Update on Palmer litigation. The story of hubris and a very missed opportunity to settle from a position of strength


I am posting this article not because I am taking a side. I am posting this article because you have a right to know, regardless of which side you are on in this very devisive issue.

The Palmer story could have ended during the period of June 12, up to July 3, 2012, after Palmetto Bay did so well at oral argument.  Palmer thought they lost – and bad, that they would have to live with no expansion, staying at 600 students.  This would have been a good time to settle and end all litigation, past, present and future.  The zoning case could have been settled for anywhere from 600, to 900, to 1,150 students, but more importantly, focusing on the big picture, conditioned upon Palmer dismissing its civil rights claims for $17 million (currently demanding $13 million to settle).

Unfortunately, Brian Pariser, Shelley Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay were far too over-confident of winning the appeal after the dramatic oral argument.  There is a lesson to be learned here. The lesson is that elected officials cannot get too cocky and that only settlements bring closure. Lawsuits and court decisions can take unexpected and, more importantly, unwelcomed turns.  In fact, the sun can burn your wings if you allow yourself to fly too high on hubris.

Instead of being statesmen on behalf of the village and negotiating from a position of strength and settling on June 13 or as soon thereafter, their overconfidence lead to going to the well once too often and having a binding final appeal decision forever published in case law legal opinions where a court determined that Palmetto Bay officials acted either from “wishful thinking” or “more likely a willful disobedience” when the Village Council placed a 900-student limit on Palmer Trinity School after a lower court told the city, in effect, to allow up to 1,150 students.

As a lawyer, I know what those words mean and they sting. A neutral appeals court actually ruled that a government acted contrary to rules of law and improperly frustrated an applicant appearing before it (Palmer).  “Wishful thinking” denotes derision, that the thinking of the current mayor and majority of council were not clear.  “Willful disobedience” means that just that.  Harsh words indeed.

Remember.  I was mayor during part of this period, up to 2010. But the findings of the courts, the orders enforcing the prior decisions and the overturning of the failure to comply with prior court orders all occurred under the current council.  I never acted or permitted any acts termed by the courts to be wishful thinking or willful disobedience.  We prevailed on the first level appeal in 2008.  Palmetto Bay, under my leadership, complied with the third district court of appeal after it overturned our first appellate victory.

The Miami Herald reported this as well. There were strong words from Councilman Patrick Fiore in the article, who as quoted states that “…the council majority of Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, Vice Mayor Brian Pariser and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay had wasted the taxpayers’ money on fruitless litigation.” “Three members of this council, despite knowing what the village’s chances were of being successful in this appeal, decided to move ahead and continue to spend taxpayer dollars and, once again, the court has ruled in favor of the applicant,” Fiore said Friday.

Again, I thought Palmetto Bay had won the appeal based upon the strongly worded oral argument. So did Palmetto Bay officials, and so did Palmer, its board members and supporters severely deflated.  Everyone thought Palmer would have no expansion, not even the 900 students that Brain Pariser voted to support at the 2010 zoning hearing.

This would have been a great time to settle, to gain certainty, to look magnanimous, to entice Palmer to drop its lawsuit for $17 million in damages; to move the community forward.

Brian Pariser and Shelley Stanczyk chose instead to bask in the glory of the oral argument. Their perceived massive route of their archenemy Palmer, acting as if they had prevail before the Third District Court of Appeal that would be forever known as Palmer’s Waterloo.

It was Waterloo, but not as intended.  Vice Mayor Pariser, a lawyer by trade, allowed defeat to be pulled out of the jaws of victory and how decisive action could have ended this litigation for the good of Palmetto Bay.

There is a lesson to be learned when you entrust strategy and decisions on significant litigation to current leaders who cannot bring themselves to negotiate, even when in a position of strength.  We cannot litigate the pending Palmer lawsuits into oblivion.  The three leading members of the current council cannot engage in further “wishful thinking” that they can will or delay this Palmer lawsuit away.

Brian Pariser’s “wishful thinking” did not work before; it certainly will not work now.

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