Verdict in rock-mine lawsuit chills free speech in Florida | Editorial

Sun-Sentinel by Editorial Board

September 7, 2018

Hardly anyone was paying attention to a billionaire developer’s lawsuit against environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla until she lost it. Then a jury awarded him $4.4 million for her attempts to block his plan to dig and sell rocks from a sugar cane field near Lake Okeechobee, store water there and sell it to a city. Be very careful what you say about the public’s business, the verdict seemed to mean, or you could be ruined financially.

Hurchalla, a former Martin County Commissioner who’s the surviving sister of former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, joked that she had nothing to lose but two kayaks and a 14-year-old Toyota. But understanding the stakes, an impressively broad array of public interest groups and individuals rallied to her appeal after the verdict came down earlier this year in favor of George Lindemann Jr.’s Lake Point project.

The case is pending before the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, which agreed Friday to accept three friend-of-the-court briefs representing 12 organizations and four individuals. They include Florida’s most prominent environmentalist, Nathaniel P. Reed, speaking from the grave. He filed his motion before his accidental death last month. The appeals court initially denied it, then changed its mind Friday.

There are now 21 attorneys involved on the two sides. It is a very big deal.

The organizations represented are the Florida Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Everglades, Bullsugar, the Pegasus Foundation, the Guardians of Martin County, The First Amendment Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Florida, the Florida Society of News Editors, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

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