The attorney nominated by Safer Cleaner Ships to defend Key West’s right to curtail cruise ships against anticipated lawsuits has “conflicts related to cruise lines.”

Joe Jacquot, who also represented the Safer Cleaner Ships committee, revealed the conflicts in a Sept. 28 email to Key West City Attorney Shawn Smith.

Jacquot, a shareholder in the prestigious Gunster law firm, wrote, “Shawn, sorry for my delay in responding, but I was meeting yesterday with our firm management including on the conflict list. We do have conflicts related to the cruise lines. While it may not be adverse in regard to drafting, etc., it certainly would be in litigation and I understand that is the intended scope. I’m happy to discuss at your convenience.  Joe”

Jacquot’s message arrived 20 minutes after Smith had told the mayor and city commissioners in a separate email that he had asked Jacquot for a representation agreement on Sept. 13, but hadn’t heard back. Smith had again emailed Jacquot on Sept. 27, writing, “We are setting an agenda this morning for our October 5 meeting.  I understand you are still doing a conflict check, but I need a representation agreement to attach to an agenda item. We can always pull it before the meeting if need be. Thanks, Shawn”

Still no response. So Smith emailed the mayor and commissioners the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 28, saying, “Good afternoon, I’ve repeatedly asked Mr. Jacquot for a representation agreement as well as making clear when our agenda is set. I’ve yet to receive a response to my emails the last two mornings. I first asked for an agreement on the 13th of this month. Unless I have such an agreement, I will have nothing from him for you on the 5th.”

Twenty minutes after that email to the mayor and commissioners, Smith received a message from Jacquot.

“Obviously reaching out to the Commission prompted a response,” Smith then wrote to the commissioners minutes later when forwarding Jacquot’s message about conflicts related to cruise lines.

So the question remains, can the lawyer who helped Safer Cleaner Ships with Key West’s voter-approved cruise ship reduction, now help the city defend those restrictions? And what if that lawyer or his firm also represents cruise lines?

(Those questions could make things interesting at the Oct. 5 city commission meeting.)

The Safer Cleaner Ships committee, which initiated the voter-approved cruise ship limits in 2020, last month convinced the city commission to hire its former attorney, Jacquot, to help the city mount its legal defense. So the commission directed Smith in mid-September to pursue an agreement with Jacquot.

 in August, Safer Cleaner Ships had opposed Smith’s initial recommendation of the Tallahassee-based Radey Law Firm. Smith said the firm had no conflicts that would have prevented it from representing the city. But Radey bowed out after receiving a list of probing questions, drafted by Safer Cleaner Ships, about the firm’s prior clients, including harbor pilots, who sued to oppose the city’s drastic cruise ship reductions.

“Radey represented the harbor pilots AGAINST the cruise ships,” Commissioner Clayton Lopez has said.

Arlo Haskell, treasurer of Safer Cleaner Ships, told the Keys Weekly on Saturday, Oct. 2, “Cruise lines never sued the City to block the referendums, and never lobbied to overturn our election. They have many reasons not to go to court against a popular destination city like Key West. Our opposition has always been a few wealthy businessmen who profit from cruise ships that are just too big for our small island. Mr. Jacquot has no conflicts litigating against those business interests who have been behind every lawsuit against our citizens’ wishes in this matter. He is the best lawyer for the job and he has our full support.”

But Jacquot’s announcement of conflicts with cruise lines surprised and frustrated some city commissioners. When reached by phone late Friday night, Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover told the Keys Weekly, “The committee should have revealed his conflicts way before now. SCS has been putting this guy in front of us for how long, and now he’s saying he can’t do it?”

Hoover said Jacquot’s usual hourly fee is $750 per hour, and he had proposed a discounted rate of $675 per hour.

“I’m disappointed we haven’t done better in negotiating this thing,” Hoover said. “I’ve had the utmost confidence in our city attorney since the day I met him when I was elected. We can’t afford to put ourselves in the position of losing a $100 million lawsuit.”

Commissioner Greg Davila kept his response to Jacquot’s conflict announcement brief, writing only, “Surprised” in a text message to the Keys Weekly on Friday night.

Commissioner Clayton Lopez had more to say.

“As I said before, the SCS committee can’t have it both ways, opposing one attorney for a conflict, but allowing it for the attorney they want,” Lopez said on Friday night. “I’m very concerned by the fact that the narrative was twisted to make it sound like our city attorney had done something nefarious.”

As of 8 p.m. Sunday, the attorney had not been added to the Tuesday agenda, but will likely come up during Smith’s legal report to the commission, which meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. 

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. She's married to a saintly — and handy — fisherman, and has been stringing words together in Key West since 1998.