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Updates on the Cosentino legal cases

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

In early July, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino missed his deadline for filing his reply brief with the Second District Court of Appeal in the original North Beach Road case he initiated against the County Commission in June 2016.

The Office of the County attorney and M. Lewis Hall III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, the attorney for intervenors in the case, argued strenuously against Cosentino’s request that the court give Cosentino a fourth extension for filing that brief. Nonetheless, the court granted Cosentino even more time than he had sought — until Aug. 12, instead of July 31.

Cosentino blamed his former attorney, Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key, for failing to provide him materials he needed for the reply brief.

Cosentino also had let his third attorney in the case — Fred E. Moore of Blalock Walters in Bradenton — step away from it. That decision left Cosentino acting on his own.

In late June, in a hearing before 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh on a related case, Cosentino said Moore was “not up to speed” on all the issues in the two cases.

Cosentino subsequently filed a motion in the Circuit Court, requesting that McHugh allow him to represent himself in the original North Beach Road lawsuit. He contended that that made the most sense, as he had been acting pro se in the related case, which involves the two Sarasota County Charter amendments he wrote and for which he won voter approval in the November 2018 General Election.

As for the Court of Appeal situation: Morgan Bentley of the Bentley & Bruning firm in Sarasota had predicted in an interview with SNL that the Second District Court of Appeal would prove lenient with Cosentino on the latest reply brief extension; the judges generally are “pretty forgiving,” as Bentley put it.

However, in its July 24 decision allowing the delay, the Court of Appeal wrote, “Any further requests for an extension will be denied.”

The court also refused a request in Cosentino’s motion for a judge to review, in private, materials Rohe had filed with the Court of Appeal in the original brief.

Yet, in spite of the Court of Appeal’s caution that it would allow no further delays, Cosentino missed the Aug. 12 deadline for filing the reply brief. The document is dated Aug. 13, as shown at the top of a copy SNL obtained from the Office of the County Attorney through a public records request.

By the way, this brief — unlike the vast majority of briefs SNL has reviewed over the decades — has a table of contents. Although the appeal is focused on specific portions of the complaint Cosentino filed against the County Commission over the May 2016 vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road, in his reply brief, Cosentino appears to revisit all aspects of the May 2016 public hearings that prompted his complaint.

In his summary of the resolutions the board approved more than three years ago, Cosentino wrote that the County Commission “made a cornucopia of compounding errors that form the basis of this Appeal.”

As for the remaining issues in the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction: Judge McHugh has scheduled two hearings in the next two months.

On Sept. 9, McHugh has set aside 30 minutes, starting at 10:30 a.m., to consider the county’s motion to consolidate the remaining counts in the North Beach Road vacation case with the Charter Amendment case. The latter originally was filed by the Caflisch family of Siesta Key in October 2018, before the amendments passed. The family’s attorney filed an amended complaint in late December 2018, asking the court to throw out the amendments.

The Caflisches — and the county — contend that the amendments strip the County Commission of authority that has been vested in it by the Florida Statutes. The Caflisches and the county also argue that the amendments are vague.

The Caflisches and the intervenors in the original North Beach Road case, Dennis and Wendy Madden, were among the property owners who petitioned the County Commission for the vacation of the road segment.

The June 25 hearing before McHugh was to have focused on the consolidation issue. However, Hall, the attorney for the Maddens, was unable to be present.

That day, McHugh did tell Assistant County Attorney David Pearce, Cosentino and Cosentino’s then-attorney, Fred Moore — plus the Caflisches’ attorney, William Moore of Moore Bowman & Reese in Sarasota — that she would sign an order for the consolidation if Pearce were able to get the consent of all the parties for that action. Evidently, Pearce was not able to do that.

On Oct. 7, at 9 a.m., McHugh has scheduled a second hearing — this one for an hour — on a county motion for final summary judgment in the Charter Amendments case.

Assistant County Attorney Pearce filed the motion for summary judgment on June 19. In his conclusion, he asked the court “to decree that the Charter amendments are inconsistent with state law and vague.”