A Federal Judge Issued A Ruling To Permit The Procedures. The City Had Tried To Prohibit Them, Citing Zoning Laws.
By Sherri M. Owens of The Sentinel Staff
A doctor fighting the city of Orlando has gotten the OK from a federal judge to perform second-trimester abortions at his facility near downtown, a lawyer’s aide said Thursday.
Dr. James Scott Pendergraft, 38, started taking appointments at the Orlando Women’s Center a month ago after city officials agreed to let him perform first-trimester abortions. Second-trimester abortions, they said, violated zoning laws.
An obstetrician and gynecologist from Maryland, Pendergraft has been battling the city for about seven months. He opened his practice at 1103 Lucerne Terrace last October in a building he bought for $250,000.
An aide to Jacob Rose, Pendergraft’s chief attorney, said neither he nor Rose had read the ruling rendered by Judge Patricia Fawsett but were informed of it Thursday.
“All we can confirm is that we were notified by the U.S. District Court (in Orlando),” said the aide, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “They called to say an order had been handed down and that the order was in favor of granting a preliminary injunction” in the doctor’s behalf.
Pendergraft’s spokeswoman, Marti Mackenzie, said the 51-page decision is expected to be officially released today at a news conference in Orlando.
Orlando officials had argued that second-trimester recovery time would be 90 minutes or more, making Pendergraft’s facility a clinic in an area zoned for medical offices and homes.
But Pendergraft’s attorneys argued that the recovery time for second-trimester abortions is 50 minutes, making his facility an office and, thus, within city zoning laws.
Orlando City Attorney Bob Hamilton said he had not been informed of the ruling and could not speculate on whether the city would appeal.
Pendergraft asked in a lawsuit filed in December to be compensated for lost wages and legal fees of as much as $1 million. Mackenzie said a hearing on damages will be held later.
The city’s next step is not clear.
“We could say, ‘OK, we give up, let’s just talk about damages’ and it would all be over,” Hamilton said. “Or, we could say we disagree with the judge and we want to appeal. Or, it could go to trial. Those are the three alternatives.”
Mackenzie said Pendergraft is relieved.
“Dr. Pendergraft and his family feel absolutely vindicated on all counts and look forward to . . . serving the women of Central Florida,” Mackenzie said.