VERO BEACH — A lawsuit Vero Beach City Councilman Brian Heady filed against the City of Vero Beach for attempts to silence him could go to trial in federal court.
Federal Judge K. Michael Moore on Augu. 31 set a court date for Feb. 28, 2011, and referred the case to mediation, which is mandatory prior to a trial. Heady received the computer-generated notice Friday afternoon in the mail. “I think that the court setting it for trial means that they recognize that the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment are something that should be honored and that people should be allowed to speak,” Heady said upon receiving the notice.
“As government officials, we should be open to any and all viewpoints and opposing viewpoints should have the right of free speech, too,” Heady said.
Heady is representing himself in the case, which alleges violations to his freedom of speech and his right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Heady claims that his and other divergent opinions are purposely quashed by Mayor Kevin Sawnick and by top city staff.
Not only was his personal free speech infringed upon, Heady claims, but so were the rights of citizens such as utility activists Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran.
Time and time again, Heady has placed on the City Council agenda presentations by Heran and Faherty and their electric “model” and the items have been removed from the agenda by a vote of the council. In large part, all of Heady’s agenda items have been removed over the past few months.
Attorney H. Randal Brennan, who is representing the City of Vero Beach, said the setting of a trial date “doesn’t mean very much” and is a procedural move by the judge.
He explained that federal judges, and in particularly this judge, prefer to set schedules and trial dates to preserve their time in the event a case does get that far.
The date “doesn’t necessarily mean anything on the merits of Heady’s case,” Brennan said.
He added that the judge still has not ruled on the city’s motion to dismiss Heady’s complaint, and until that happens, the case remains in limbo.
“First and foremost, this gives me subpoena power,” Heady said. “First on the list would be Jim Gabbard and Charlie Vitunac and then Kevin Sawnick and Tom White.”
Brennan countered, saying that until the judge denies the motion to dismiss, there is nothing to depose and no interviews that should be done.
If Judge Moore were to dismiss Heady’s complaint, the case would be rendered moot. And, depending on the reasons for the dismissal, the judge could decide to either allow Heady to amend his complaint a second time or not, according to Brennan.
Heady filed an amended complaint to the federal court in early August, following the judge’s ruling that his arguments pertaining to free speech could be heard in the court.
In the 36-page amended complaint, Heady asserted that he has been essentially muzzled by the other members of the Vero Beach City Council who interrupt or altogether restrict his ability to ask questions from the dais.
Judge Moore, in his ruling in July, directed Heady to provide more evidence he believes shows his right to free speech was violated.
The court has blocked off two weeks on the docket to hear the case, should Brennan’s Motion to Dismiss be denied and subsequent mediation fail to resolve the issues.