They initially agreed to the terms of the settlement, then rescinded because Betty Pasco was not present.

City Manager Bruce Haddock said "the Pascos double-crossed" Oldsmar.

"When the lawsuit is over and everything is gone," Betty Pasco said, "we're left with nothing if we don't get something to help us."

The Pascos and the city entered another round of mediation. In 2009, both sides reached an impasse and a judge ordered the case back to trial in Circuit Court in early 2010.

Then last month, Oldsmar requested the case be moved from the state level to the federal level.

Kutchins said it was "incredulous that a municipality would go to such an extreme cost and length to deny these people their day in court."

"Nobody understands why a municipality would go through such an extreme defense on such a clear-cut case of wrongdoing. The guy opens the door and there's the road. It's been proven for years that (the city doesn't) have a road easement. It's just egregious conduct by the city against their own taxpaying citizens."

He called the move a stalling tactic and filed his own motion asking that the case be sent back to the lower level. Jay Daigneault, who represents Oldsmar in the Pasco case, said in court documents that Kutchins' accusation was "false and unfounded."

Bucklew, the federal judge, sided with the Pascos last week, but denied their request for attorney fees.

On Thursday, Kutchins said "Bucklew recognized that there was no legal basis for what (the city) had done" and that he would "file an immediate request to set the matter for trial."

Daigneault, who was at a conference in Chicago, could not be reached for comment.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Oldsmar road dispute to get its day in court — again 04/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:06pm]
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