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Manatee County seeks outside counsel for Commissioner Robin DiSabatino’s public records lawsuit

Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, sitting beneath framed photos of former commissioners, asks her fellow commissioners to reimburse her for legal fees incurred in a lawsuit.
Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, sitting beneath framed photos of former commissioners, asks her fellow commissioners to reimburse her for legal fees incurred in a lawsuit. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Manatee County government will be represented by outside counsel in defending itself in a public records lawsuit filed by Commissioner Robin DiSabatino.

The commission voted 5-1, with Commissioner Charles Smith dissenting and DiSabatino absent, to retain Trenam Law of Tampa to represent the two defendants in the lawsuit: Manatee County government and Robert Eschenfelder, chief assistant county attorney.

DiSabatino sued the county and Eschenfelder after fellow commissioners refused to reimburse her $30,000 for legal fees she spent fighting a public records lawsuit.

“This is a public records act lawsuit,” County Attorney Mickey Palmer said. “It has nothing to do with recovery of Commissioner DiSabatino’s attorney fees from a previous lawsuit.”

Smith said Eschenfelder should have a separate attorney.

“I think that is a conflict of interest,” Smith said.

Palmer told commissioners he has “no memory of anything like this ever occurring.”

“These are uncharted waters for me but we will tread these waters,” he said. “We will do what we need to do.”

The commission also approved:

  • Two universal access program agreements with Ringling College of Art and Design and Sarasota County and New College of Florida and Sarasota County to “ride public transit fixed-route/fixed-schedule service for free when presenting a valid college issued photo identification when boarding,” according to agenda materials.
  • The 2016-17 annual Community Development Block Grant action plan.
  • Sending an urban corridors plan amendment to the state. The amendment is intended to encourage redevelopment along urban corridors.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson

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