STUART – By the time the jury reaches a verdict in the latest lawsuit against Martin County’s government, each and every household could be on the hook for at least $1,000 in damages!
And each and every Martin household will be able to point the finger firmly at several former and current county commissioners who, if you believe the lawsuit, got caught tinkering with county-owned public records: Former Commissioner Anne Scott, and current commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding in particular.
The trial was supposed to start Monday, but county officials blinked again and were granted their request for a postponement until Feb. 5.
Still, Scott is preparing to testify about why it took her years to give up email records where she discussed county government business.
And the money that the whole ordeal could end up costing taxpayers doesn’t appear to faze her.
From her $3.1 million-estate on the beach in Jupiter Island where a “house keeper” first ushered us into her garden, Scott said she’s not concerned about the money.
“This case isn’t really about money,” said Scott, hours before she flew to France on an arts-related jaunt. “This is about a billionaire landowner trying to crush individuals who have tried to go against him.”
A former judge who lost her reelection battle to rookie Commish Harold Jenkins in November, Scott also gave us a preview of what she’ll tell the jury during the three-week trial: It just wasn’t her fault!
And she’ll no doubt tell the jury she knows who did it:
“The County Administration headed by Taryn Kryzda, and the County IT department, headed by Kevin Kryzda, (husband of the Administrator who has the sole authority to hire, fire, discipline or promote),” Scott wrote in an email to Gossip Extra. “They had a flagrant and perhaps intentional disregard of the public records laws.
“They had no procedures or policies in place to handle either the actual records or requests for records. No measures or serious attempts were made to insure compliance with the law. The county was derelict.
“Focus on individual commissioners is misplaced. This is particularly so because they were not parties to nor called as witnesses in the litigation It is the County Administration that was negligent, perhaps criminally so, with regard to its obligations in reference to public records.”
And the cavalier attitude of the elected officials in Stuart and elsewhere in Florida when it comes to public records, and attempts by local governments to stymie scrutiny from taxpayers, is exactly why Gossip Extra plans on covering this trial gavel-to-gavel!
What’s it all about?
While the civil lawsuit has been generally ignored by the corporate media, it could turn out to be one of the most important in the county’s history – and not just because it will expose possible lies from Scott, sitting Commissioner Heard and even conservationist Maggy Hurchalla, one of the state’s most respected grassroots pro-environment fighter.
The courtroom drama scheduled to play out before Judge William Roby is expected to conclude a complicated four-year saga that pits rich landowners against Martin County.
And the legal battle has had it all:
— Lies, with allegations against Scott and Heard were altering and hiding Martin County public records and archives, and later tried to cover it up
— Money, with Miami art collector George Lindemann Jr., son and namesake of the 756th richest man in the world, going against a county with 151,000 residents and a budget of $400 million
— Stubbornness, with nearly 2,500 individual entries and motions so far on the docket that have cost the entrenched county administration at least $5 MILLION so far – about $120 per Martin County household.
Dubbed Lake Point Phase I, Phase II LLC vs South Florida Water Management District, Martin County, and Hurchalla, the case had led to a demand of $60 million in damages, or 1,000 bucks per Martin County household!
Think about it: $1,000 bucks is enough for 10 Tinder dinner dates for two, or five if you’re on an elite dating site; That’s electricity for five months for a smallish house in winter; Or it could be a nice down payment on a car.
In a nutshell land company Lake Point, co-owned by Lindemann and his dad, contractor Harold Rusbridge and investor Jud Laird, claims breach of contract against the county and tortious interference against Hurchalla.
Originally filed in West Palm Beach then moved to Stuart, the case is about events that first started 10 years ago, when Martin County approved a plan to allow Lake Point to excavate 2 million cubic yards of lime rock, a basic ingredient in concrete, on a 2,000-acre vacant piece of land in the western confines of the county near Port Mayaca.
The mining would eventually leave a giant hole but Lake Point decided to partner up with the South Florida Water Management District and Martin County to develop the scarred property into a storm water management and treatment project managed by Lake Point. Lake Point was also going to sell its water to the city of West Palm Beach.
The public-private partnership was lauded as the first of its kind in Florida.
All good, right?
Remember now, this is Martin County.
In 2013, new members of the Board of Martin County Commissioners were elected on “slow-growth” platforms, and things started going south for Lake Point.
During public hearings, the new commissioners suddenly started debating whether Lake Point was mining illegally, something the company denies.
And Hurchalla, a Stuart resident who happens to be the sister of the recently deceased Bill Clinton U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and an authority in local environment issues, “started to engage in surreptitious activities targeted to interfere with Lake Point’s interests,” according to the original filing.
She claimed 60 acres of wetlands would be destroyed in Lake Point’s project, and the company’s hidden agenda was to dig up more lime rock nearby — allegations that have since also been debunked.
Among Hurchalla’s actions, the lawsuit reads, were secret meetings with commissioners to discuss ways to torpedo Lake Point’s project.
In time the plan was killed by Martin County, a key member of the would-be partnership – never mind that the county’s administration was purchasing lime rock from Lake Point for its own construction work.
The SFWMD followed in deep-sixing the whole thing, and Lake Point was out $1.5 million it had spent on trying to make the project a reality.
In 2013, Lake Point sued the county, SFWMD and Hurchalla for $100 million it claims it lost in the deal. Public records show that number has now been lowered to $60 million.
While working on the lawsuit, Lake Point lawyers invoked the so-called Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, a law that forces government to release of records to citizens who request them.
Lake Point wanted all commissioners’ emails on the topic of the Lake Point project to prove that Scott, Heard and Fielding were conspiring with Hurchalla against the company.
Martin County Public records
The county produced some emails after plenty of hand-wringing and delays and several court orders.
Scott, according to court papers, had emails on “numerous” private accounts that she failed to surrender in due time.
Lake Point even claimed Heard actually destroyed some of her emails discussing an anti-Lake Point strategy with Hurchalla and Scott, and altered others.
When Lake Point forced the issue, Heard claimed her Yahoo account was hacked, something that she claimed made it impossible for her to retrieve them.
Heard’s claims have been debunked by both Lake Point and Yahoo, and State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office is now looking at Heard’s actions. If she were charged criminally, she could be removed from office.
The commissioners’ lack of responsiveness to Lake Point’s request for Martin County public records, by the way, was settled in February in mediation, and Martin County lost. It was ordered to pay a total $500,000 for Lake Point’s legal fees and forced to draft a clear policy in the handling of public records. And elected commissioners are now banned from using private email accounts and social media to discuss official county business.
The mediator in that case singled out commissioners Heard and Scott for their refusal to follow the law.
Believe it or not, Lake Point lawyers are still now gathering officials emails they requested years ago.