On Friday, January 18th, Judge John Cooper decided in favor of the City of Tallahassee in legal matter related to a lawsuit filed by Tallahassee businessman Dr. Erwin Jackson.
Jackson alleged that the City of Tallahassee violated the Florida Sunshine Law when officials excluded 84 of the 93 applicants from the selection process for a new city commissioner without holding a public meeting
After the decision was announced, Jackson told the local media that he would appeal Cooper’s decision “as fast as he can.”
Jackson’s attorney, C.B. Upton, told TR that the process of filing an appeal would come after a final court order is agreed to by the parties.
Judge Cooper took up the case on Thursday, January 17th.
The hearing began with Mr. Upton providing the rationale for the lawsuit. He argued that the city violated the Florida Sunshine Law when City Commissioners sent their top choices to city staffers in “the shade.”
Upton said that the tabulation of the choices by city staffers excluded 84 applicants and was a governmental decision that required a publicly noticed meeting with a chance for public input.
Judge Cooper repeatedly queried Upton about the exclusion. He asked Upton if any of the excluded applicants could have been nominated at the meeting.
Upton indicated the city agenda for the meeting only referenced the nine applicants. In addition, Upton said the City Commission may have had the authority to waive the rules and nominate other candidates, but they did not and that is why the lawsuit was filed.
The City’s attorney in the case, Lou Norvell, argued that there was no Sunshine Law violation because each city commissioner acted individually, not as a committee.
Norvell went to great lengths to tell Judge Cooper that the city commissioners did not communicate with each other during the process of trimming down the number of applicants.
However, Jackson’s allegations did not contend that there was communication between commissioners.
Jackson’s argument about excluding applicants without a public hearing was mentioned several times by Mr. Upton during the hearing and reiterated again during his rebuttal.