Second District Court of Appeal agrees to oral arguments in Cosentino’s North Beach Road lawsuit

Hearing tentatively set for Dec. 19 in Tampa

The Second District Court of Appeal holds sessions in a building at 1700 N. Tampa St. in Tampa. Image from Google Maps

The Second District Court of Appeal has granted a request of Siesta Key resident Michael Cosentino for oral arguments in his appeal of a 2018 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruling that dismissed the final part of his 2016 lawsuit against Sarasota County.

The case challenges the County Commission’s 4-1 vote to vacate part of North Beach Road.

On Aug. 19, an attorney with a Tampa law firm filed the formal request with the Court of Appeal, which has offices in Lakeland and Tampa.

Joseph H. Lee of the Lee Law Firm cited Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.320(a) in the document. That rule says,
“Each side will be allowed 20 minutes for oral argument, except in capital cases in which each side will be allowed 30 minutes.”

In an Oct. 3 notice on the online docket for the case, the Court of Appeal wrote, “This case is provisionally set for oral argument on THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2019, at 9:30 A.M., before: Judge Stevan T. Northcutt, Judge Anthony K. Black, Judge Samuel J. Salario, Jr. Oral argument will occur at the Second District Court of Appeal, Tampa Branch Headquarters, in the courtroom of the Stetson University College Of Law, Tampa Campus, First Floor, 1700 North Tampa Street, Tampa, Florida.”

A list of all of the Court of Appeal judges on the court’s website says Northcutt has been on the bench since 1997, having been appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles. Black was appointed to the bench in 2010 by Gov. Charlie Crist, and Salario was appointed in 2014 by Gov. Rick Scott.

The online docket does add, “The panel is subject to change without notice. Should the assigned panel of judges decide that the court will not benefit from oral argument in this proceeding, the attorneys or parties will be notified by order no less than two weeks before the scheduled date.”

Cosentino had been representing himself in the appeal since early summer, when he dismissed his second attorney, Lee R. Rohe of Big Pine Key. The same day the request for oral arguments appeared in the docket, Lee filed a document indicating that he was representing Cosentino.

Joseph Lee. Image from the Lee Law Group’s website

Lee’s biography on the Lee Law Group’s website points out that he has been practicing in the Tampa Bay area since 1994. He was an assistant attorney general from 1994 to 2001, starting out in the Criminal Appeals Bureau before being assigned to the Civil Trial Unit in 1996.

He later served as an assistant state attorney with the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Citrus and Hernando counties.

Since 2017, he has been managing partner of the Lee Law Group’s Litigation Department, the website adds.

In an Aug. 23, 2018 order, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Frederick P. Mercurio ruled that Cosentino did not have standing to challenge the County Commission’s granting of a Coastal Setback Variance to one of three sets of petitioners for the vacation of the 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road. The hearing on the petition for the variance was part of the May 11, 2016 County Commission meeting during which the road vacation issue also was addressed.

“Standing” is a legal term indicating that a party has sustained or will sustain direct harm or injury as a result of a specific action and that that harm can be redressed by the court, the Cornell Law School explains.

Issues still being adjudicated in Circuit Court

While Cosentino’s appeal remains underway, he also is continuing to fight a related effort in Circuit Court regarding two Sarasota County Charter amendments he wrote, which voters passed in November 2018.

The Office of the County Attorney and petitioners for the North Beach Road vacation have argued that the amendments contravene state law.

Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

On Oct. 7, a hearing was conducted in Circuit Court on the county’s motion to have that the Court rule the amendments invalid.

One of those amendments calls for the County Commission to try to reacquire the vacated road segment. The other would prohibit the board from selling any county property that had so much as a “waterfront vista.”

Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh has been presiding over all of the Cosentino legal issues, which she consolidated this fall into one case. However, a family emergency prevented her from being present for the Oct. 7 hearing, The Sarasota News Leader learned. Instead, Circuit Judge Hunter W. Carroll stood in for McHugh.

Carroll told the parties that a decision would be issued at a later date on the county’s motion for summary judgment in the amendments part of the case.

That day, Carroll did rule from the bench on one motion, which Cosentino made during the hearing. Carroll denied Cosentino’s request for a continuance of the proceeding, court records show.