Pinellas Circuit Judge Jack Day cut more than 15,000 plaintiffs out of a lawsuit Monday morning. Most did not know they were parties to a suit against the city of St. Petersburg, and many of those who were aware were not happy.
"I certainly didn't intend to sue anybody or be involved in any lawsuit or anything like that," Cliff Gephart told FOX 13 News. "I don't like a lot of things, I'm not going to sue everybody for everything I dislike."
Gephart is one of 15,652 voters whose signatures were certified on a petition circulated by Voteonthepier.com. After the city council rejected the petition as defective, the volunteer group filed a lawsuit against the city.
Kathleen Ford, the plaintiff's attorney, filed a 20-page complaint preceded by 77 pages of names: All of those who signed the petition.
Monday, both parties agreed that was not necessary and Judge Day agreed, instructing Ford to re-file the complaint in behalf of a handful of willing plaintiffs.
"I may have set a record for having the most number of plaintiffs in a suit against the city dismissed," assistant city attorney Joe Patner joked after a brief hearing, "Folks were made a party or to this lawsuit without their knowledge or authorization. We've now got those people out of the suit and we can proceed along with the issues."
The issues include court-ordered mediation scheduled for Friday to discuss possible ballot language for a referendum refurbishing the existing St. Petersburg Pier.
"If the voters of this city choose to preserve and refurbish, that's all we're about -- either way it goes," Voteonthepier.com founder Tom Lambdon said after the hearing, "It's not vote for the Pier, it's not vote against the Pier, it's vote on the Pier."
It is not clear what effect, if any, the mediation will have. The city council to date has shown no willingness to call a referendum.
In the meantime, the Voteonthepier.com legal battle is having an impact on a second petition drive started after the first was rejected.
"I think people are confused, and it's a difficult challenge for us," said Bud Risser, one of the leaders of Stop The Lens. "The public has heard 'petition, petition.' And they assume they're the same, but they're entirely different."
The first petition drive, now in court, focused on the existing inverted pyramid structure. The second opposes the proposed replacement structure known as the Lens.
"We have to distinguish ourselves, that our petition is totally separate from the activity that's going on in the courtroom," Risser said.
His group plans a direct mass mailing to registered voters, but the mailer is being tweaked to try to emphasize the differences.
However, both citizens' initiatives reflect a common sentiment.
"We encounter real honest to goodness anger on the streets, because people said ‘I should have the right to vote on this.'" Risser said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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