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Mediation the new focus in North Beach Road lawsuit

By Rachel Brown Hackney

The complaint Siesta resident Mike Cosentino filed against Sarasota County in June 2016 regarding the County Commission’s vacation of a 357-foot-long segment of North Beach Road also remains unresolved.

Although the complaint was filed only about a month after the board vote, it was not served on the county until right at the 90-day deadline required by the state for such service. Therefore, the case got off to a slow start, one might say, in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

On July 24, Judge Frederick Mercurio heard more motions in the case, which not only involves the county and Cosentino but also North Beach Road property owners Dennis and Wendy Madden. The Maddens were among three sets of petitioners in 2016 who had sought the road segment vacation. They want to tear down old rental structures they own on property landward of the road segment so they can construct fewer new dwelling units that will conform to modern building codes. The County Commission in May 2016 granted them a Coastal Setback Variance for that work, but they have not begun the project as the Cosentino case has continued.

On Aug. 7, a document filed in the Circuit Court says Cosentino and the Maddens stipulated to a motion for a temporary abeyance of the case “in order to pursue settlement negotiations and formal mediation …”

That motion points out that, following the July 24 hearing, “the above-named parties expressed an interest in pursuing formal mediation as soon as possible. … The parties will need a temporary abeyance of these proceedings in order to give the mediation process a chance to resolve all outstanding issues. Due to the schedules and obligations of all concerned, the parties request more time than was originally requested …”

The motion indicated that the Maddens and Cosentino hoped to conclude mediation by 5 p.m. on Aug. 9.

Then an Aug. 10 motion from Cosentino notes the “voluntary, preliminary mediation” was held on Aug. 9 at the offices of the Williams Parker law firm in Sarasota. (Williams Parker has been representing the Maddens.)

That motion points out that the county declined to send counsel to the session, and an intervening party in the case, William H. Caflisch — one of the other petitioners for the road vacation — never responded to emails from attorneys for Cosentino or the Maddens regarding his attendance at the mediation session. The motion adds, “Resolution of the complex issues involved in this cause require all parties to attend mediation to reach a viable and binding settlement.”

Therefore, Cosentino asked the court to compel mediation and issue an order requiring that it be held within 60 days of the date of that order.

In the meantime — as detailed in another motion filed on Aug. 9 — Cosentino’s attorney, Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key, asked for a continuance of any hearings scheduled between Sept. 4 and Oct. 4 because the Florida Supreme Court had suspended Rohe from practicing law for 30 days beginning on Sept. 4 and ending on Oct. 4. “No petition for reinstatement [to the Florida Bar] will be necessary,” Rohe added.

“The suspension arises from an October 2015 complaint to the Florida Bar by a nonparty, out of state witness,” the motion says. Rohe had served a subpoena on that witness in Michigan. However, the motion explains, “The subpoena did not comply with Florida’s Uniform Foreign Depositions law, nor with the Michigan Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act. Thus, there was no compulsion for the witness to appear.”