April 20 case management conference still on schedule
Yet another wrinkle has appeared in the litigation involving the Sarasota County Commission’s late 2021 approval of two high-rise hotels on Siesta Key, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
On April 4 — almost exactly two weeks after Chief Judge Charles Roberts of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court assigned him to the two hotel lawsuits following the recusal of the original judge — Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll filed an Order of Disclosure with the court. In that document, he explained “that while a practicing attorney he represented Physicians Group LLC, whose owner is Gary Kompothecras,” Kompothecras also is the owner, with family members, of the site of the hotel planned at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road on south Siesta Key. A businessman and chiropractor, Kompothecras is the developer of that project, as well; he plans a seven-story, 120-room structure.
In his order, Carroll noted further that he represented “various other entities [Kompothecras] owned or controlled in various litigation matters, generally involving alleged business torts/contract matters that were unrelated to the subject matter of this [hotel] lawsuit.”
Carroll added, “That representation occurred in the -2015 timeframe, [when he] spent a significant amount of professional time on those matters.”
Additionally, Carroll wrote that he “is not aware of, and does not recall receiving, any information concerning the subject matter of these two 2021 [hotel] lawsuits during [his] representation of Physicians Group, LLC or Gary Kompothecras or any of his other entities.”
Finally, Carroll pointed out that he “was commissioned as a circuit judge in November 2015, and has served continuously in that capacity.”
To the News Leader’s knowledge, the first public notice regarding Kompothecras’ plans for the hotel came in late 2016. Sarasota attorney Charles D. Bailey III of the Williams Parker firm and Robert “Bo” Medred, president of a Bradenton land-use firm, Genesis Planning and Development, conducted a December 2016 workshop on Siesta Key to discuss Kompothecras’ decision at that time to seek an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan — which guides growth in the county. The amendment would change Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 to allow for property on barrier islands that are zoned Commercial General (CG) to be redeveloped to provide transient accommodations.
That same policy has been the crux of the two lawsuits filed against the hotel projects in November 2021. Last week, a Florida Administrative Law judge ruled in favor of Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez, who had filed a challenge with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) regarding the validity of the commissioners’ approval of an October 2021 ordinance that eliminated the counting of hotel rooms for residential density purposes countywide.
Ramirez’s case involves the eight-story, 170-room hotel planned on four parcels between Beach Road and Calle Miramar.
The amendment discussed during that December 2016 workshop would have added a sentence to Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1: “The intensity and density of future development on the Barrier Islands of Sarasota shall not exceed that allowed by zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989, except that with respect to i.) lands zoned CG as of that date being redeveloped to provide transient accommodations, or ii.) lands zoned [Residential Multi-Family] as of that date and consistently so thereafter, a non-conforming duplex whose density exceeds the density restrictions of the zoning regulations and restrictions may be rebuilt within the footprint of the structure, or a non-conforming multi-family structure may be demolished and a duplex rebuilt in its place within the prior footprint of the multi-family structure without violating this policy.” (The proposed new language is the portion underlined.)
Ultimately, Kompothecras ended up scrapping that proposal and, instead, seeking County Commission approval of a change in street setback regulations to facilitate his plans for the hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.
Judge Carroll indicates consolidation of cases for trial not a given
After learning of the Disclosure, the News Leader this week tried to contact the Tampa attorneys representing the three plaintiffs in the second hotel lawsuit, involving Kompothecras’ project. As of the deadline for this issue, the News Leader had received no response. However, the lead attorney — David Smolker, of Smolker Matthews — has reported during hearings this year on the hotel cases that he has been preparing for a weeks-long trial in Walton County that is set for June.
Already, Judge Carroll has scheduled a 30-minute case management conference on Thursday, April 20, in regard to the hotel lawsuits. That will be conducted at 11:30 a.m., both in-person, at the Judge Silvertooth Judicial Center, which stands at 2002 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota, and via Zoom.
In his April 6 Disclosure, Carroll also noted that he is reviewing the files for the two hotel cases, adding that he “understands that there may be a request to consolidate these cases.”
Following a March 17 hearing, the original judge presiding over the hotel litigation — Circuit Judge Stephen Walker — ordered that the cases be consolidated and set for trial during the 12th Circuit’s trial period beginning on Oct. 9. Walker had agreed with counsel for the Intervenors in the litigation — the attorneys for the owners of the hotel sites and the developers — that it would be more efficient to combine the cases, as they cover so many of the same issues.
Ramirez, who filed the first case, initially had fought consolidation, because of the potential that she ultimately could incur far higher attorneys’ fees if her lawyers had to sit through parts of a trial that had no bearing on her case. She also had feared that the Office of the County Attorney and the lawyers for the Intervenors might file motions seeking more discovery in the case. “Discovery” refers to the process of interviewing individuals who may have information relative to a complaint and the gathering of pertinent materials, as attorneys work to build what they hope will be a winning case.
However, in a Feb. 21 written order following a Feb. 15 hearing, Walker denied the motion for consolidation — given the situation at that time. Nonetheless, he added, “If factual or legal issues are to be heard at trial that do not pertain to the case brought by Plaintiff Ramirez, the Court will appropriately segment the trial so that Plaintiff Ramirez and her counsel are not required to appear when any such factual or legal issues are heard.”
Therefore, during the March 17 hearing, one of Ramirez’s attorneys, Richard Grosso of Plantation, told Walker that she no longer objected to the Intervenors’ attorneys’ request for consolidation.
For those who wish to attend the April 20 hearing in person, the order says it will be conducted in Courtroom 6-C of the Judge Silvertooth Judicial Center.
For those wishing to watch via Zoom, the following are the sign-in details:
• https://www.zoom.us/ Click “Join A Meeting.”
• Meeting ID — 353 234 4884
• Password — 756433
• Audio only — 18.104.22.16882 and use the same Meeting ID
1 thought on “New judge handling Siesta hotel lawsuits discloses past legal representation of Kompothecras”
Thank you to The Sarasota News Leader for providing coverage of these important lawsuits. The issues involved in these Siesta Key hotel lawsuits will carry over to how Sarasota County considers development requests across the county. We should and must insist that our elected commissioners respect the Comprehensive Plan and county residents. Best wishes to the plaintiffs challenging the mega-hotels that are so inappropriate for Siesta Key and are inconsistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
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