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Citizens, Tampa Law Firm Reach Sinkhole Agreement

Bruce Ackerman

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and a Tampa-based law firm have reached an agreement that could help resolve about 300 sinkhole claims, the state-backed insurer announced Thursday.

Under the agreement, clients of the Thompson Trial Group P.A. will receive settlement offers that include a plan for making repairs to homes damaged by sinkholes.

In part, Citizens would pay for below-ground repairs recommended by a professional engineer. Policyholders would be able to choose repair contractors from a pre-approved list. Citizens would also then pay for any related above-ground damages.

Citizens has dealt in recent years with trying to resolve large numbers of sinkhole-related claims, primarily in Pasco, Hernando and Hillsborough counties. Michael Peltier, a Citizens spokesman, said the insurer has about 2,000 sinkhole claims in litigation.

In a news release Thursday, Citizens said the agreement with the Thompson Trial Group could help avoid millions of dollars in potential litigation expenses. The homeowners involved are not required to accept the settlement offers, but the law firm also praised the agreement.

"After a long fight in the courts and a lengthy negotiation, we are really excited to have finally put in place a settlement opportunity for our clients that is fair and protects their valuable property rights," attorney Lee Smith said in a prepared statement.

Scott Rejects Some Bar Judicial Nominating Picks

Gov. Rick Scott this week rejected lists of candidates offered by The Florida Bar for seats on two judicial nominating commissions, including one serving the Tampa Bay area.

The Bar said it is reopening the application process to fill two seats on the 2nd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission and two seats on the 15th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.

Under state law, the governor appoints people to the nine-member commissions, with four members selected from lists proposed by The Bar. He is allowed under the law to reject entire Bar lists, as he did Monday with the 2nd District Court of Appeal and 15th Circuit lists.

"The Florida Bar Board of Governors is disappointed the governor did not choose any of the nominees that we very carefully screened and vetted, but that is his prerogative and we will be promptly responding to his request," Florida Bar President Gregory W. Coleman said in a prepared statement.

The Bar will accept applications for the positions through Aug. 15.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal is based in Lakeland and handles cases from Pasco, Pinellas, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, DeSoto, Manatee, Sarasota, Hillsborough, Charlotte, Glades, Collier, Hendry and Lee counties. The 15th Circuit is in Palm Beach County.

Scott, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that he had appointed 27 people to nine other judicial nominating commissions. The announcement indicated 18 of those picks came from lists submitted by The Bar.

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