Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Lawsuit to save St. Petersburg Pier in the hands of judge

ST. PETERSBURG — The lawsuit filed by a former City Council member to save the Pier is now in the hands of a judge.

After listening to arguments for three hours Wednesday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day told former council member Kathleen Ford and city lawyers that he will soon rule on the case.

Day didn't give a time frame for the ruling, but he called the case "a mildly complex situation."

At the start of the hearing, Day told Ford and Joe Patner, the city's head litigator, that he didn't want to hear St. Petersburg politics or policy in the arguments.

"That's not the court's role," he said.

The controversy surrounds a petition drive organized to give residents a vote on the fate of the city's current Pier. The City Council rejected the effort after a group amassed more than 20,000 signatures.

Day could rule for either side or decide to send the case to trial.

The petition dominated much of the hearing.

Patner argued that the petition contained too many ambiguities such as "preserve and refurbish the existing iconic landmark" and that the group wanted the city to make the petition legal.

But Day wondered if the 20,000 petitioners are now being ignored, adding: "That's problematic."

Patner agreed: "It's a shame they weren't presented with a legal, valid petition."

"We think the petition speaks for itself," Ford countered.

Day replied: "It appears to not have professional expertise going into it."

The hearing at times had the feeling of a professor holding court with two students around a coffee table. Several times Day asked the lawyers to stop talking while he read case law or searched for files on his computer and desk.

Day also interrupted both lawyers to encourage them to catch their breath. He even jokingly asked whether St. Petersburg had a mechanism to impeach Mayor Bill Foster. Patner declined to answer the question since his response would be on the evening news.

Ford and Patner also debated the intent of the City Charter.

Ford contends that the charter requires a voter referendum to demolish waterfront property such as the Pier.

Patner argued that the city is simply replacing the structure, not selling or transferring rights to another party.

Ford and five other residents filed the lawsuit in August for the referendum. It also asks for a temporary injunction to halt the Pier's demolition. The Pier is scheduled to close May 31, with demolition to start in late summer.

Patner and Ford both declined to comment after the hearing.

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