Supreme Court’s Message Re Hurchalla-Lake Point Saga Falls On Deaf Ears In Martin County
Article Posted on February 23, 2021
Note: It is our goal at One Martin to provide reliable, fact-based information so citizens can be better informed about our government and our community.
Dear friend of One Martin,
After the US Supreme Court declined Jan. 4 even to hear environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla's appeal of the $4.4 million judgment against her, we thought we could put the Lake Point case behind us. We were wrong.
The court of public opinion has been so steeped in misrepresentations of fact about Lake Point over the past nine years that even the high court's message cannot seem to break through: Lake Point had been right all along.
This critical point is lost in many news stories and conversations, because environmental reporters tend to parrot Hurchalla's own press releases that soften the meaning of the supreme court's rejection; however, she knows the court's true message:
Hurchalla was NOT an innocent victim. Lake Point's case was NOT a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) designed to shut Hurchalla up. Hurchalla's First Amendment rights were NOT violated.
The jury got it right: Hurchalla lied to the county commission and to the public. The 12 judges of the Fourth District Court of Appeal got it right. The Florida Supreme Court got it right. Hurchalla was wrong.
Remnants of Lake Point's lawsuits against the county and Hurchalla, and the state's attorney's criminal charges against Commissioner Sarah Heard continue to surface, however, most recently during Martin County Commission meetings.
The supreme court's action should have sent a clear message, yet Heard continues to deny that she participated in the county commission's overreach from 2012 to 2016, a direct product of Hurchalla's interference.
It resulted in civil lawsuits for breach of contract and public records violations, court sanctions ordered against the county of $502,000 in addition to a $12 million cash settlement, and earned Hurchalla a $4.4 million judgment for direct damages to Lake Point.
This is a story of one person's undue influence on three commissioners – Heard, Ed Fielding and Anne Scott – who abused their majority power as a result, the damage they together caused, and the response of the legally permitted business they targeted, which had operated for four years previously in Martin County without incident.
Lake Point Restoration, a rock mine on a strategic piece of land adjacent to Lake Okeechobee, had planned to pump polluted water out of the C-44 canal, clean it in its limestone rock pits, reducing discharges to the St. Lucie River around 10 percent, before sending the water into the L-8 flowway to move it south to drought-stricken cities for a fee.
After 20 years, Lake Point would donate the land to the state.
Despite a jury's and multiple justices' conclusions otherwise, Heard and Hurchalla both continue now to paint themselves as heroines standing up to a billionaire bully, a storyline strengthened by reporters who find it easier just to follow Hurchalla's narrative rather than research the facts and court transcripts.
After listening to Heard in December object to the county paying legal fees of $35,000 to defend a frivolous ethics complaint against Commission Chair Stacey Hetherington, we could tell that Heard still maintains she's the victim of Lake Point.
Hetherington's attorney's fee was more than the $275-per-hour cap the county instituted after Heard's own criminal defense attorney fees in the Lake Point case topped $400,000, but the county paid them.
Martin County taxpayers also will pay Scott's and Fielding's legal fees – altogether totaling around $700,000 – because their cases were dismissed despite the fact that their actions as commissioners resulted in sanctions against the county and resulted in criminal indictments by a grand jury.
Now, for Heard to compare her case to Hetherington's, which the Ethics Commission called a frivolous complaint, borders on the ludicrous. So does Heard's objection to the county's change in policy in order that falsely accused commissioners do not need to bear out-of-pocket expenses for doing their jobs.
Although this particular matter is done and over, we know others will follow.
In fact, Hetherington, a commissioner who quickly emerged as one of the county's most fiscally responsible, elected chair after serving only two years, will be a target for the next 18 months – the date of the next election.
We think that's likely due to retribution, but we'll leave that up to you to decide.
You see, Hetherington was the person who eight years ago, as a public relations professional and six years prior to being elected a commissioner, made the first public records request for Lake Point seeking commissioners' email correspondence with Hurchalla – including Heard's.
The ethics complaint against Hetherington was filed by Hurchalla's attorney in the Lake Point case, Virginia Sherlock.
This instance and others tell us that Lake Point's story will continue to be reshaped and retold. As falsehoods harden into “facts” – as happens to lies repeated often enough – they will turn into clubs for political debate against future county commission candidates, especially against Hetherington,
We're sorry to see that happen.
We had hoped that the supreme court's inaction that will allow Hurchalla's stiff judgment to stand untouched would help, finally, to dispel some Lake Point myths that plague Martin County's political scene.
Separating fact from such myths is a founding principle of One Martin's mission. Apparently, we still have much more work to do.