District 2 Commissioner Thomasina Coates (D) announced Wednesday that she does not intend to participate in next week’s mediation session in the circuit court case brought against her by two of her colleagues, and instead asked the judge to proceed to a hearing.
The surprise announcement came in the form of a brief, single-paragraph document submitted to the court by her attorneys stating that “due to a recent development, [Coates] will not be attending mediation on March 28, 2023, and will shortly be filing amended pleadings adding additional claims and/or parties to this lawsuit.”
“To that end,” the filing continues, “Coates requests that this Court schedule a status/scheduling conference to arrange for a hearing on pending motions and a hearing on Plaintiffs’ requested preliminary/final injunction.”
Attorneys representing the various parties in the case — plaintiffs District 3 Commissioner Amanda M. Stewart (D) and District 1 Commissioner Gilbert Bowling III (D); Coates’ co-defendant, the Board of County Commissioners; and Coates — participated in a previously scheduled conference on Friday, March 17, during which TLR understands all parties agreed to pause further actions in the lawsuit pending the outcome of next week’s mediation.
TLR has learned that, for now at least, the mediation has not been canceled and the other parties are still planning to attend.
During a preliminary hearing in late January, Judge Leo E. Greene, Jr. strongly encouraged the parties in the case to seek private mediation to settle the issue at the heart of the lawsuit — namely, whether Coates is allowed to vote on the employment contract of County Administrator Mark Belton after having been administratively barred from doing so by the rest of the board in June 2020.
As TLR reported, during that hearing Judge Green ruled that Coates would remain bound by the terms of the administrative restrictions — referred to as the “Prompt and Remedial Action” or “the PRA” for short — until an evidentiary hearing could be scheduled or the parties entered mediation.
Coates’ attorneys have argued that the temporary restraining order that the judge put into place with the intent to preserve the status quo is considerably more strict than the terms of the original PRA, in that it prohibits Coates from discussing “any matter regarding” Belton with the other four county commissioners, and also prevents her from participating in a vote to change or remove the PRA.
Although Judge Green only encouraged the parties in the lawsuit to seek mediation, judges typically have the authority to order litigants into mediation if they deem it necessary. To date, Judge Green has not given any indication whether or not he would consider doing so.
Representatives from Commissioner Coates’ legal team did not respond to questions seeking more information about the decision to withdraw from the mediation.
TLR will continue monitoring developments in the case and will provide updates here and on Facebook as needed. To read TLR’s complete coverage of the circuit court and appellate cases, click here or select “Stewart et al. v Commissioners” from the “Categories” menu at right.
Download the Court Documents Discussed in This Post
1: “Praecipe Requesting a Status/Scheduling Conference,” March 22, 2023
2: “Reply to Opposition to Defendant Commissioner Thomasina O. Coates’ Motion to Shorten Briefing Schedule for Motion to Suspend Temporary Restraining Order and to Stay Further Proceedings Pending Appeal,” March 14, 2023