Court gives Cosentino until July 11, so he can hire a new attorney or act on his own behalf
The Second District Court of Appeal has granted Siesta Key resident Michael Cosentino a third extension — until July 11 — to serve his reply to briefs filed in his lawsuit involving the Sarasota County Commission’s 2016 vacation of 373 feet of North Beach Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
The Court of Appeal’s June 12 order followed the June 7 filing of a motion by the attorney who was representing Cosentino in the case, which originated in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota — Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key. Rohe informed the Court of Appeal that he was withdrawing from the case.
Rohe wrote that on the morning of June 7, Cosentino advised him that Cosentino was “terminating legal representation” by Rohe and had instructed Rohe not to file the reply briefs “due on or about” that same day to responses from Sarasota County and intervenors in the Circuit Court case, Dennis and Wendy Madden.
(After Cosentino filed his complaint against the county in the Circuit Court in June 2016, arguing that the road vacation violated county policies and regulations, the Circuit Court allowed the Maddens, as affected property owners in the case, to become intervenors.)
Rohe added in his June 7 motion that Cosentino was “working out other arrangements for legal counsel or to represent himself, pro se.”
He and Cosentino “have irreconcilable differences which cannot be resolved, thereby precluding any further action” for Rohe in the case, Rohe pointed out. “This Notice is not for the purpose of delay,” Rohe added.
In a motion he filed with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in early May, seeking to withdraw as Cosentino’s attorney in that Court, Rohe also cited “irreconcilable differences.” Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh granted that motion on May 24.
In the Court of Appeal case, Rohe had filed a motion on May 22, seeking a second extension for his response to the briefs filed by Assistant Sarasota County Attorney David M. Pearce and M. Lewis Hall III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota, counsel for the Maddens.
The first extension the Court of Appeal approved in the case said that Rohe could have until May 23 to submit the response. In granting the second extension, the Court of Appeal agreed to wait 10 days from May 29 — the date of the court’s order — to receive Cosentino’s answer, and it was to be in one brief no longer than 20 pages, the Court of Appeal emphasized.
Opposition to the latest extension request
On June 10, Assistant County Attorney Pearce pointed out in his response to Cosentino’s third motion for an extension of time that, on Dec. 7, 2018 and on Jan. 28 of this year, “Cosentino received two extensions of time in which to file his initial brief” in the appeal. “On March 25, 2019,” Pearce continued, “the County timely served its answer brief without requesting any time extension.”
Then, Pearce continued, On April 10 and on May 29, “Cosentino also received two extensions of time to file his reply brief. He now seeks a third lengthy … extension of time in which to file his reply brief,” Pearce added, noting that Cosentino had asked to be allowed to wait until July 31. “Thus, Cosentino has repeatedly delayed the outcome of this appeal,” Pearce wrote.
Further, the latest motion for an extension, Pearce pointed out, did not comply with a Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure — 9.300(a) — which requires a party to contact opposing counsel “to determine whether there is an objection to a time extension.”
Moreover, Pearce continued, “Cosentino alleges that his counsel has withdrawn … due to ‘irreconcilable difference.’ Without specificity,” Pearce added, “Cosentino also alleges he needs additional time ‘due to his numerous obligations and commitments.’” However, Pearce wrote, “A motion for extension of time must provide legitimate grounds for the motion …” He cited a Florida First District Court of Appeal decision in 1988. Pearce added that Cosentino’s “generic citation … does not demonstrate good cause.”
Pearce also noted the withdrawal of Rohe from the 12th Circuit Court case, “based on ‘irreconcilable differences’ with his client. Now, one month later, [Rohe] has moved to withdraw from representation in this appeal based on ‘irreconcilable differences.’ It is unknown whether these ‘irreconcilable differences’ are the same in both the trial court and this proceeding.”
Writing for the Maddens, Hall of the Williams Parker firm pointed out that the Maddens were one of the parties who had petitioned the County Commission for the closure of the 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road, so they could construct a six-unit condominium complex. During the May 2016 public hearing, their attorney that day — Charles Bailey III, also of the Williams Parker firm — explained that the Maddens own property seaward of the segment of North Beach Road. By combining that land with the road right of way and property they own east of the road, they would have enough land to satisfy county zoning regulations for the new structure.
Bailey pointed out that their plans called for tearing down old residential buildings on the parcels landward of the road segment and replacing them with a modern structure that would conform to all current building standards.
In his response to Cosentino’s third motion for the extension of time, Hall noted that Cosentino already had challenged the Coastal Setback Variance the County Commission granted the Maddens in May 2016 for the new condominium complex, as part of the complaint Cosentino filed against the county in June 2016. (The presiding judge in the Circuit Court case at that time ruled against Cosentino on that part of the suit.)
“Now this appeal,” Hall wrote, in addition to that challenge, “has resulted in the material costs for the construction project to increase significantly. The Maddens respectfully ask that this appeal move forward as rapidly as possible.”