Civil rights lawsuit settled out of court

OKEECHOBEE — A civil rights lawsuit filed against former Okeechobee County Property Appraiser William Sherman has been settled out of court.

According to information released Thursday, June 27, the suit was filed Oct. 27, 2016, in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida in Miami. The suit leveled by William ‘Russ’ Duncan claimed Mr. Sherman fired him from the appraiser’s office after Mr. Duncan lost his bid to become the next property appraiser for Okeechobee County when Mr. Sherman retired.

That race was eventually won by Mickey Bandi.

As part of the settlement, Mr. Duncan will receive an award of $87,500.

“I feel vindicated by the defendants’ decision to settle my case and hope that current and future employees of the Okeechobee County Property Appraiser’s Office will feel free to exercise their constitutional rights free from prohibited retaliation,” said Mr. Duncan in a prepared statement. “I would also like to express my sincere gratitude for those employees of the property appraiser who gave truthful testimony in my cause, despite their own fears of loss of employment.”

The lawsuit alleged Mr. Sherman was against Mr. Duncan’s run for office because he wanted his assistant, Mr. Bandi, to win.

“Duncan was terminated by Sherman after Duncan unsuccessfully sought election to the office of property appraiser last fall against Sherman’s hand-picked successor, Bandi,” stated the release by Timothy W. Weber, Mr. Duncan’s attorney.

The suit also claims Mr. Sherman called Mr. Duncan into his office on Nov. 6, 2015, and said he was causing the plaintiff and Mr. Bandi to lose the election by splitting the vote.

Also, in an Oct. 15, 2015, speech to the Okeechobee Board of Realtors Mr. Duncan said he felt the appraiser’s office needed to upgrade its technology, training, transparency, leadership, effort and integrity. That statement apparently did not sit well with Mr. Sherman.

Four days after making that statement, Mr. Duncan was called into Mr. Sherman’s office and told he could not say anything negative about him or his office again and threatened to fire Mr. Duncan if he did not change his campaign speech, states the 11-page suit.

Russ Duncan

In September of 2016, according to the suit, Mr. Sherman asked Mr. Duncan to back Mr. Bandi in his quest for the appraiser’s seat. However, Mr. Duncan refused to do so.

Mr. Duncan was then fired Oct. 3, 2016.

Mr. Weber explained the suit was filed to seek his client’s reinstatement to the appraiser’s office, to recoup lost wages and benefits and to repair the damage done to his client’s good standing in the community.

When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, June 29, 2017, the St. Petersburg attorney said under the terms of the agreement he could not say anything else about the settlement.

Mr. Weber said because Okeechobee County is self insured, it will have to pay the monetary award. As for Mr. Sherman’s legal defense, that will be paid for out of the appraiser’s office budget.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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