The City Council Is Expected To Vote Monday On The Proposed Settlement Of A $1 Million Lawsuit
By Sherri M. Owens of The Sentinel Staff
Orlando taxpayers will give $325,000 to Dr. James Scott Pendergraft, the owner of a downtown clinic that performs abortions, if a proposed court settlement is approved.
Lawyers for the city and Pendergraft reached a tentative settlement of the doctor’s $1 million lawsuit Friday afternoon.
The City Council, which at one time had sought to keep Pendergraft from opening his clinic, is expected to vote Monday on the agreement. If they approve it, Pendergraft would drop his suit.
“Rather than going forward and spending more taxpayer dollars in damages and attorneys fees and interest, we decided it was in the city’s best interest to go ahead and settle and bring this to conclusion,” City Attorney Bob Hamilton said.
Marti Mackenzie, a spokeswoman for Pendergraft, said earlier this week the doctor was eager for a settlement. Pendergraft was not available for comment Friday.
“Dr. Pendergraft wants this to be a healing process,” Mackenzie said. “He wants it to be a victory for reproductive rights.”
Pendergraft, a 38-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist, has tried since August 1995 to get a city permit to run a clinic where he could perform first- and second-trimester abortions. His business, the Orlando Women’s Center, is located about a half mile from City Hall, on Lucerne Terrace.
After his request was denied, Pendergraft sued the city in December seeking lost wages and attorney’s fees. A city hearing officer in February recommended the doctor be given the proper permit to allow him to proceed with the later term abortions.
Hamilton said Orlando pursued its case because officials believed that allowing second-trimester abortions at Pendergraft’s facility would violate city zoning laws.
“We were not totally out in left field somewhere,” Hamilton said Friday, explaining why the city did not follow the hearing officer’s recommendation. “The hearing officer indicated there was evidence on both sides of the issue.”
Pendergraft opened his clinic in March, but he could perform first-trimester abortions only. The City Council decided the recovery time after second-trimester abortions was 90 minutes or more, making the Orlando Women’s Center a clinic in an area zoned for homes and for medical offices, where recovery times are shorter.
But last month, U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett overturned the city’s decision. She wrote in her order April 18 that “the more credible evidence” showed normal observation and recovery time for second-trimester abortions is less than one hour.
“When the federal judge entered the injunction, it was sort of a clue that this does not bode well for future proceedings,” Hamilton said.