By Dan Moffett
Facing a federal lawsuit from Gulf Stream over hundreds of public records requests, Chris O’Hare has filed complaints against two of the town’s attorneys in two different arenas.
In Palm Beach County Circuit Court, O’Hare is asking Judge Peter Blanc to disqualify Robert Sweetapple, an outside attorney Gulf Stream hired last year, from representing the town against him. O’Hare says Sweetapple represented him 17 years ago when he lived in Ocean Ridge and had a dispute with the town over code violations after the construction of a roof on his house.
And in Tallahassee, O’Hare has filed a complaint against longtime Town Attorney John Randolph with the state Commission on Ethics, alleging he has referred business to his law firm without first getting proper contractual approval from the town.
O’Hare says that his prior relationship with Sweetapple could damage his chances of defending himself against a RICO suit the town has filed against him and another resident, Martin O’Boyle.
The suit alleges the two men conspired to extort legal settlements from Gulf Stream by filing hundreds of frivolous requests for public records.
“He knows things, even some of those private things that could do real damage,” O’Hare said. “Like everybody else, I have private information I want to keep private.”
During four hours of deposition with O’Hare in February, Sweetapple repeatedly asserted that the work he did for O’Hare in 1998 has no relevance to the work he is doing for Gulf Stream today. Sweetapple told O’Hare that as long as nothing he does now compromises the outcome he achieved in the Ocean Ridge matter, then there’s no legal reason for his disqualification.
“Is there anything I’m doing in this case that impacts the Ocean Ridge settlement?” he asked O’Hare.
“You have information that could be very damaging to me that I don’t want the town to have,” O’Hare said.
O’Hare also maintains that he sought legal advice from Sweetapple after Hurricane Wilma damaged his Gulf Stream house in 2005, though the lawyer did not formally represent him — there were no fees paid or contractual agreements signed.
Gulf Stream hired Sweetapple last March to defend the town against lawsuits filed by O’Hare and O’Boyle. He also has become involved in the RICO suit that the town filed in February.
Blanc has scheduled a hearing sometime in mid-April to consider the motion to disqualify Sweetapple.
O’Hare’s ethics complaint against Randolph drew a response from a state ethics investigator in February.
Roberto Anderson-Cardova notified O’Hare that the ethics commission found the complaint to be “sufficient for investigation.” Anderson-Cordova said he intends to interview witnesses who might substantiate the claim.
Vice Mayor Robert Ganger has said that the commission, by voting to authorize Mayor Scott Morgan to lead the town’s legal defense, also implicitly authorized Morgan to send work on cases involving O’Hare and O’Boyle to Randolph’s West Palm Beach law firm, Jones, Foster, Johnston & Stubbs. “It’s precisely what we expected to happen,” Ganger said.
Commissioner Joan Orthwein said, “We gave Mayor Morgan explicit directions to be the head of the counsel for any litigation. I think he’s acting exactly as he should have” in hiring Randolph’s firm.
By Dan Moffett