Orlando Vote Is 6-0 Court Hearing Next
By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff
The Orlando City Council on Monday rejected the advice of its own hearing officer and told a Maryland doctor he cannot open a practice where he would perform abortions.
“This is not a difficult decision. It isn’t a gray area with me,” said council member Don Ammerman, moments before leading a 6-0 vote against Dr. James Pendergraft.
Jacob Rose, Pendergraft’s attorney, promised his client will continue fighting the council in an attempt to open his business at 1103 Lucerne Terrace, just south of downtown.
His next venue will be Thursday in U.S. District Court in Orlando, where federal Judge Patricia Fawsett has scheduled a hearing.
In January, Fawsett listened as Rose contended Pendergraft was denied his constitutional right to due process last fall when the city approved, then rejected, his request for a zoning permit to start his practice.
Fawsett recently asked for additional records from Pendergraft and the city, some of the documents centering on whether the doctor’s business could be classified a “clinic” or “office.”
The city defines a clinic as a place that offers procedures where patients might require several hours of recovery, as opposed to an office, where clients leave within 60 minutes.
Orlando’s hearing officer, attorney David Coffey of Gainesville, ruled last month that Pendergraft would be running an office, meaning he should be allowed to open in the colonial-style building he purchased last October for $250,000.
But Ammerman and the council ignored Coffey’s recommendation, saying some of Pendergraft’s patients would require hours of recovery because he offers abortions to women in the second trimester of their pregnancies. That would make his practice a clinic, Ammerman said.
Pendergraft, a 38-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist, maintains virtually all of his patients, whether in their first or second trimester, leave less than an hour after the abortion.
The council, Rose said, is treating Pendergraft and Coffey’s decision with “scorn, derision and ridicule . . . Dr. Pendergraft will not give up, even though this is extremely costly.”
In his federal suit, Pendergraft has asked Fawsett to force the city to approve his business. He also is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, claiming he is losing more than $35,000 weekly in income and expenses.
Council’s vote was applauded by Deborah Shearer, director of Respect Life of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando. “I think the city responded appropriately and made the best decision they could make,” said Shearer, who opposes abortion.