Orange Park councilman explains his position on lawsuit

Mastandrea cites state’s defense of civil actions against public officers, employees or agents

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Editor,

I appreciate an opportunity to set the record straight with regard to your Dec. 9, 2020 article about my request to have the Town of Orange Park pay for legal fees for a claim made against me. This claim was made by the former Planning and Zoning Chairman because of my comments at a council meeting regarding his performance and then what I believe to be improper comments made by him. Elected officials are given immunity when performing their jobs on a Town Council. For some reason, the insurance coverage that the town now carries put exclusion in their policy for this type of coverage. There is a statute that states a member of the council should have his/her legal fees paid and defense afforded when sued under their capacity of a member of the Council. The town attorney has raised an issue with regard to the statutes scope because the lawsuit instituted by Peter and Shirley Johnston was filed as one seeking declaratory relief and not mentioning a specific legal injury and therefore there should be no coverage. Mr. [Sam] Garrison [general counsel of the town council] is of the position so far that a declaratory petition that does not allege an injury, therefore there should be no coverage.

I am of the position that a “legal injury” is what is covered within the statute and therefore the town should afford the defense since I was sued for legislative functions. Further, in the state of Florida there is immunity to members of a city council when they are sued for “legislative functions.” The lawsuit filed by the Johnston’s is only based on actions that I have done within legislative function and therefore the town should afford my defense given the statute.

In this lawsuit, a motion to strike the complaint was filed by me because of the enormous amount of scandalous allegations that have nothing to do with the request for a declaration judgement from the court as relates to a cease-and-desist letter sent to the plaintiffs dated May 11, 2020. There was also a motion to dismiss that I filed because the complaint does not conform to the requirements for a declaratory complaint to have been properly met. It is my belief that this claim was filed so as to get negative publicity about me in the public forum. Following the motions, Mr. and Mrs. Johnston were served with a Safe Harbor letter under Florida Statute 57.105 (Sanctions) giving them 21 days to voluntarily dismiss the complaint without consequences. They have not done so as of this date.

Because of this I now have filed a Motion for Sanctions against Mr. and Mrs. Johnston for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Following the motion for sanctions, a Motion for Summary Judgment was also filed that demonstrates that as a matter of law the lawsuit filed by the Johnston’s and their attorney is without legal merit and therefore frivolous.

Finally, in an unrelated case to the one filed by the Johnston’s against me, a case that I filed against Sherri Snow, the Judge ordered a Final Summary Judgment against me. That Order was appealed because I am of the position that the Judge ignored what was cited in the Motion I filed and much of the testimony that is relevant to the issues of defamation was not considered. That appeal was accepted by the court and will be heard in 2021.

I am of the belief this claim and others that have been filed against me was done so by a few individuals in Orange Park that are upset with the town approving new development and tax revenue streams for Orange Park. I have been named in particular because of my pro-growth position. I can only assume that this small group of individuals are so angry and upset over new development, that they are pursuing any opportunities they feel are available to punish myself and other town officials for performing our duties.

Thank you,

Councilman Roland Mastandrea

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