Skeptical Judge Grants Delay in “Watchdog” Suit Against County Over Old Hospital Buy
FlaglerLive | August 27, 2014
Flagler County Circuit Judge Dennis Craig gave an attorney his marching orders this afternoon before agreeing to a delay in a pressure group’s lawsuit against the Flagler County Commission over the purchase of the old Memorial Hospital for a sheriff’s headquarters last year.
“I want to see either a statute or a case that gives the circuit court jurisdiction,” Craig told Josh Knight, the attorney representing a new group that calls itself the Flagler Palm Coast Watchdogs. “And I’ll give you time to look for it.”
Craig gave Knight one week.
Except for its founder, Dan Bozza, the Flagler Palm Coast Watchdogs is an obscure organization that may or may not have more members than its founder, who is a follower of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies. Bozza was not there. Nor were any members of the group, or of the Reagan assemblies. Two county commissioners–Charlie Ericksen and Frank Meeker, who had been having coffee together in a side room before the hearing–attended.
Bozza said he founded the group to file lawsuits against local government. A fellow-Reagan Assemblies member, Dennis McDonald, has not had much luck with the strategy. A judge declared his lawsuit against Palm Coast, seeking an injunction over development around Palm Harbor shopping center, frivolous, and on Monday ruled in favor of Palm Coast’s motion to have its attorneys’ fees paid by McDonald. That cost could add up to $20,000. Knight represented McDonald in that case as well.
County Attorney Al Hadeed Wednesday afternoon argued before Craig that even if the suit over the hospital purchase has merit–an assumption Hadeed made for the sake of argument, not to concede that it had–the matter should not be heard in circuit court.
“That matter is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Florida Commission on Ethics,” not the circuit court, Hadeed said.
The Watchdogs suit claims that Barbara Revels, a county commissioner, did not disclose an alleged conflict of interest before voting in favor of buying the old hospital for $1.23 million. Revels owns a construction and real estate business and banks at of Intracoastal Bank, whose president, Bruce Page, was one of three partners who owned the old hospital property. Revels had a line of credit with the bank, which she revealed in her annual financial disclosure form as a commissioner, and holds bank stock worth $100,000, though neither the bank nor Revels materially gained from the hospital transaction.
Revels also faces an ethics complaint that another member of the Reagan group, Ray Stevens, filed, mirroring the charges made in the circuit court suit.
Craig appeared willing to give the county’s case more leeway than the Watchdogs. Knight said he wanted to amend the lawsuit. But before he had a chance to speak to that effect, the judge asked him whether he was prepared to show that the suit had jurisdiction in circuit court. Knight was not, because he’d just gotten out of hospital after an extended stay there. Craig, conceding that Knight had not had time to prepare, said he would give him a week to do so–but principally to answer the question of jurisdiction. Craig appeared uninterested in moving further unless the jurisdiction matter was resolved.
The next hearing will take place on Sept. 4 at 1:30 p.m.