By Jane Smith
Delray Beach won the first round of the wrongful-dismissal lawsuit filed by former City Manager Mark Lauzier.
On Nov. 18, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Lisa Small ruled that Lauzier’s complaint did not meet the requirements of the state’s Whistleblower Act. She dismissed that count with prejudice, meaning Lauzier cannot refile it.
Small said the printout of an Expedia travel itinerary with the word “Denied” written on it was not enough to be a written complaint.
Lauzier’s attorney, Isidro “Sid” Garcia, said he would file a motion for a rehearing, which must be made 10 days after the order is entered. Garcia could not be reached for comment. No motion had been entered by Dec. 3.
“I’m very, very happy with the ruling,” Lynn Gelin, the city attorney, said at the City Commission meeting Nov. 19.
Lauzier, who was fired March 1 after the city’s internal auditor had found questionable hiring and promotion practices, did not attend the hearing.
His whistleblower count centered on a printout of an Expedia travel itinerary to Tallahassee for Mayor Shelly Petrolia and her son, Anthony. In early March, the mayor was flying to Tallahassee for Palm Beach County Days. Anthony was going to be a state Senate page for the week.
Petrolia said she planned to reimburse the city, and wanted to travel with her son on the same flight in case one was bumped.
On Feb. 25, Lauzier when reviewing the travel itinerary wrote “Denied” with his signature and a note that Anthony is “not an official city employee. Travel — must be reimbursed.”
The next day, the mayor’s husband wrote a check to the city for $291.60 to cover the cost of Anthony’s plane ticket.
During the short hearing, Garcia said, “The mayor attempted to scam taxpayers by charging an improper expenditure to a city credit card.
“What caused the city manager’s termination was him catching the mayor red-handed using a city benefit to her advantage.”
Petrolia attended the hearing.
“They thought they found the Holy Grail,” she said afterward. “Instead, the chalice held no water. … Our attorney focused on the real issue — no whistleblower complaint.
“The investigation into Lauzier’s actions had started weeks before,” Petrolia said.
The city will seek sanctions from Lauzier to cover its litigation costs, Gelin said. Delray Beach had hired Brett Schneider of the Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman law firm to represent it. Gelin did not want to reveal the amount the city would request.
Lauzier’s wrongful-dismissal lawsuit remains open with a breach of contract count. He is seeking a jury trial.
By Jane Smith