Judge Hears Abortion Doctor’s Zoning Dispute, 1/6/1996

More Time Has Been Given To Lawyers To Back Up Their Arguments In The Orlando Case That Has Gone To Federal Court

By Dan Tracy of The Sentinel Staff

Three weeks could pass before a federal judge decides whether to force Orlando into allowing a doctor to open a practice where abortions would be performed.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett postponed deciding Friday, giving attorneys for Dr. James Pendergraft and the city up to 20 days to provide her with more documents to back up their arguments.

“I don’t have a complete record to support either side,” Fawsett said at the conclusion of a 2 1/2 -hour hearing.

Once additional information is in, Fawsett said, she might schedule another hearing, but she did not set a date or indicate when she would rule.

Pendergraft, a 38-year-old gynecologist and obstetrician from Maryland, contends the city violated his constitutional right to due process by refusing to give him an occupational license.

His attorney, Jacob Rose of West Palm Beach, charged Friday that Orlando has treated his client in a “willy-nilly” fashion, once approving his request, then rejecting it.

The physician wants Fawsett to order the city to permit his business. He also is seeking money from Orlando, claiming he is losing more than $35,000 a week in income and expenses.

Last October, Pendergraft bought a colonial-style brick building at 1103 Lucerne Terrace for $250,000, according to Orange County property records.

Shortly after his purchase, Orlando approved, then revoked, a zoning request that would allow Pendergraft to open his business among a cluster of medical offices and residences.

Pendergraft, who had intended to open Dec. 1, won the temporary acceptance by changing the way he described his enterprise from a “clinic” to an “office.” That allowed him to meet city zoning requirements.

Clinics, by city definition, offer procedures where patients might require several hours of recovery, as opposed to offices, where clients leave within 60 minutes.

Jeffrey Slater, an Orlando attorney representing the city, said Pendergraft was “sort of sneaky” in his dealings by switching the manner in which he referred to his practice from a clinic to an office.

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