The city of Tampa plans to pay $950,000 to settle a lawsuit over its failed attempt to ban conversion therapy on minors.
The payment is earmarked for Liberty Counsel, a Christian ministry and law firm in Orlando, that successfully sued the city after the Tampa City Council adopted an ordinance in 2017 that barred the controversial therapy practice that tries to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under the ordinance, therapists and counselors offering the therapy to minors faced a $1,000 fine for a first offense and a $5,000 penalty for subsequent violations.
Liberty Counsel, acting on behalf of two therapists, filed a federal lawsuit, contending the ordinance violated the therapists’ First Amendment rights to free speech. The suit also said the city did not have the authority to regulate mental-health therapists, a task that rested with the state of Florida.
The courts agreed. U.S. Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone initially prohibited the city from enforcing most of its ordinance in 2019. Later, U.S. District Judge William Jung struck down the ordinance, saying it could violate patients’ privacy and parents’ rights to choose health care for their children.
The city appealed unsuccessfully to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court ruling.
“This is a great victory for counselors and their clients to choose the counsel of their choice free of political censorship from government ideologues,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairperson Mat Staver said in February after the appeals court ruling became final. “Let this be a warning to any government that has not repealed similar counseling bans. These speech-restrictive laws violate the First Amendment.”
For successfully representing the plaintiffs, Liberty Counsel is entitled to legal fees, estimated at $900,000, plus a “multiplier,” according to a City Council resolution prepared by David E. Harvey, assistant city attorney.
The city’s legal department recommended the settlement, Harvey wrote, because the court rulings make it likely Liberty Counsel could obtain a monetary judgment exceeding $950,000.
City Council members will consider the resolution approving the settlement proposal at its meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday.