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St. Pete Beach 2008 referendum suit responses get testy

ST. PETE BEACH — Legal briefs are usually filled with lengthy arguments and arcane references to previous court rulings.

That was certainly not the case in the latest round of court filings involving lawsuit-prone St. Pete Beach.

These briefs were liberally sprinkled with phrases such as "stunningly wrong-headed argument," "pedagogical death spiral," "confused," "misleading" and "fatal flaws."

There was dull stuff, too, but there were enough zingers to widen eyes and hook interest.

The argument was over a motion filed in the 2nd District Court of Appeal last month by Ken Weiss for client William Pyle.

Pyle is seeking monetary sanctions against the city, the political action group Save Our Little Village and their attorneys, alleging they misled the court in earlier hearings and legal filings.

Those attorneys know Weiss well.

And judging from the often blunt language of their briefs, they don't like him very much.

At one point the city attorneys likened Weiss' filings to a case described in a 1979 court ruling as "a vehicle for the expression of venomous ill will toward opposing counsel."

Weiss has filed at least four other motions in related cases seeking sanctions against the city and its counsel, according to Suzanne Van Wyk, one of the city's attorneys.

She said he also has filed more than 10 primary legal actions for several clients against the city, and is co-counsel on several others.

Most of the lawsuits relate to a 2008 comprehensive plan referendum.

The main issue before the appeals court is whether the ballot language for the 2008 referendum changing the city's comprehensive plan should have included reference to changes in building heights.

Last year, Circuit Judge David Demers ruled that the referendum vote was effectively invalid because the ballot language "misled voters" when it did not state that some building height limits would be changed.

Weiss alleges city attorneys "intentionally misrepresented a crucial fact" to both the circuit court and the appeals court when they argued the city's comprehensive plan is not a land development regulation and therefore did not fall under the charter requirement then for a citywide vote on building height.

As proof in his request for sanctions, Weiss cited transcripts of a closed-door City Commission meeting last May with its attorneys and City Manager Mike Bonfield.

Weiss "badly misunderstands the facts or the city's arguments or both," the city's attorneys argued in their response to Weiss' motion seeking sanctions.

SOLV's attorney, Robert Lincoln, was equally blunt in his response.

"Pyle is legally and factually wrong and has established out no valid legal or factual basis for sanctioning (the city or SOLV)," Lincoln wrote.

Of course, Weiss didn't agree and in a reply to the city's and SOLV's responses, he said they "continue their misleading arguments" and "dispute even the words they say and the words they wrote."

Weiss repeated his request for sanctions against the city and SOLV.

Van Wyk said Monday Weiss' response to the responses from the city and SOLV was improper under court rules and should be ignored by the court.

She confirmed her law firm, Bryant Miller Olive, is billing the city for the time spent defending against Weiss' sanction motions.

"We are trying to hold down the city's legal costs, but it is difficult with so many legal actions filed against the city," she said.

The firm's latest bill to the city for legal services through the end of April included more than $23,000 in litigation costs not covered by the $5,000 monthly retainer.

More than $16,000 of those litigation costs involved lawsuits filed by Weiss for his clients.

As for Weiss' sanctions motion, it is not known if a hearing will be scheduled or when the court will rule.

St. Pete Beach 2008 referendum suit responses get testy 06/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 12:44pm]
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