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Administrative / Regulatory Law
I (St. Johns County Attorney) retained Cliff Shepard and team on a highly adversarial, eight figure dispute. They were absolutely outstanding, and we prevailed. I would retain them again in a heart beat for must win litigation.
Bradley Bulthuis St. Johns County Attorney's Office
Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand has been our contractual town attorney for 13 years. Cliff Shepard is an absolute rock star in his profession, particularly with anything related to land use law. He is one of those rare individuals who can handle any unexpected question with hardly a pause, even on subjects you wouldn't expect he'd be well versed in. While it isn't feasible for Cliff to do the leg work for everything we need himself, he can be trusted to ensure anyone he sends to us to advise on specific subjects will meet that same expectation and he stays up-to-date on the status of everything related to us as his client. Somehow, as busy as I know Cliff is, he's always accessible to us though and that is a very comforting feeling for the town to have someone so extraordinary within reach when needed.
Cliff Shepard of Shepard, Smith, Kohlmyer & Hand has served as the Town Attorney for the Town of Ponce Inlet since 2009. Preceding this appointment, the first of what was to become a series of land use lawsuits was initiated upon the Town by a single plaintiff. Cliff served as the Town’s lead counsel in these cases as each worked its way through circuit court, appellate court, state court, federal court, and an attempt at the U.S. Supreme Court – along with numerous arbitration efforts along the way. After almost twelve years of continuous litigation, this landmark case has ended and the Town’s Vision is preserved.
Over these twelve years, much misinformation spread in a variety of mediums. This led to significant unrest with the citizens of our Town and required an enormous amount of education to mediate impacts. Cliff was instrumental in providing education on these highly complex legal matters and separating truth from fiction so that the Town Council, with the input of citizens, could make the best decisions for our Town. He assembled a winning legal team to advocate for the Town with an unwavering commitment to this cause.
While land use and related matters are a common subject for counties and municipalities, this subject is relatively uncommon in comparison to other matters in our court system. Therefore, Cliff was charged with educating the judiciary time and again about the legal standing of a comprehensive plan and the only legally acceptable process for any amendments to it.
At one point in this process, the Town faced a judgment in excess of 30 million dollars. The lowest settlement offer received was 15 million with a contingency that all of the developer’s desired land use changes be granted. While the Town spent 5.5 million dollars defending itself, at the end of this process, the Comprehensive Plan, Future Land Use Map, and Land Use and Development Regulations remain intact.
The outcome of this lawsuit well transcends Ponce Inlet. Government attorneys, developers, and land use attorneys across the State of Florida closely followed this suit as they recognized the precedent that it would set for all. The Florida League of Cities (FLC) understood this as well and submitted a brief to the court of their issues. Cliff argued on behalf of the FLC and moved their agenda forward in this process. If Cliff had not been successful in this lawsuit, every county and city in the State would be subject to a developer buying property in their jurisdiction and then being able to dictate to the governing body what type of development would be placed on the property, based upon highest and best use, regardless of pre-existing regulations. Ponce Inlet’s case now serves as the appropriate case law precedent so that others need not defend their regulations to the extent that we had to, saving tax dollars in the future.
Jeaneen Witt Town of Ponce Inlet
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