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Shores hires top lawyer for electric battle

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of May 29, 2014)

Indian River Shores has retained the top utilities lawyer from one of Florida’s premier, politically-connected law firms to explore every legal remedy for the Town’s more than 2,500 households now stuck paying high rates to Vero’s electric utility.

The choice of the 1,000-attorney firm of Holland and Knight was made prior to statements earlier this month by Vero Mayor Dick Winger and City Manager Jim O’Connor alleging that the 20,000 customers who live outside Vero city limits are as hopelessly locked-in to Vero’s long-term power contracts as the city as a whole.

In April, the Indian River Shores council approved an initial $10,000 for Town Manager Robbie Stabe to find a good law firm, and he settled on Holland and Knight on April 29, according to public records.

The engagement letter states Holland and Knight will be working “to represent the Town in connection with electric utility issues involving the City of Vero Beach, Florida,” and it’s signed by D. Bruce May, Jr., for the law firm.

May is a partner in Holland and Knight and serves as head of the firm’s Public Utility practice division. For the past 28 years, May has spent his time trying cases before the Florida Public Service Commission and working intimately with the Florida Legislature.

His knowledge of and experience with electric utilities, as reflected on his online firm biography, appears extensive and varied, including “representation of utilities in contested rate cases; negotiation, regulatory approvals of and litigation over power purchase agreements and interconnection agreements; administrative litigation regarding competitive procurement of energy; administrative litigation regarding monopoly franchise areas for municipal utilities; need determinations for power plants; and administrative rulemaking relating to electric and natural gas utilities”.

Partner Scott Johnson, a Vanderbilt-educated trial attorney with 35 years’ experience who heads up the firm’s Eminent Domain Practice Group, and associate Kevin Cox, a Harvard Law School graduate and trial lawyer who lists among his specialty state and federal constitutional challenges, will also be on the team with May.

For the task of figuring out how to extricate the Shores from Vero electric, taxpayers will pay a blended rate of $385 per hour.

Councilman Tom Cadden, long-time former Shores mayor who has been the go-to person on utilities since talk over a sale of Vero electric to Florida Power and Light began brewing, said he was pleased with the choice of Holland and Knight, which he called “one of the biggest and best firms in Florida.”