By Dan Moffett
Lawyers for the town of Gulf Stream and those representing Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare continue to exchange jabs about who’s willing to make peace and who isn’t.
O’Boyle and O’Hare have filed at least 40 lawsuits against the town over some 2,000 public records requests, claiming officials have violated the state’s Sunshine Law in one way or another.
Robert Sweetapple, the Boca Raton attorney whom the town hired as its lead counsel, says it’s been impossible to negotiate a settlement with the two men since hostilities began in 2013.
“It’s a little difficult to take serious any statements that these individuals want to talk and settle in light of their past conduct, and that when we tried to do that, we were immediately sued,” Sweetapple said, pointing to similar lawsuits O’Boyle has filed in New Jersey, Tennessee and around Florida.
Shortly after an attempt to negotiate with O’Hare last year in “a confidential meeting,” Sweetapple says, The O’Boyle Law Firm filed suit against him, Mayor Scott Morgan, and Town Attorney John Randolph and his law partner Joanne O’Connor. The suit claimed the meeting was another Sunshine violation.
“I expect that every time I speak the truth I’ll be sued for defamation,” Sweetapple told town commissioners on Feb. 12.
Jonathan O’Boyle, Martin’s son and a Pennsylvania lawyer affiliated with the O’Boyle firm, says Sweetapple and town officials have their own version of the truth about negotiating and aren’t willing to fight in court either. Sweetapple and O’Connor insist the town is seeking trial dates for all the cases.
“First off, the town has its pants on fire,” Jonathan O’Boyle said in an email to The Coastal Star. “They have just begun filing tons of motions to change their defensive positions in every case. If granted, this will set the clock back to (zero) and we will have to start all over again. This is the second time they have done this. They started in 2014 and successfully played transfer games and asked the courts many times for leave to change their strategy and reset the clock. The town wants to delay, make no mistake.”
O’Boyle disputes Morgan’s claim that the town has been willing to negotiate all along and is stipulating only that a settlement must include dropping all lawsuits.
“This statement is blatantly false,” O’Boyle said. “Morgan has been saying drop all of your lawsuits if you want to even come to the table to negotiate. As in, ‘I will not see you unless you disarm.’ ”
The town’s attorneys say they were ready to come to the table late last year, but the other side canceled at the last minute. Sweetapple says that instead of negotiating, the O’Boyles and O’Hare are responsible for sending hundreds of new public records requests by automated email to Randolph, O’Connor and their colleagues at the Jones, Foster, Johnston & Stubbs law firm.
On Jan. 20, O’Hare appeared in Town Hall before Special Magistrate Gary Brandenburg for a code enforcement hearing over a long-running dispute with the town over a roof for O’Hare’s home.
O’Hare asked the magistrate for a continuance, saying he needed to hire a lawyer and that stress and family issues had interfered with his preparation. After Brandenburg denied the request, O’Hare complained of chest pains and asked for medical assistance. Delray Beach emergency medical technicians responded to a 911 call and took him to a local hospital, where he was treated and released.
“We believe that the episode that took place today was a ruse,” Town Attorney Randolph told Brandenburg, who replied that he had no choice but to postpone the hearing, for a fourth time, to March 7.
“I am slowly working through my condition,” O’Hare said. “My doctors have instructed me to avoid all town stress and stay away from Town Hall. I have tried to do just that.”
O’Hare said he will continue to battle the town. “As much as I hate all of this, these issues are bigger than me or the town. I have no choice but to fight; I consider it a civic duty to fight and you can be sure I will fight no matter what the cost to me.”
In other business, commissioners unanimously approved a policy motion that changes the limit on public comments from five minutes to three.
“I think most municipalities, almost all of them, allow comments in the two- to three-minute range,” Morgan said.
The change doesn’t affect agenda items, which have no time limit on comments.