STUART — Former Martin County Commissioner Anne Scott, a retired judge originally from Chicago, and current Commissioner Ed Fielding were booked last night into the county jail after being indicted in a public records scandal that already coast taxpayers upward of $25 million.
Scott, 69, who lives in Hobe Sound and lost her seat after one term in November, and Fielding, 73, were charged with two counts each of failure to permit inspection and copying of public records. Each count is a misdemeanor that could, at worst for them although unlikely, see the elected officials spend up to a year in jail.
Fielding surrendered to the county jail at 5 p.m. and Scott at 8:30 p.m. They were fingerprinted, photographed and released on their own recognizance after about an hour, said Sheriff’s spokeswoman Christine Weiss.
Earlier yesterday afternoon, current Commissioner Sarah Heard was charged with a non-criminal public records violation. She pleaded not guilty in writing at the county courthouse and went home. She faces fines up to $500 but no jail time.
It is unclear at this point why the state attorney’s office is treating Scott and Fielding differently because the office has yet to file charging documents for Fielding and Scott.
But Richard Kibbey, who represents Heard with his daughter Barbara Kibbey Wagner but has not been retained by the other two, explained the grand jury may have believed Heard was negligent in her handling of the records while Scott and Fielding had the intention of hiding their records.
“That could explain why the defendants have been treated differently,” Kibbey said.
Heard was only charged with one count, and the other two with two counts each. Because her charge is not a criminal one, she will not be forced to resign should she be convicted.
For Fielding, who is still a sitting commissioner, a conviction could automatically make him ineligible to serve and cause a new elections.
While the state attorney’s spokeswoman isn’t commenting, the developments are believed to be the result of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the handling of public records by county officials.
Check out our video of Heard’s visit to the courthouse yesterday:
Scott, Fielding and Heard, who is in her fourth term on the county commission, are accused of failing to surrender emails from private servers to developers investigating why the commission suddenly started voting against them.
The emails were requested by Lake Point, a mining company on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. It was out to prove that commissioners were illegally communicating and discussing public business in private, and conspiring with members of the public against the company’s interests.
It took several years for the trio to produce their emails. When she was asked to show emails from her private Yahoo account, Heard claimed it had been hacked. In a civil lawsuit, several witnesses testified Heard was lying.
So far, the county has lost one civil lawsuit over the public records and was ordered to pay $500,000 of Lake Point’s legal bill.
And the commission voted last month to settle a second lawsuit, for breach of contract. Depending on how to calculate the loss to taxpayers, the county may end up having to pay more than $25 million to Lake Point. Earlier today, the commission voted to borrow money to pay some of the settlement.
Neither Scott nor Fielding returned calls for comment.