County wins Public Records Act trial

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Judge McManus has denied claims filed by the Lake Point rockpit owners against Martin County pursuant to the Public Records Act (Chapter 119, Florida Statutes).  The claims were presented during a two-day trial that concluded on Monday.

 

In a four-page ruling, the judge specifically found that:

 

1.  Martin County produced all public records that were requested by Lake Point in a reasonably timely manner.  All records were produced prior to the filing of the Second Amended Complaint in February 2014 that first set out Public Records Act claims.  Two e-mails that were produced a few days after the Second Amended Complaint was filed were not previously produced due to inadvertent omission, not willful refusal to produce public records.

 

2.  Commissioner Sarah Heard’s notes that she used to aid her memory during Board of County Commissioners meetings are not public records and are not required to be preserved or produced.  The Commissioner’s notes were for her personal use and were not intended to “perpetuate, communicate, or formalize knowledge” of her study, research, or decision.

 

3.  E-mails produced by the County in response to Public Records Act or discovery requests in the litigation commenced by Lake Point were not “altered” or “manipulated” as Lake Point claimed.  Although the e-mails were initially produced as copies, rather than in “native format”, there was no substantitve change or difference in the content of the e-mails.

 

The Court found that “by the time the plaintiffs first filed the public record counts against Martin County, the County had already made a reasonable effort to respond and provide public records to the Plaintiffs . . . Martin County did not unlawfully refuse to permit the e-mails of [Maggy] Hurchalla with the Commissioners to be inspected and copied.”

 

Although the Court ruled decisively in Martin County’s favor, Lake Point was not ordered to pay the County’s legal fees for filing a frivolous action.  The judge found that Lake Point did not know all of the facts before it filed the lawsuit.

 

Lake Point has sued Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District, claiming that contracts entered into in 2008 to establish a “public works project” on the rockpit property in western Martin County were breached because, among other things, (1) the County is requiring Lake Point to comply with the Comprehensive Plan and some of the County’s Land Development Regulations and (2) the SFWMD failed to give Lake Point a permit or permits to allow the rockpit operators to transport water from the Martin County site near Lake Okeechobee for sale to private utilities in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

 

Maggy Hurchalla was named as a defendant in the case in a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) because she spoke out against the Lake Point project.  The claim against Maggy is designed to intimidate or silence citizens who dare to communicate with their elected representatives about public issues.

 

The Lake Point property is owned in part by George Lindemann, Jr., the son of Forbes 400 billionaire George Lindemann, Sr.  Lindemann, Sr. is well known for business ventures in the contact lens, cell phone, and energy pipeline fields.  Lindemann, Jr. is known for having served time in federal prison for having his show horse, Charisma, electrocuted to collect $250,000 in insurance proceeds.

 

Judge McManus yesterday entered an order denying Lindemann, Sr.’s attempt to prevent Maggy, the County and the SFWMD from taking his deposition in the case. 

 

The attorneys who are representing Lake Point are also representing Reily Enterprises, LLC in a lawsuit filed against Martin County following the rejection of the final site plan and proposed PUD Amendment for the Reilys’ Pitchford Landing project.

 

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