Judge Carroll assigned to replace Judge Walker in presiding over lawsuits challenging approval of two hotels on Siesta Key

April 20 case conference scheduled

One day after the 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge presiding over the two lawsuits challenging County Commission approval of new Siesta Key hotels recused himself from the litigation, Chief Judge Charles Roberts assigned Judge Hunter Carroll to those cases, court records show.

In his March 21 Order of Recusal, Judge Stephen Walker reported that he had learned “on or about March 17” that attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm in Sarasota had filed what is called a “notice of appearance” in the second hotel complaint, which pertains both to the proposed seven-story, 120-room hotel at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road, on south Siesta Key, and an eight-story, 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Village.

Both complaints were filed in November 2021.

Bailey would be representing Siesta businessman and chiropractor Dr. Gary Kompothecras and members of Kompothecras’ family, who are the owners and developers of the Old Stickney Point Road hotel, as well as a planned a five-story parking garage, which would stand between Old Stickney Point Road and Stickney Point Road.

Walker cited a “personal and professional relationship” with Williams Parker, which necessitated Walker’s recusal, he wrote in his order.

The action followed a March 17 hearing during which Walker had called for consolidation of the hotel lawsuits for trial during a period beginning on Oct. 9.

Walker also had conducted an hours-long hearing on Jan. 6 to listen to arguments from the parties in the first hotel complaint, which Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez filed. That hearing focused on motions for summary judgment from Ramirez’s attorneys, attorneys for the Intervenors in her case — the owners of the property where the Calle Miramar hotel would stand, plus the developer — and the Office of the Sarasota County Attorney. During the March 17 hearing, Walker noted that he was still working on his decision in the aftermath of that hearing.

Each of the parties was seeking a ruling in favor of its arguments, meaning that no trial would be necessary; Walker would make a decision on the basis of the briefs filed in the case and those oral arguments.

Court records this week show that Judge Carroll has scheduled a 30-minute case management conference on Thursday, April 20, in regard to the hotel cases. That will be conducted at 11:30 a.m., both in-person at the Judge Silvertooth Judicial Center, standing at 2002 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota, and via Zoom.

Carroll’s biography on the 12th Judicial Circuit website says he began his service on the bench on Nov. 23, 2015. Then-Gov. Rick Scott had appointed Carroll to the court to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James S. Parker, Ballotpedia points out.

Carroll is a 2000 graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, the website adds.

Carroll practiced with the firms of Matthews Eastmoore from 2008 to 2015, Carlton & Carroll from 2005 to 2008 and Carlton Fields from 2002 to 2005, Ballotpedia notes. “He was previously the senior staff attorney for the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court,” Ballotpedia says.

Past decisions issued by Judge Carroll

Opponents of the County Commission’s May 2016 vacation of a 363-foot-long segment of North Beach Road on Siesta Key may recall that Carroll was the judge who ruled that two Sarasota County Charter amendments written by Siesta resident Mike Cosentino, in an effort to overturn that road vacation, were invalid because they conflicted with other provisions of the Sarasota County Charter. Both Charter amendments had won voter approval during the November 2018 General Election.

Carroll also began presiding over a civil complaint involving the families of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, following the discovery that Petito had been murdered while she and Laundrie — her fiancé — were traveling in the western part of the United States. Petito’s parents claimed that Laundrie’s parents knew their son had killed Gabby and conspired to help him flee from law enforcement officers.

Laundrie’s body ultimately was located in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port. A search had been underway for weeks in the nearby Carlton Reserve in South County, after he disappeared from his North Port home.

On June 30, 2022, in the aftermath of oral arguments, Carroll denied the Laundries’ motion to dismiss the case.

In an amended complaint filed in April 2022, the Petitos alleged that the Laundries had caused them “to suffer pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life experienced in the past and to be experienced in the future.”

The complaint contends, “After Brian Laundrie murdered Gabrielle Petito, Brian Laundrie sent text messages  back and forth between his cell phone and Gabrielle Petito’s cell phone in an effort to hide the fact that she was deceased.” Additionally, Petito’s parents contended, “It is believed, and therefore averred that on or about August 28, 2021, Brian Laundrie advised his parents, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, that he had murdered Gabrielle Petito. On that same date, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie spoke with Attorney Steve Bertolino, and sent him a retainer on September 2, 2021.”

Further, that amended complaint said, “From August 27, 2021, until September 19, 2021, when Gabrielle Petito’s remains were found at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping area in Wyoming, Plaintiffs were extremely distraught and were attempting to locate Gabrielle Petito.

“While Gabrielle Petito’s family was suffering, the Laundrie family went on vacation to Fort DeSoto Park on September 6-7, 2021. They went on vacation knowing that Brian Laundrie had murdered Gabrielle Petito, it is believed that they knew where her body was located, and further knew that Gabrielle Petito’s parents were attempting to locate her,” the amended complaint continued.

Further, they argued that the Laundries had their attorney issue a statement on Sept. 14, 2021 that indicated that Gabby Petito still was alive.

In his ruling for the Petitos, Judge Carroll cited several judicial precedents for his decision. He also pointed out that the Petitos have contended that the statement the Laundries issued “was false, designed to create false hope, and issued by the Laundries who knew Gabby was dead and where her body was located.”

After reassignment of the case to Circuit Judge Danielle Brewer, in late January, Brewer issued a March 31 order indicating that a jury trial would be conducted during the period of May 13 to May 24, 2024.