The Palm Beach Post by Kimberly Miller
March 12, 2019
Tales of a secret government meeting, influential emails and an indignant billionaire-backed mining company were embroiled in two court hearings Tuesday that some legal experts say share a common thread — to chill the public’s willingness to question authority.
The cases, whose common denominator is Martin County-based mining company Lake Point Restoration, were heard in the Fourth District Court of Appeal by a three-judge panel charged with parsing the public’s right to know versus sealing closed-door negotiations, and whether complaining to public officials is protected speech.
Environmentalist and former Martin County commissioner Maggy Hurchalla was appealing a $4.4 million judgment levied against her after she protested the mining company’s operations in emails to Martin County commissioners. Lake Point said Hurchalla lied in the messages, had more “clout” than a normal citizen, and was intent on hurting the company — ingredients that a jury decided in February 2018 was worth the multi-million fine but that Hurchalla disputes.
In the second case, the non-profit Everglades Law Center had requested a transcript of a closed-door meeting of South Florida Water Management District governing board members who were discussing settling a Lake Point lawsuit.