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County Commish May Face Criminal Charges In First Amendment Case!

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County Commish May Face Criminal Charges In First Amendment Case!

Sarah Heard

Commissioner Sarah Heard may be facing criminal charges (Martin County photo)

STUART — Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard could be facing criminal charges for violating public records laws, according to documents filed in court this week.

This criminal investigation is wrapped up in a First Amendment legal battle between Martin County and the Lake Point rock quarry, that’s set to go to trial in mid-October.

Earlier this month, a search warrant was served at the County Administration building where law enforcement officials were trying to get copies of emails from the commissioner’s personal account, according to TCPalm.com.

In the lawsuit, Heard, who’s been a commissioner since 2002, is accused of destroying and tampering with records.

Heard has previously denied all wrongdoing and told TCPalm.com, “There is no guilt … I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Back in 2014, Lake Point requested all relevant emails from Heard, Commisioner Ed Fielding and former Commissioner Anne Scott.

But, Heard said she couldn’t comply because her personal Yahoo account had been hacked, and all of her emails had been deleted.

A tale that even the court-appointed arbitrator Harold Googe found incredulous.

The court file shows that in February, Googe wrote: “I find the testimony of Commissioner Heard regarding the loss of emails due to the alleged ‘hacking event’ to be suspicious, bizarre and less than credible.”

In Florida, it’s legal for elected officials to use a personal email account for public business as long as records of all the public business conducted are retained. And, those records are made available to the public when requested.

Knowingly violating state public records laws can get elected officials into hot water. It’s a first-degree misdemeanor and can be grounds for impeachment or removal from office.

Over the years, Lake Point has made numerous attempts to get a hold of the emails deleted from Heard’s account, to no avail.

In January, a forensic expert determined there was no evidence Heard’s account had been hacked. In February, Circuit Court Judge William Roby ordered Yahoo to give up all the information they had about Heard’s account: the password, and all activity from November 2012 until the present.

 

State Attorney Bruce Colton, did not comment on the case.

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