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St. Pete council member wants more updates on legal cases

ST. PETERSBURG — After learning about the plight of an injured firefighter in the Tampa Bay Times, one council member wants more information from city lawyers about legal cases.

Council member Charlie Gerdes wants city lawyers to provide monthly updates on significant lawsuits against St. Petersburg and taxpayers. He added the request to Thursday's City Council agenda.

The request comes after Gerdes and his colleagues recently learned that a state appeals court sided with injured firefighter Bardley Westphal, a 29-year veteran, in a battle about disability benefits.

"I didn't know anything about it," Gerdes said Wednesday. "I had no idea this thing was going on."

As a result of the case, the 1st District Court of Appeal struck down a law that placed a two-year limit on temporary disability benefits. The court declared part of Florida's workers' compensation insurance system unconstitutional.

City Attorney John Wolfe said he didn't intentionally keep information from the City Council and acknowledged the oversight. He frequently updates the eight members on legal cases during meetings.

"We apparently missed on this one," Wolfe said. "We didn't get them the information. We didn't expect the court to declare the law unconstitutional."

At last week's council meeting, Wolfe provided the eight members with information on more than 600 legal cases being handled by his staffers. Of those, 451 deal with garnishments, demolitions, code violations and other issues. An additional 162 involve workers' compensation cases, personal injuries and other lawsuits against the city.

Wolfe said he will discuss Gerdes' request and provide the information requested by the council members.

City attorneys, council member Leslie Curran said, have done a good job updating the group on lawsuits. She supports receiving more information.

"I think an update is good to see what is going on," she said.

With the city appealing Westphal's case, Wolfe will update the council behind closed doors Thursday.

Westphal suffered a catastrophic back injury on a routine call. His 2009 injury led to three surgeries, a left leg that is partly paralyzed, a brace, a cane and constant pain. He attended last week's meeting with his attorney, family members and other firefighters.

He expected to hear Wolfe update the council on the case. But the lawyer pulled the item from the agenda after some information didn't arrive in time for the update.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Pete council member wants more updates on legal cases 03/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 9:32pm]
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