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Cummings’ attorney: Allegations ‘false, defamatory and legally erroneous’

By VALARIE HARRING - | Mar 22, 2023

Patty Cummings

An attorney representing a Cape Coral City Council member accused of failing to meet residency requirements for her seat has responded to the allegations saying they are “false, defamatory and legally erroneous.”

As evidenced by identification documents and confirmed by the owner of the residence in question, Councilmember Patty Cummings’ listed address was her legal address at the time she qualified to run for the District 4 seat and has remained so at all times thereafter, the letter from Jay P. Lechner, Lechner Law, states.

“We have the privilege of representing Patty L. Cummings with respect to legal matters relating to her role as Councilmember of the City of Cape Coral,” the letter states. “Specifically, Councilmember Cummings received from Mayor (John) Gunter a letter dated March 6, 2023 stating that he was notified of an anonymous complaint that ‘has been lodged against you through the Governor’s Office that you currently do not reside within District 4 of the City of Cape Coral.’ As discussed below, the anonymous complaint is false, defamatory and legally erroneous. My understanding is that, in response to politically-motivated communications, the Council intends to conduct an investigation into this frivolous anonymous complaint. For the following reasons, such an investigation would be a waste of taxpayer (funds) and any action taken as a result of the investigation against Councilmember Cummings to remove her from her seat in contravention of the will of the voters would be contrary to Florida statute, which reserves that power to the governor and the governor alone.”

Council voted 6-2 last week to hire an outside investigator to look into the issue. Council members Cummings and Dan Sheppard dissented.

The complaint took a circuitous route to the city’s elected board.

It was sent originally to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and copied to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle.

It then was given to Matt Caldwell, a state Committeeman for the Republican Party and a state representative from 2012 to 2018. Caldwell, Lee County’s property appraiser, forwarded it to the Governor’s Office and it subsequently made its way to Gunter’s Office

The complaint alleges that Cummings “fraudulently represented herself as living in District 4.”

The city charter requires candidates to reside in the district they seek to represent and has been interpreted as it requires they live within their district while they serve.

Lechner’s letter questions that interpretation under a bolded and underlined header “There Is No Requirement In The Charter That A Council Member Reside In His Or Her District Throughout His Or Her Entire Term.”

It reiterates that Cummings resided at her District 4 address at the time she filed her statement of qualifications with the City Clerk and thereafter.

“However, even if a council member temporarily changes residence during his or her term, that does not disqualify that councilmember from office under the terms of the Charter,” the letter states. “Indeed, the Charter clearly distinguishes between the requirements for ‘eligibility to hold office’ and ‘candidate qualifications.'”

Any action the city might continue to take would be a waste of taxpayer funds and would do little except continue to harm Cummings’ reputation, the letter states.

“…As you know, the Governor’s office has already received and reviewed the anonymous complaint and chose not to take any action,” the letter states. “Any such action would be overturned by a circuit court through a writ of prohibition. Finally, my client Patty L. Cummings has suffered public defamation of her character in the manner this was handled by the Council and the City Attorney. To continue in this course of action would implicate more serious consequences and may warrant her to take more serious legal actions to protect her reputation.”

Cummings did not immediately return a call requesting comment.