What kind of damage does a five-year legal battle with the government do to a business?
Attorneys at Bentley & Bruning P.A. estimate that entrepreneur Chris Brown’s lawsuit against Sarasota County cost him $1.7 million, and the trial to settle claims of discrimination is set for next year.
It will be the culmination of three lawsuits revolving around taxes the county levies on Siesta Key Village businesses.
Judge Lee Haworth set a five-day trial for Aug. 26, 2013, to decide the civil suit, and allowed both parties to extend the deadline for mediation and settlement from Dec. 21 to Feb. 1.
County commissioners voted to decline Brown’s first settlement of $277,000 in September but ordered staff to re-evaluate the county’s method of taxing Village merchants for the partial cost of the municipal lot in the district.
“I think the majority of the (County Commission) has logical thinking,” Brown said.
The outcome was the dissolution of the parking tax district.
Assistant County Attorney David Pearce wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to Brown’s counsel that the County Attorney’s Office would need a breakdown of the $1.7 million in damages to bring the Siesta property owner’s latest offer to the County Commission for a decision. The office disputed parts of Brown’s case against the county.
“We believe that, as time goes forward and additional information is obtained through discovery and legal research, then the county’s case can only improve,” Pearce wrote in the letter.
Bentley did not provide a summary or breakdown of damages for each of Brown’s companies, CJB Property Development LLC and 5148 Beach Road LLC, nor the dates and nature of any undue expenses. The county also asked Sept. 10 for a list of documents or experts used to calculate damages.
Pearce declined to comment specifically about whether the damages cited by Bentley were fair and accurate.
“I think the letters speak for themselves,” Pearce said.
The County Attorney’s Office Nov. 2 asked Haworth to order Brown to disclose the specific details cited in Pearce’s Oct 22 letter.
“For them to continue to dig for tax returns and very personal information — it’ll all come out during trial,” Brown said.
Both parties agreed to bring in attorney Gary Larsen for an all-day mediation Feb. 1.
“You’re torn because you want to rid yourself of the negativity,” Brown said. “But, a part of me really wants to go in front of a judge and show them what’s going on.”
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