In Sunshine lawsuit, Manatee Commissioner DiSabatino will have to hire her own lawyer

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 27, 2013 

MANATEE -- Facing a civil suit alleging Sunshine Law violations, Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino has been told to hire a private attorney because the county does not intend to defend her, she said.

"The county is not going to represent me," she said in an interview Wednesday.

County Attorney Mitchell "Mickey" Palmer confirmed that his office will be defending the county itself, but not DiSabatino.

"It is not at all uncommon, when both the county and an individual commissioner are sued, for the individual commissioner to need to retain their own counsel," said Palmer.

"The defenses are not necessarily consistent with one another, and so it's our best judgment that Robin is best represented by independent counsel, as opposed to this office trying to wear two hats, so to speak," Palmer said.

When DiSabatino sought a private attorney, each one she contacted required copies of documents sent to the plaintiff, legal consultant Michael Barfield, before they would agree to take her case, said DiSabatino.

The county was unable to provide to her printed documents it sent to Barfield as part of his open records request but did provide a CD instead, she said.

"I don't know what they gave him," DiSabatino said.

"I feel like this is a political

witch hunt," she added.

The suit was filed earlier this month and requested declaratory and injunctive relief for what it claimed was a failure to comply with state open records laws, court documents said.

Barfield last fall requested documents from DiSabatino seeking any electronic communication, including e-mails, text messages and social media messages from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30, 2012, with certain words in them, according to a copy of the complaint.

The situation came to Barfield's attention after she and former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash acknowledged having a meeting last fall following the adjournment of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization board, Barfield said Monday.

The suit sought electronic messages relating to the incident, which it claimed were incomplete, illegible and not provided in digital format as requested, court records said.

DiSabatino said Sunshine Law violations had not occurred because she did not sit on the MPO board, the MPO had already voted on the subject she was asking engineers about, and she did not speak with McClash.

"I wanted to know where the sidewalks and streetlights were going to be between 53rd and 63rd Avenue West on 14th Street," she said of a Florida Department of Transportation project planned for U.S. Highway 41.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter

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