BELLEAIR BEACH -- The Belleair Beach City Council will meet in a special "out of the sunshine" meeting August 10 to discuss the status of the lawsuit in which Mayor Mike Kelly and two city employees are defendants.
The employees, Tina Skaggs and Angela Eisenberg, were joined in the suit recently and the action was taken, according to Robert Walker, attorney for the plaintiff Clearwater Gazette & Beach Views, based on information adduced in their depositions.
The basic issue in the lawsuit is the Gazette's allegation that Kelly was instrumental in the Gazette being thrown away because of articles that reported on city activities.
The suit was filed last August and is still in the discovery stage with depositions still being taken.
A question arose when Skaggs and Eisenberg were named as defendants as to whether the same lawyer, Tom McGowan, who is attempting to defend Kelly, could also act as attorney for them.
In cases where there are multiple defendants, opposing interests often arise and it can be a possible conflict of interest for a lawyer to represent more than one defendant.
As it turns out, McGowan will represent Skaggs as well as Kelly while James L. Yacavone 3rd of a Tampa law firm, Fowler, White, Boggs, Banker, will act as Eisenberg's lawyer.
This will be the first known meeting out of the sunshine by the council on the matter of the lawsuit. The suit and its implications have never been discussed or even mentioned in the 11-plus months of its existence at a regular City Council meeting.
What the mounting costs to the city are so far are not fully known. The city does not have the benefit of the Florida League of Cities representing the defendants because no damages are being sought by the Gazette.
The Gazette merely asked that the behavior be stopped and that papers continue to be available to Belleair Beach residents.
Meetings held "out of the sunshine" or "shade meetings" as they are sometimes called, are in accord with the state's Sunshine Law which generally states that all meetings of elected and appointed bodies must be noticed and held in public.
Under Florida Statute 286.011(8), an elected or appointed board may meet privately with its lawyer to discuss pending litigation in which the board is a party.
Under the provisions of the law, the board's lawyer or lawyers, in this case McGowan and Yacavone, must advise the City Council at a public meeting that they desire advice concerning the litigation.
The subject matter of the meeting must be limited to settlement negotiations or strategy sessions related to litigation expenditures.
The private session must be recorded by a certified court reporter who shall keep a record of all discussion and proceedings, the names of all persons present at any time, and the names of all persons speaking. No portion of the session shall be off the record. The court reporter's notes shall be fully transcribed and filed with the entity's clerk within a reasonable time after the meeting.
Actually, the private meeting must begin at a public meeting of the City Council with the names of all persons attending the session listed. The private meeting will be announced at the public, open meeting before it commences.
At the end of the private meeting, the public meeting is re-convened and the presiding officer announces the end of the private session.
The transcript of the private meeting is made public at the conclusion of the litigation.
Since Yacavone was engaged as defense counsel for Eisenberg at least one meeting of him, McGowan and the defendants has been held at the Belleair Beach city hall. Of course, such a meeting is not public.
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