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Judge again drops case against Tampa Councilman Orlando Gudes

A judge previously dismissed the case in July. His former legislative aide sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

TAMPA, Fla. — A Hillsborough County judge for a second time dismissed a civil lawsuit accusing Tampa City Councilman Orlando Gudes of defamation and emotional distress.

His former aide initially filed the lawsuit in May after the City of Tampa released findings from an investigation claiming Gudes created a hostile working environment, harassed her and made inappropriate comments toward her daughter.

Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe dropped the lawsuit in July after Gudes' attorney made a motion to dismiss, saying Gudes is immune from the allegations and “the facts as pled do not support any viable cause of action against Defendant.”

However, attorneys for the former aide asked the judge for a rehearing, which was held in September.

Documents released Wednesday show the judge dismissed the case last week. Of the three counts of defamation and "intentional infliction of emotional distress" brought before the court, the judge dismissed the defamation claim and one count of emotional distress with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff cannot come back on the same claims.

"We're disappointed with the ruling and...we are sad about it, but we are encouraged with the judge's conclusion that Mr. Gudes' behavior was 'strange,'" said Ethan Loeb, an attorney for the plaintiff, who chose to only be identified by her initials.

On the first count of emotional distress that alleged Gudes is liable to the plaintiff's daughter, the judge said in a written order, "the bar is exceptionally high for this type of claim," and that "it is clear that Count I does not allege sufficiently outrageous conduct."

The judge also said Gudes is immune to the defamation claim, and that the Tampa City Charter allows Gudes to make statements about his legislative aide’s work performance.

The second count of emotional distress alleging Gudes is liable to the plaintiff was dismissed without prejudice, so she can return to court with new evidence. However, the judge said she must use her full name.

RELATED: Harassment lawsuit dismissed against Tampa City Councilman Orlando Gudes

Some critics of the lawsuit and the City of Tampa investigation have said they believe the probe was in part a political move and retaliation against Gudes for voting against the desires of city administration when they came before the council. Just days before the city released its $98,000 investigation, Gudes voted against the mayor’s appointment for police chief. Gudes had also been vocal about a perceived flawed process in moving forward with a major city development in East Tampa

City leaders denied retaliation, saying only Gudes is to blame for his actions.

In a statement released to 10 Investigates, Gudes’ attorney, Ryan Barack, said:

"The Court again dismissed the lawsuit against Councilmember Gudes.

"At the Plaintiffs’ request, the Court conducted another very lengthy hearing. The Court again reviewed all of the allegations of the Plaintiffs and for the purposes of the ruling assumed all allegations were true. After the reconsideration and even assuming all of the allegations were true, the Court again dismissed the lawsuit in a lengthy, thoughtful order.

"Councilmember Gudes very much appreciates the support he has received from the community. He has been and intends to continue to focus his time and energy on the important matters facing the City like the affordable housing crisis and preventing senseless gun violence."

RELATED: Tampa reaches $200K settlement with former aide who accused Orlando Gudes of sexual harassment

Loeb said while he is disappointed the judge did not rule in his client's favor, he is looking ahead to the next steps.

"We are still looking into our options," Loeb said. "The judge is requiring us to identify the legislative aide. We are deciding if she wants to continue going forward or if she just wants to move on."

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

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