Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former Madeira Beach commissioner waits for city to pay legal fees

Art Thomas is owed legal fees by the city after being sued in 2006.

Art Thomas is owed legal fees by the city after being sued in 2006.

MADEIRA BEACH — Former Commissioner Art Thomas is waiting for the city to reimburse more than $37,000 in legal fees he paid to defend himself against a defamation lawsuit.

That lawsuit was filed against Thomas in 2006 by 11 residents, including the current mayor, Pat Shontz.

Thomas' 2-year legal battle ended in August when the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that a lower trial court acted properly in dismissing the case against Thomas.

Now he wants the city to pay his legal bills — something until now the city has refused to do.

"I am upset. They (the City Commission) violated my rights and now they want me to wait? They are playing games. They should have paid my legal bills from the beginning," Thomas said Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, City Attorney Michael Connolly told the commission they are obligated to pay Thomas' legal fees, but did not ask for formal action.

Connolly said he was waiting for copies of Thomas' lawyer's invoices before bringing the matter back to the commission, probably in December.

"I made very clear (in 2006) that I felt the commissioner (Thomas) had absolute immunity and the city had an obligation to provide a defense," the city attorney reminded the commission earlier this month.

The attorney said the city could pay the amount outright, ask its insurance company to cover Thomas' fees, or ask Thomas to allow the city to sue the 11 residents to recover the legal costs.

"How do we deal with the mayor on this?" asked Commissioner Steve Kochick.

"What do you mean?" responded Connolly.

Kochick then explained that Shontz and her husband were among the residents who sued Thomas. Shontz was not mayor at the time.

"I didn't know that. That would definitely be a conflict," Connolly said.

Thomas said Tuesday he is angry over the delay in the city meeting its obligation to him.

For two years, Thomas has paid his legal bills out of his own pocket after the then-commission refused to pay for his defense.

The residents who sued Thomas in 2006 claimed he had defamed them in a letter that was published in a local newspaper and on the Internet. He called the residents a "small radical group" who used "threats or pressure to make me come around to their way of thinking."

At the time, Thomas was responding to an earlier letter published by the same newspaper. That letter, written by former planning board member Kevin Connolly, accused Thomas of being "disinterested in the feelings of citizens."

Kevin Connolly (no relation to the city attorney) called Thomas a "wolf" who had "removed his sheep's clothing".

Thomas subsequently was sued by Kevin Connolly, Pat and George Shontz, Robert Show, Karen Martin, Steve Truels, Len Piotti, Art and Carol Broaderick, George Gonzalez and Marilyn Maginley.

The group claimed Thomas' action was "willful, intentional and malicious," accused them of committing a felony by allegedly threatening a public official, and damaged their reputations by holding them up to "public scorn, hatred and ridicule".

The individual lawsuits, which each sought more than $15,000 in punitive damages, were later combined and heard by Circuit Court Judge Frank Quesada.

A year later, Quesada ruled that, in writing the letter to the newspaper, Thomas had acted within his rights as an elected official and that Thomas had absolute immunity from lawsuits under both state law and Florida Supreme Court rulings.

The group then unsuccessfully appealed that decision.

Former Madeira Beach commissioner waits for city to pay legal fees 10/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. St. Petersburg's ballooning sewage debt could threaten credit rating (but there's a Hail Mary plan to avoid that)

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city needs a lot of money — $435 million over the next five years — most of it to fix its leaky sewer pipes and aging sewer plants.

    In September 2016, signs at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park warned people to stay out of the water due to contamination from sewage released by the city's overwhelmed sewer system. The City Council on Thursday learned that the very expensive fix for its sewage woes could hamper the city's credit rating. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. Pinellas County receives $30 million for beach renourishment

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– While Pinellas beaches continually rank among the best in America, they need help to stay that way.

    The Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $30 million to help with beach renourishment at several Pinellas locations, including including Sand Key, Treasure Island and Upham Beach. This photo from 2014 shows how waves from high tides caused beach erosion at Sunset Beach near Mansions by the Sea condominium complex SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

  3. Straz Center parking squeeze infuriates patrons, motivates search for solutions

    Transportation

    TAMPA — When the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts opened 30 years ago, it welcomed just 30,000 patrons its first year.

    Fireworks shoot into the sky over the David A. Straz Jr. Center For The Performing Arts. [SCOTT MCINTYRE, Times]
  4. Video shows naked man who stole swan sculpture in Lakeland, deputies say

    Crime

    The Polk County Sheriff's Office is searching for a large swan sculpture that was stolen from a Lakeland cold storage facility last weekend, possibly by a naked man.

    The Polk County Sheriff's Office says this naked man stole a large black and white swan sculpture, upper right, from a Lakeland storage facility last weekend. Surveillance video showed the man walking into Lakeland Cold Storage. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Fennelly: Dirk Koetter's apology no way to keep this fidget spinning

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It all began with a fidget spinner.

    This tweet from the Bucs, mocking the Falcons' 28-3 lead they lost in the Super Bowl against the Falcons, prompted a public apology from head coach Dirk Koetter, who called it "unprofessional and not smart."