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  1. Florida Politics

Madeira Beach commissioners fighting recall get first court win

MADEIRA BEACH — Two commissioners facing possible recall won the first and possibly final round this week in their battle to keep their seats on the commission.

Late Wednesday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge George Jirotka granted a temporary injunction blocking a scheduled April 17 recall election.

Attorneys for the parties could not be reached for comment after the decision was handed down.

It was not clear what, if any, further legal action might be taken. The judge did not grant a summary judgment or dismiss the case, as also had been requested by the commissioners' attorney.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Four candidates qualify for seats that may be vacated by Madeira Beach recall

City Attorney Ralf Brookes, independently representing Commissioners John Douthirt and Nancy Oakley, argued during a hearing Tuesday that allowing the election to go forward would "irreparably harm" the two commissioners and leave them no remedy in court if they were to be recalled.

In his ruling, the judge agreed, stating the commissioners "established a substantial likelihood of success" in their effort to halt the recall election.

"The grounds for recall set forth in the recall petition are legally insufficient to allege malfeasance a required by the recall statute," Jirotka wrote in the temporary injunction order.

The order also requires the commissioners to post a $2,000 bond to cover the costs of mailing over 1,200 mail-in ballot sent to city voters earlier this week.

The ruling does not cancel the recall election. Rather, it temporarily puts it on hold.

During Tuesday's hearing, Assistant Pinellas County Attorney Kelly Vicari said all returned ballots will be secured by the Supervisor of Elections until the court battle over the recall is finally resolved.

The ruling did not address whether or not voters should cast their ballots anyway, in the event the recall election is eventually rescheduled.

At issue is whether or not the two commissioners committed malfeasance, one of several grounds for recall established by state law.

Recall petitions circulated in the city earlier this year and signed by over 600 voters alleged the two commissioners violated the city charter by voting to appoint a budget director at a time the city had no city manager.

Timothy Driscoll, attorney for the recall petition committee, argued the charter does not allow the commission to hire any city employee other than positions directly allowed in the charter.

Brookes countered that the charter has no explicit prohibition against the commission hiring a budget director and therefore the ground for recall did not meet recall election legal requirements.