For taxpayers, the legal bills from Orange County’s decision to keep a sick-time initiative off the fall ballot are just starting to arrive.
Orange leaders have spent $70,500 so far on outside attorneys for a civil suit related to the ballot measure. Open-government experts say those costs could grow rapidly as the county’s several legal wranglings grind on.
“It’ll be a bunch [of money],” said First Amendment Foundation general counsel Jon Kaney. “It’s a complicated case, and it has the prospect of burning up a lot of lawyer time.”
The tallied taxpayer costs so far stem from the county defending itself in an October lawsuit filed by the group behind the sick-time measure, Citizens for a Greater Orange County.
That civil claim alleges county commissioners violated state public-record and open-meeting laws by exchanging text messages with lobbyists and others opposed to the measure and later deleting those messages.
If Orange loses that case, Kaney and others say Florida law could require taxpayers to pay the legal bills of both sides. The Citizens attorney in that case says the group has incurred up to $50,000 in costs, so far, in what he described as a case still in its early phases.
Citizens has sought the deleted texts, and subpoenas also have been issued to several lobbyists with whom county officials were communicating around the time commissioners voted to delay the referendum.
But that fight is just one of the potentially expensive byproducts of the commission’s decision Sept. 11.
Two other legal skirmishes also have emerged. One was a separate civil suit brought by Citizens accusing Orange leaders of ignoring the 50,000 petition signatures collected to put the measure on the ballot.