Florida Politics by Martin Merzer
April 24, 2018
he slappee is a 77-year-old grandmother, a prominent Florida environmentalist, a sister of the late Janet Reno. Now, after expressing her rights of free speech in opposing a land development, Maggy Hurchalla is on the hook for $4,391,708 in a court-ordered judgment.
She doesn’t have it. She drives a 2004 Toyota Corolla with 207,000 miles on the odometer. “They can do whatever they want, but I’m not going away,” Hurchalla said. “If you can’t complain and moan in a democracy, what’s the point of having a democracy?”
The slapper is the scion of a family of multibillionaires, a developer who reshaped a proposed polo community into a dusty rock pit, a fellow with a penchant for litigation and also a criminal record.
George Lindemann Jr., heir to a cellphone, natural gas and broadcasting fortune, once spent 33 months in jail for hiring a hit man to electrocute a show horse named Charisma for $250,000 in insurance loot.
Disputes, court cases and regulatory actions have been detonating for ten years over Lindemann’s 2,200-acre “Lake Point” project in far-western Martin County, near Lake Okeechobee. Hurchalla, a Stuart resident and former county commissioner, has been one of the project’s most active critics, opposing it on environmental and other grounds.
Now, the latest and perhaps most weighty chapter of this tangled, acrimonious legal saga involves what Hurchalla, her attorneys and many outside experts call a patently obvious “SLAPP” suit filed in 2013 against Hurchalla by attorneys for Lindemann’s Lake Point project.
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Banned by law in many states but only moderately restrained by Florida law, SLAPP suits are just as self-described.
They’re intended to chill public expression, public discourse and public participation in controversial issues. They’re intended to strip away fundamental First Amendment rights to engage in free speech and — as the U.S. Constitution sanctifies — “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Put another way, SLAPP suits are nuisance suits on steroids — intended to harass and burden with thick, unremitting legal filings and perpetually rising legal costs people who criticize or otherwise oppose consumer products, government agencies or, as in this case, business executives or their projects.