STUART — This goose is cooked.
From the judge presiding over the trial in a lawsuit against famed environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla to court watchers, the sense in the downtown Stuart courthouse is that Hurchalla is about to lose the case brought against her by a developer who blames her for the loss of a lucrative mining deal with Martin County.
She’s about to lose big, and not just money: Hurchalla’s sterling reputation so far could take a huge hit!
“Good thing this is not a death penalty case,” said one court watcher as jurors seemed to laugh and joke with one another.
Things got so bad in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge William Roby today that jurors were laughing and joking with each other while Hurchalla’s lawyers were speaking.
At one point Roby called Hurchalla and her attorneys into a private meeting and tried to talk Hurchalla into getting the case dismissed.
According to Hurchalla, he asked her to apologize to developer Lake Point and call it a day.
But the 77-year-old former Martin County commissioner wouldn’t have it — and she’s starting to look like the Black Knight cut to size by King Arthur in Monty Python And The Holy Grail:
Hurchalla and Virginia Sherlock, her lawyer, tried to have Roby recuse himself or declare a mistrial because he told Hurchalla during their private meeting that the jury appears more sensitive to Lake Point’s argumentation than hers.
“In 27 years, I have never been so shaken by a judge telling me I would lose.” Sherlock said when she asked Roby to recuse himself. “You roll your eyes when Mr. Heims (co-counsel Howard Heims) is speaking. It has so upset Ms. Hurchalla that she is not at all confident she can get a fair trial.”
Ethan Loeb, attorney for Lake Point, seemed amiable to a settlement, saying: “We would have liked to have resolved it.”
But, Loeb argued, it was the jury and not the Court that was going to decide the case and described Sherlock’s motion for the judge’s recusal and mistrial as “an effort at further delay” the outcome.
Roby denied Sherlock’s motion for recusal and said he would take the mistrial motion under advisement.
The trial resumed with more testimonies and is scheduled to continue tomorrow.
Meanwhile Gayle Ryan, an Hurchalla supporter and official with the environmental protection group River Warrior, was kicked out of the courtroom for defying Roby’s order banning those watching the trial from taking photos with cellphones and posting them on social media.
The trial stems from a larger legal action where Lake Point claims Hurchalla conspired with Martin County Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding, and former Commissioner Anne Scott to break an agreement it had reach to exploit a mine near Lake Okeechobee then use the land as a water-cleaning area.
Lake Point sued the commissioners and the county for violation of public records laws after the trio failed to produce email exchanges with Hurchalla. The developer won a judgement that could end up costing taxpayers $25 million, and the three politicians were arrested and charged with misdemeanor counts of failing to produce public records.
Hurchalla was the only defendant who wouldn’t settle. At least, she’s not facing criminal charges.