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St. Pete Beach faces tidal wave of legal bills

ST. PETE BEACH — Since 2004, the city has spent more than $320,000 on legal bills — with more than half of that defending against development-related lawsuits.

Those legal bills don't include monthly retainers for "normal" legal services such as attending meetings, writing ordinances, and advising city officials and departments.

In just the past four months, the city's legal bills for both regular and extralegal services totaled more than $136,000.

If legal expenses continue at that rate, by the end of the year the city's annual legal fees could exceed the amount spent in the past four years.

Commissioner Linda Chaney has railed against growing legal bills for months. She will try again Tuesday.

"I am surprised by the magnitude of our legal expenses. It's clear we cannot afford these kind of costs," she said Thursday. "I intend to ask again for the commission's support to take direct control."

The city pays its attorney, Michael Davis, a $5,000 monthly retainer. However, anything unrelated to regular work is billed separately by his firm, Bryant Miller Olive.

For example, in November the legal fees not related to lawsuits totaled $5,436, but the bill for litigation costs relating to eight different lawsuits totaled $32,613.

The litigation portion of bills for October, September and August were $45,406, $13,535, and $23,009, respectively.

Most of these bills involved a variety of lawsuits filed by Bill Pyle and others who are contesting the legality of the recent referendum election that put new development rules proposed by the political action group Save Our Little Village into effect.

Pyle was a major financial supporter of a different political action group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, which opposed SOLV's changes to the city's land use plan.

So far, the city has spent more than $78,000 defending against Pyle's lawsuits and $33,494 to defend against similar lawsuits filed by Bruce Kadoura and others.

Previously, the city spent about $49,000 in legal actions related to a successful referendum sponsored by CRG calling for citizen control over major changes to development regulations.

Chaney wants the city to allow SOLV to take a major role — and financial responsibility — in defending against the lawsuits relating to the SOLV development regulations.

Until now, only Vice Mayor Harry Metz supported her efforts to reduce legal bills.

Chaney and Metz supported the CRG referendum, while other members of the commission, including Mayor Michael Finnerty, supported SOLV.

At one point the commission hoped negotiations between SOLV and CRG could reduce the amount of money the city would have to spend to defend against the lawsuits.

Those negotiations failed.

St. Pete Beach faces tidal wave of legal bills 12/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 6:34pm]
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