- 2014 - February - 18th -

City claims former employee has conflict of interest in billboard lawsuit

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

The exact phrase was used four minutes apart in emails that showed growing gaps between two lawyers who were once on the same side.

“Words cannot express how disappointed” former city attorney Tracey Arpen was in his former employer’s stance about a brewing billboard controversy.

General Counsel Cindy Laquidara countered that “words cannot express how disappointed” she was that Arpen was commenting on an issue he had “substantial responsibility” for during his 17 years with the office.

Arpen spearheaded a push in the late 1980s for a referendum to ban more billboards and over time remove those that existed. It succeeded. He joined the city’s legal team and helped craft a settlement with the companies, serving as the main source of knowledge on the subject and watchdog until his retirement in 2009. The email exchange came the following year.

The group that pushed for the ban, known as Scenic Jacksonville, is suing the city and Clear Channel alleging they are violating that 1995 settlement by using billboard-removal credits to erect digital signs elsewhere.

And now the city and Clear Channel are contending Arpen has “switched sides” and “aligned against the City,” according to a motion filed last week seeking Arpen’s disqualification from the lawsuit.

Since his retirement, the motion states, Arpen has served as legal counsel, consultant, or both for Scenic Jacksonville in connection with the pending lawsuit.

It references privilege logs showing correspondences involving Rogers Tower attorney Bill Brinton, who has teamed with Arpen on the billboard ban since it began, and other Scenic Jacksonville personnel.

Arpen also appears “poised” to be Scenic Jacksonville’s primary witness against his former client and Clear Channel, the motion goes on to say, and if he disagreed with the city’s opinion then he should have told his former client — the city — and only the city.

Pages of Florida laws relating to attorney and professional conduct are included in the motion, amounting to the stance that Arpen should be disqualified because of a conflict of interest.

Arpen on Monday said he had read the motion itself, but not everything that was included. He said, “no matter how inaccurate or outrageous” the claims are, the courts should be the place to be heard, not the media.

Brinton on Monday said a Scenic Jacksonville response to the motion would be filed, but that Arpen is regarded by many as “one of the most ethical lawyers that has ever graced the hallways of the Office of General Counsel.” He called the motion a way for the opposition to prevent Scenic Jacksonville from asking Arpen “a single question.”

A letter from Brinton to David Weinstein of Greenberg Trauig, representing Clear Channel, in December backs Arpen’s stance, saying that “at no time” did he disclose any confidential information or engaged in legal representation. The privilege logs, Brinton says, describes the work product doctrine.

The words expressed by both Arpen and Laquidara in those December emails were followed by another response from Arpen saying he took the assertion of ethical impropriety “very seriously.” Arpen said he failed to see how any exists because he has not divulged attorney-client communications and wasn’t providing legal representation.



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