ST. PETE BEACH — Lawsuits that have cost the city nearly a million dollars and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars more could be thrown out of court if the city's attorneys have their way.
"We are telling the court we believe the case is moot and should no longer proceed," City Attorney Mike Davis told city commissioners Tuesday.
The case Davis referenced was won in Circuit Court by William Pyle, who challenged the ballot language of the 2008 comprehensive plan referendum. It is now "irrelevant," Davis said.
Earlier this year, the city appealed that ruling to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. City attorneys are now asking the court to dismiss that appeal.
During the appeals process, the commission began a parallel strategy that included successful lobbying for a new state law and subsequent unanimous approval of a new comprehensive plan ordinance.
Based on the plan approval in June, Davis argues that the lower court ruling on the 2008 ordinance is "moot" and therefore unnecessary to appeal.
The issue at trial was whether ballot summaries in that election met state requirements. Circuit Judge David Demers ruled that they did not.
In his motion, Davis said the "controversy has ceased to exist" as voters gave up their charter right in March to approve comprehensive plan amendments, as well as a new state law that now prohibits such referendums.
"There is no need to redraft the ballot language and conduct a new election," Davis and Suzanne Van Wyk, another city attorney, wrote in their motion.
They also argued that, in any case, the 2008 ordinance is now "superseded" by a new comprehensive plan ordinance the commission approved this month.
Davis said challenges to the city's comprehensive plan resulted in a "state of instability" and "successfully stalled" the city's development.
"The city needs to move forward … and must have clear and unequivocal regulations in place to guide the redevelopment anticipated with the recovery of the real estate market," he added.
He told the court the city is in the process of adopting land development regulations that would implement the new comprehensive plan.
Tim Weber, who is representing Pyle during the city's appeal, apparently won't contest the city's appellate court motion.
"We won the case and we have a judgment. Now they are moving to dismiss their own appeal? If they want to let the judgment become final, I don't have any objection," Weber said.
Davis told the commission he plans to file similar motions in other development-related cases against the city. Some are at the appellate level, others are inactive.
Davis said he plans to attach to those motions an analysis of all the legal filings and correspondence generated by attorney Ken Weiss for his clients.
Weiss represented Pyle in the original case, as well as in other development-related cases filed by residents Bruce Kadoura and Jim Anderson.
Davis said his analysis shows "why this enormous amount of money" had to be spent by the city and why the city increased the property tax rate by 0.107 mills in 2009 to pay rising legal fees.
Weiss sued the city 14 times in Circuit Court, Davis said, and also filed appeals of cases he lost.
He said 522 docket entries in both circuit and appellate cases were made in Weiss' cases, including 75 motions requiring a response from the city's attorneys. The commission discussed the Weiss lawsuits in public meetings "at least 66 times" between January 2006 and June 2010, Davis said.
In addition, Weiss sent 1,323 e-mails to the city's attorneys during a 14-month period ending in March, including 598 e-mails to Davis.
"If the city is upset with their legal fees," Weiss said, "they have only to look at their own actions that prompted these lawsuits."