Circuit judge finds plaintiffs lack standing for confederate memorial injunction

Historic City News followed this morning’s hearing in Courtroom 316 of the St Johns County Courthouse, when Circuit Judge R. Lee Smith heard the case of Jill M. Pacetti, individually and as a representative of the group of lineal descendants of the 46-fallen soldiers listed on the Confederate Obelisk; the Veteran’s Council of St. Johns County, Inc, a Florida Corporation and the Military Officers Association of America, Ancient City Chapter, a Florida Corporation, against the City of St Augustine.

The citizens advancing the lawsuit were seeking an injunction to halt further steps to remove the memorial that has called the Plaza de la Constitucion home since 1879 and is the second-oldest memorial of its type in Florida.

“Plaintiffs request that the Court grants a temporary injunction precluding the City from removing the Memorial until the City follows the same processes it would demand of any other entity or person who is seeking to remove history from the center of St. Augustine,” said John Terhune, Esquire, the Deland attorney representing the group.

Although city attorney Isabelle Lopez attended the hearing, the City of St Augustine was represented by her assistant attorney, Denise May.  In addition to Judge Smith, court reporter Janet Beason, the attorneys Lopez, May and Terhune, the plaintiffs also participated in the video conference hearing.  Jill Pacetti, representing herself and the other descendants, the Veteran’s Council of St. Johns County, represented by Lt. Col (Ret.) William Dudley and the Military Officers Association of America, Ancient City Chapter, represented by Judge Advocate (Ret.) George Linardos.

“Taking the memorial to fallen soldiers from the Plaza will be like taking a knife and stabbing the attitude of Veterans in this community and around our country,” Dudley said.  “The message to all veterans will be that the memorial to your service is only as long-lasting as those who yell and threaten the loudest will allow.”

Dudley warned that the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families can easily be forgotten and even erased.  He went on to explain that both active and inactive military personnel have a code of honor that includes always honoring those taken on the battlefield.  He said that it is part of their culture, part of their heritage, their esprit de corps.

There are four elements of proof to grant an Injunction. A temporary injunction may only be entered where the party seeking the injunction satisfies the four-part test under Florida law:

  1. a substantial likelihood of success on the merits
  2. lack of an adequate remedy at law
  3. irreparable harm absent the entry of an injunction
  4. that injunctive relief will serve the public interest

However, prior to examining those elements, the City challenged the Plaintiffs’ legal standing to bring the action.  Citizens and taxpayers lack standing to challenge government action unless they demonstrate either a special injury, different from the injuries to other taxpayers, or unless the claim is based on the violation of a provision of the Constitution that governs taxing and spending powers.

This morning’s hearing began at 10:30 a.m. and lasted one hour.  This afternoon at 4:38 p.m., Judge Smith handed down his order finding the City’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Dismissing Plaintiffs’ Complaint with Prejudice was granted.  The Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, filed on June 28, 2020, was also dismissed with prejudice.

The Court reserved jurisdiction to consider the entitlement to, and amount of, attorney’s fees, or costs in connection with the instant proceeding, if any.

The very visible face of the public process defending the connection between the Minorcan community and the city has been Jill Pacetti.  When she received word of the court’s decision, she told local Historic City News reporters, “Even though we are descendants, Judge Smith did not find that we will have irreparable harm if the City moves the memorial.”

“I am told that another court case may be filed by Monday,” Pacetti said.  “We will keep pushing forward. Keep praying.”

Judge R. Lee Smith was appointed to the bench in 2016. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and his law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Before becoming a judge, he worked as an Assistant State Attorney and the Chief of the Traffic Homicide Division for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. He also worked as an Assistant State Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit and as legislative counsel in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Ander Crenshaw.  He previously presided over the family law divisions in Flagler and Putnam counties. Judge Smith presides over civil cases at the Richard O. Watson Judicial Center in St. Augustine.