Local News

Attorney claims AP civil rights violations

AVON PARK - A lawyer claiming the City of Avon Park violated the civil rights of Fernando and Yudith Fernandez is seeking mediation or a settlement from the city prior to filing a lawsuit. In a May 2 letter to the city, Miami lawyer John de Leon stated the Fernandez’s, for more than a year, have attempted to operate a boarding home at 1 West Main Street. Both Fernando and Yudith are Latinos of Cuban origin, “who have tirelessly battled officials of Avon Park to operate a lawful boarding home that is perceived by Avon Park officials to cater to boarders of Latino background,” de Leon said. “We have a copy of all the evidence, including taped City of Avon Park hearing where city officials used shocking and unconscionable language relating to residents of this community of Latino/Hispanic background,” he said.
The alleged civil rights violations occurred on March 17, 2012, according to de Leon. De Leon claimed the city cultivated its image by excluding Hispanics from the downtown area and steered them away from residing downtown. “We are convinced we have sufficient direct evidence of discrimination to take this case to a verdict before a jury,” he said. “We anticipate that the publicity associated with the filing of a federal lawsuit will allow us to develop additional witnesses, including other victims.” Attorney John de Leon also advised that they are considering a “class action” so the city should be on notice that records relating to such need to be retained. “Prior to filing suit, we raise whether Avon Park would be interested in mediating,” he said. De Leon asked for a response from the city by May 29. If the city decides not to mediate or does not respond, “rest assured we will file suit,” he said. De Leon is representing the Fernandez’s under their corporate name Fern & Fern Corp. In a complaint filed May 13, in the Tenth Judicial Circuit in Highlands County, de Leon claims that Fern & Fern spent more than $46,000 on a fire sprinkler system and $30,000 on a fire alarm system at 1 West Main St. The expenditures were made to comply with city requests so they could attain a certificate of occupancy. Fern & Fern received clearance from the fire chief and from the zoning, code enforcement, building and health departments, the complaint states. They received clearance from the water and police (safety issues) departments to receive business and occupational licenses. Fern & Fern received its certificate of occupancy license on or about Jan. 29, 2013, which was rescinded due to pre-textual issues related to parking, the complaint shows. A parking lot was purchased by Fern & Fern adjacent to their location and they secured parking spaces from an adjacent church to deal with any parking issues, according to the complaint. “The motivation preventing the city from issuing the business and occupational licenses includes racial and ethnic animus against the perceived users of the services of the location as evidenced by statements at public meetings and in the media by public officials,” the complaint states. Fern & Fern seeks a court injunction to order the city to issue the licenses, permits and other documents required to allow them to open and operate their business. Also, the injunction is sought, to “overcome this conspiracy to prevent Hispanics and others from residing in downtown Avon Park, Florida,” the complaint states. City Attorney Gerald Buhr said the matter has been turned over to the city’s insurance company. Since he is not handling the matter he could not comment further, Buhr said. mvalero@highlandstoday.com

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