STUART — The grand finale of a trial that started in a Martin County court a week ago is scheduled for tomorrow, when environmentalist and former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla is scheduled to take the stand to defend herself from accusations that she lied to county commissioners in a successful attempt to interfere a deal the county reached with developer Lake Point.
Hurchalla, 77, could spent several hours on the stand to answer, for the jury of four men and four women, questions from her lawyers as well as Lake Point attorney Ethan Loeb.
Among others, she will be asked about telling commissioners in 2012 that Lake Point was destroying wetlands, something that Lake Point denied.
Hurchalla, who’s being sued for tortious interference, is facing potential demands that she pay $4 million in damages to Lake Point, her share of $22 million in missed revenue for the developer’s rock mine near Lake Okeechobee.
Since Friday, Hurchalla’s defense team grilled six witnesses. And it plans on a brief chat with Lake Point co-owner George Lindemann Jr., a Miami billionaire philanthropist, Tuesday morning before calling Hurchalla. Lindemann could be asked about the portrayal of his company by Loeb of a small business.
On Hurchalla’s behalf, the jury already heard from legendary Everglades protector Nathaniel Reed, 84.
“Maggy is a champion of the environment,” Reed said, “and an expert on the Everglades. She’s a great compatriot. She is a hard, hard worker and she is widely admired.”
Loeb passed on cross-examining Reed but he’d heard what he needed: While Hurchalla’s camp claims she acted as just another citizen asking politicians to act when they voted to terminate a deal with Lake Point, Reed elevated her to the rank of exper — something that could raise questions about Hurchalla’s motivation.
The trial stems from a larger breach of contract action Lake Point brought against Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District when its deal to exploit a rock mine near Lake Okeechobee then use the land to store and purify water for local governments collapsed.
Lake Point sued the county for violation of public records laws after County Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding, and former Commissioner Anne Scott failed to produce their email exchanges with Hurchalla.
Both SFWMD and Martin County settled with Lake Point, and Heard, Fielding and Scott were arrested and charged with misdemeanor counts of failing to produce public records. Their trials are scheduled for later this year.
Hurchalla, who happens to be the sister of Bill Clinton U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, was the only defendant who refused to settle.