November 4, 2016 – Saint Petersblog
by Jade Isaacs
After it was sued by a resident in 2011, the City of St. Pete Beach is suing its lawyers for providing negligent legal counsel.
When the city hired the Bryant Miller Olive law firm, it was under the impression they were specialists on Florida Sunshine Law.
Under the supervision of Susan Churuti, Michael Davis and Suzanne Van Wyk, city commissioners held several so-called “shade meetings,” which were assumed to be exempt from Sunshine Laws under rules allowing legal counsel.
The Florida Sunshine Law requires certain government proceedings to be open to the public.
The firm claims that Churuti, the lead lawyer that assisted the city, received several seminars specifically on Sunshine Law compliance, making her an “expert” on the topic.
The city kept the firm on retainer from 2010 through 2015 to advise members on legal matters like the Sunshine Law and other Florida laws.
In 2011, the firm defended the city against a suit filed by St. Pete Beach resident James Anderson. Anderson claimed that the city’s “shade meetings” were in violation of state law.
From 2010 to 2011, St. Pete Beach Commissioners held seven of these so-called “shade meetings.” Each meeting was advised by the firm. The city trusted Bryant Miller Olive to keep the meetings in accordance with the laws. During the meetings, the suit said, Bryant representatives failed to stop the commissioners from straying away from what was permitted, even though they had sufficient time to do so.
Instead, the firm would guide the conversation and bring up topics that they felt should be addressed.
The suit, filed on Oct. 11, 2016, claims that Churuti reassured the commissioners they were abiding by the law at one meeting stating, “we want to make sure that you do everything correctly.”
During a late November 2010 meeting, the commission questioned if they were still within the permitted discussion.
According to the suit, the firm was “negligent and deviated from the standard of care in connection with the legal serviced which were provided,” by failing to correctly advise the city during the “shade meetings,” by conducting the meetings where they did not abide by the laws, and by raising certain issues that were not covered by the law.
Because of the firm’s negligence, the city was sued, costing them court and attorney’s fees, fees brought by Anderson and the fees it paid the firm for services. St. Pete Beach is demanding the firm compensate them for damages, along with other costs incurred, until a settlement is reached. [READ MORE]