George Gretsas vs. City of Delray Beach, Florida, Shelly Petrolia, Adam Frankel, Ryan Boyston, Shirley Johnson, and Julie Casale
Delray Beach City Commissioners voted to suspend City Manager, George Gretsas, along with a preliminary notice to terminate for cause, pending an investigation into allegations of bullying several city employees. He was subsequently charged during a quasi-judicial proceeding with engaging in “a number of instances of misconduct” that warranted his firing.
The City Manager filed suit seeking emergency relief to compel the City to produce public records he claimed were not made available in his defense; postpone his termination hearing; and require the Mayor to recuse herself.
The City of Delray Beach reached out to Jones Foster for their extensive experience and reputation in municipal law and governmental litigation, and selected Litigation Shareholder, Joanne M. O’Connor, to represent the City in the emergency complaint. Joanne was particularly well-suited to this task due to her specialized expertise, knowledge of the Florida Public Records Act (“Act”) (including recent amendments), insight into the application of the Act in light of modern technology, and experience defending mandamus actions, both before trial courts and on appeal. Joanne provided a lengthy response with affidavit at a “show cause” hearing via Zoom within days, arguing that the suit was brought for an improper purpose to delay the public hearing on his termination.
A successful outcome resulted for The City of Delray Beach, as Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes denied relief sought in its entirety. Specifically, Judge Kastrenakes denied mandamus and any attorney fees on public records issues, denied injunctive relief to continue the City Manager’s termination hearing, and reserved to consider the City’s claim that the suit was brought for an “improper purpose” under the Act , keeping the door open to an attorneys’ fees award. The latter was a notable and unusual ruling involving a 2017 amendment to the PRA that gives government agencies the right to seek attorneys’ fees where suits are brought for an improper purpose.