Attorneys representing the city of Sarasota and the not-for-profit corporation Citizens for Sunshine have signed an agreement that would bring a close to the most recent lawsuit alleging that the city violated the state’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.
According to City Attorney Robert Fournier, the city would pay $17,000 in legal fees to Citizens for Sunshine as part of the settlement, which would acknowledge the city violated the Sunshine Law. As soon as a judge approves the stipulation, Fournier said, Citizens for Sunshine has 10 days to drop the lawsuit against the city, and the city would have 30 days to pay the group’s legal fees.
After Citizens for Sunshine drops its suit against the city, City Commissioner Susan Chapman will be the only remaining defendant in the lawsuit. The lawsuit stemmed from a meeting attended by Chapman and City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell; Atwell has already settled with Citizens for Sunshine.
At Monday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners are slated to discuss Chapman’s legal fees. Fournier said the city isn’t obligated to cover those legal fees once it settles the case if Chapman is eventually found to have violated the Sunshine Law, though commissioners could choose to do so anyway. If Chapman successfully defends the case, or settles without admitting to a violation, Fournier said the city would have to pay her legal fees.
An email from City Manager Tom Barwin indicated that Chapman’s legal defense would be covered by the city’s public officials liability insurance if the city agreed to cover the expense either way.
Barwin forwarded a message from Paul Dawson, a senior vice president with insurance broker Public Risk Insurance Agency, to the commission Wednesday night. In the email, Dawson states the city’s insurance will cover complaints against the city alleging violations of the Sunshine Law.
Fournier, who said he hadn’t had a chance to read the email, wasn’t as certain that would be the case. He said assurance from the broker didn’t necessarily mean the actual insurance carrier would provide coverage, and he wanted to wait for confirmation before saying anything definitive.
“I know they were all trying to say there should be coverage, and I certainly hope there is coverage,” Fournier said. “I just want to be sure.”
Fournier said he has been in contact with the insurance carrier, and should know by Monday whether or not the coverage would extend to Chapman’s defense.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].