TREASURE ISLAND — The judge handling a lawsuit over Caddy's parking lots withdrew from the case last week amid charges from city attorneys that he was biased in favor of Sunset Beach residents.
Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino recused himself from the case last Wednesday by granting a motion from the city that he disqualify himself.
In an order issued several weeks ago, Judge Rondolino "commanded" the city to immediately enforce its parking regulations.
The effect of the ruling appeared to force the city to shut down several remote parking lots owned and used by the popular beach bar and restaurant.
Previously, the city has not been enforcing those rules, pending a review of codes applying to off-site commercial parking lots.
Caddy's often attracts thousands of weekend and holiday beachgoers, some of whom irritate and anger Sunset Beach residents with their unruly and disruptive behavior.
For more than a year, residents complained of heavy traffic, blocked streets and driveways, drunkenness and obnoxious behavior — including beachgoers urinating in residential yards and conducting sexual trysts among the beach dunes.
Then they filed a lawsuit last year against Caddy's, the city, the city manager and the city's code enforcement officer. Caddy's was later dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Last month, the residents' attorneys filed a motion calling for the court to compel the city to enforce its parking rules.
Judge Rondolino met privately with attorneys representing the residents and then accepted their motion to issue a writ of mandamus, ordering the city to apply its parking regulations to Caddy's lots.
City Attorney Maura Kiefer protested the judge's actions during an emergency hearing last week.
Following the hearing, Judge Rondolino issued a modified writ allowing the city to delay complying with the order until it could argue why the writ should not be made permanent.
Despite that softening of the ruling, the next day the city's special counsel in the case, Orlando attorney Michael Roper, filed a motion calling for Judge Rondolino to disqualify himself.
Roper said Rondolino and the residents' attorneys erred in conducting private meetings without informing the city or its attorneys. That action, Roper said, "tainted" the case "with the perception of bias and unfair partiality."
As a result, he said, the city has "great concern that they cannot receive a fair and impartial trial due to such bias and partiality."
Rondolino's withdrawal from the case means that a new judge will be randomly assigned to take over the case. It was not known Tuesday whether a scheduled hearing on Judge Rondolino's previous writ would still be held Sept. 16.