Property appraiser candidate, treasurer for opponent agree to dismiss dueling lawsuits

Kevin Lilly

Kevin Lilly

Bruce Stephens

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Bruce Stephens

Skinner

Skinner

A candidate for Collier County property appraiser and his opponent's campaign treasurer have agreed to drop their dueling lawsuits just days before Tuesday's primary election.

Bruce Stephens, an employee at the Collier Appraiser's Office and the campaign treasurer for Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, filed a lawsuit last month against Kevin Lilly, a former co-worker and Skinner's political opponent. Stephens claimed Lilly slandered him during an April meeting in Fort Lauderdale when he said "Bruce Stephens was basically paid off by Abe (Skinner)" by receiving a pay raise.

Lilly filed a counter-suit against Stephens claiming Stephens's lawsuit was an attempt to "chill" his election bid and free speech.

On Friday, attorneys for the two men sent paperwork to dismiss the suits to Circuit Judge Cynthia Pivacek.

"I expected it to be dismissed," Lilly said. "I knew they didn't have any case and it was just something they were using during this political season."

But Stephens and his attorney, Mike McDonnell, insist their lawsuit was never political. The agreement "was not supposed to be discussed," Stephens said.

"My suit against Kevin Lilly had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the campaign," said Stephens.

Although they have agreed to dismiss their suits, both Lilly and Stephens stand by their initial assertions.

In a news release, Lilly said that between October 2010 and September 2011, Skinner gave Stephens a $14,000 salary increase and paid him $30,000 for accrued vacation and sick leave. Within months he agreed to be Skinner's campaign treasurer.

Stephens admitted to the pay increases in court documents, but denied that Lilly's statement that he was paid off was true, that he filed his suit to "chill" Lilly's election bid, or that Skinner had a role in the lawsuit.

In a letter to the Daily News, Skinner said Stephens received the salary increase because he assumed the duties of an additional department whose director was retiring. He was entitled to the vacation and sick leave payouts because he moved from a position that accrues sick and vacation leave to one that does not, Skinner said.

Skinner also said Stephens is volunteering with his campaign, is not being paid to do so and filed and withdrew the lawsuit on his own accord.

"My opponent has once again shown that he will stoop to any level to gain your vote," Skinner wrote.

McDonnell said Stephens is a religious man who decided to dismiss his lawsuit "after consulting his sources of inspiration, including the Bible."

"Out of the Christian charity of his point of view ... my client decided it was the Christian thing to do not to sue," McDonnell said. "This is nonsense. It is pure legal nonsense."

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