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Attorneys' fees bleed St. Pete Beach coffers

ST. PETE BEACH — Sunshine Law violations have now cost the city more than $1.2 million, an amount that could have paid almost one-third the cost of a new library.

That amount includes the $606,000 the city already paid to its former law firm, Bryant Miller Olive, for its services in two Sunshine Law-related cases, a $125,000 settlement for opposing attorneys' fees in one of those cases, and now an additional $496,000 settlement for fees in a case relating to the long disputed city comprehensive plan.

The latter amount was approved unanimously by the commission Tuesday and will be paid out over three years to attorneys Ken Weiss and Tim Weber for their time and expenses while representing resident Jim Anderson, who had sued the city over development rules.

The Florida Sunshine Law requires all meetings and documents to be available to the public with narrow exceptions.

When the law is violated, state law requires that the losing party, in this case the city, pay the suing attorneys for their time and expenses, plus interest and fines.

"This case should never have been necessary," Weiss said Wednesday.

Weiss said part of the money will be used to establish a Hanna and Douglas Weiss Open Government Fellowship Grant at the University of Florida law school.

At issue in the Anderson case were the actions and discussions of the commission during those closed meetings with their attorneys.

Next month, the city is expected to discuss trying to get some of that money back by suing Bryant Miller Olive for malpractice.

BMO's attorney, Benjamin Hill, said Wednesday that he welcomed the opportunity to "explain our side of the issue."

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