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Another delay in Cosentino appeal, plus failed amicus brief

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

Regular readers will recall that last year, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino filed an appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeal after a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge ultimately ruled in favor of Sarasota County on the last count in a complaint Cosentino filed against the county in June 2016.

This spring, Cosentino’s attorney at the time, Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key, sought an extension for filing a reply to briefs in the case. In late May, Rohe filed for yet another extension, which the Court of Appeal granted on May 29.

The lawsuit claimed that the County Commission violated a county policy in voting 4-1 in May 2016 to vacate a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road.

Cosentino lost an earlier appeal of one count in the case, after Circuit Judge Frederick Mercurio ruled in the county’s favor.

With this second appeal, Cosentino’s answer to briefs from Sarasota County and intervenors originally was scheduled to be submitted to the Court of Appeal by May 23. However, on

The court gave Cosentino an extra 10 days from May 29 for the filing of his answer.

Additionally, the notation in the docket says the court will allow only one brief, instead of multiple briefs, as Rohe had indicated in his first request for an extension. Finally, the court’s response made it clear that the solitary brief from Cosentino “must not exceed twenty pages.”

Although Rohe filed the motion for the second extension, 12th Judicial Circuit Court records show — as reported last month — that Rohe formally withdrew from the Circuit Court case in early May, citing “irreconcilable differences” between himself and Cosentino. On May 24, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh — who has taken over the case from Mercurio — filed an order agreeing to discharge Rohe as counsel.

The new attorney for Cosentino is Fred E. Moore of the Blalock Walters firm in Bradenton, her order noted.

In a related matter, Cosentino told SNL that a supporter of his efforts to improve public access to the county’s waterways planned to file an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeal.

“Amicus curiae” is a Latin term meaning “friend of the court.” As the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University explains it, “Frequently, a person or group who is not a party to an action, but has a strong interest in the matter, will petition the court for permission to submit a brief in the action with the intent of influencing the court’s decision. Such briefs are called ‘amicus briefs.’”

The Institute adds, “State rules of civil and appellate procedure govern amici curiae in state cases.”

On May 23, attorney Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo — who represented Cosentino for a period of time in his 12th Circuit case — filed a motion with the 2nd District Court of Appeal on behalf of Angela Briguglio, asking the Court to allow the filing of that amicus curiae brief.

On May 29, the court denied the motion. It did not elaborate on the decision.

Briguglio appeared before the County Commission on Aug. 29, 2018, as Cosentino and others urged the board members to place on the Nov. 6, 2018 General Election ballot two proposed County Charter amendments Cosentino had written. He and supporters had gained enough signatures of registered voters to comply with County Charter criteria for placing a proposed amendment on a ballot; nonetheless, the County Commission has to vote to approve the appearance of such amendments on a ballot for voter consideration.

One Cosentino Charter amendment called for the county to reacquire the 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road that the County Commission voted to vacate in May 2016 — which prompted Cosentino’s lawsuit against Sarasota County.

The second amendment called for the county to preserve all county-owned parks, preserves, beach and water access, and waterfront vistas.

Both amendments ended up on the ballot, and both won sufficient voter support, though they are the focus of yet another battle between Cosentino and the county in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. Even before the amendments were approved during the November 2018 General Election, the county argued in filings in the court that the amendments were unconstitutional in that they would constrain the authority of the County Commission as provided for in the Florida Statutes.

On Aug. 29, 2018, Briguglio, who uses a wheelchair, talked about the limitations on Siesta Key for people like her. She also noted the solitary handicapped parking space at Avenida Messina, adding that many community residents have mobility issues. “Does that mean one handicapped person can go to the beach [there]?”

She told the commissioners that persons with disabilities in Sarasota County “seem to be an invisible demographic.”

Avenida Messina ends right at the beach, making it a more logical choice for improved access options, she indicated.

“There’s no place left in Sarasota County to meet the ADA [Americans with Disabilities] requirements for beach access,” she told the commissioners. “It’s your job to protect those rights for me.”