STUART — Former Martin County Commissioner Anne Scott, a retired judge from Chicago, and current Commissioner Ed Fielding pleaded not guilty in writing today in connection with a public records scandals that has cost taxpayers in excess of $25 million.
Scott and Fielding also waived their appearance in person at an arraignment scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday at the Stuart courthouse.
The hearing, and any subsequent hearings until a trial or a guilty plea will only feature a battery of attorneys hired by Scott and Fielding.
Last month, Scott and Fielding were booked into the county jail after being indicted for allegedly failing to give up records of communications with members of the public and each other.
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.
Current Commissioner Sarah Heard was charged with a non-criminal public records violation in connection with the same scandal. She also pleaded not guilty and faces fines of up to $500.
Because Heard’s charge is not a criminal one, she will not be forced to resign should she be convicted. She, too, was supposed to appear in court Monday but she also waived her right to be there and isn’t expected to attend.
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.
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.