They took her kayaks and '04 Toyota, but Hurchalla vows: 'I will not be destroyed'

 By Gil Smart, Treasure Coast Newspapers,  July 20, 2018

They took her car. That is, former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla’s 2004 Toyota, with some 207,000 miles, was grabbed by Martin County Sheriff’s deputies Monday. So were her two kayaks. These were among her assets, and because she lost a landmark lawsuit to Lake Point developer George Lindemann Jr. earlier this year and was ordered to cough up $4.4 million, those assets were seized.

The seizures garnered attention across Florida. The Tampa Bay Times raged in an editorial that this “bullying” should “send a chill through every Floridian who cherishes their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition their government.”

Indeed, this case may ultimately wind up in the lap of the Florida Supreme Court. It's an important issue — for Martin County, and beyond.

The condensed backstory is this: Hurchalla, sister of the late, Clinton-era U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, is the doyenne of Martin County slow-growth environmentalism. A five-term county commissioner and confidante to her successors, she's done more to keep crazed South Florida overdevelopment at bay than any other individual in Martin County.

Your quality of life right here, right now? You can thank Maggy Hurchalla for it.

This, of course, made her enemies. Which brings us to Lake Point.

The 2,200-acre property in western Martin County was purchased in 2008 by billionaire George Lindemann Jr. and a group of investors. It started off as a rock-mining and water storage operation; Lake Point later had the idea to sell the water. That didn’t sit well with either the South Florida Water Management District or the Martin County Commission, both of which had already signed off.

Hurchalla didn’t like it, either. So around 2012 she began urging county commissioners to scotch the deal — sometimes, via behind-the-scenes emails to their private accounts. The commissioners followed her suggestions and the deal fell apart. Lake Point sued, claiming Hurchalla lied about the project and acted as puppet master, pulling commissioners’ strings to get them to cancel the contract.

Hurchalla denied it, saying she was merely a citizen exercising her free speech rights. A jury didn’t agree, and in February, after just 90 minutes of deliberation, jurors found her liable for interfering in government contracts and ordered her to pay $4,391,708. Hurchalla immediately vowed to appeal, and has.

Yet, as the seizure of her car and kayaks shows, her adversary in the case is also on the move.

Hurchalla has joked that she doesn’t have many assets to seize. Lindemann and his attorneys don’t agree with that. On Thursday, they filed paperwork in Martin County circuit court purporting to show Hurchalla is worth millions. Documentation included an affidavit from The GMS Group, a tax-free municipal securities and bonds dealer, listing the aggregated liquid net worth of Hurchalla and her husband, James Hurchalla, between $1 and $5 million.  Their annual income, according to documents, is between $100,000-$249,999.

Hurchalla remains defiant. In an email to several journalists on Monday, she wrote: “There is something very childish about thinking that if they take away my car and (my) toys I will burst into tears and stop defending the First Amendment. The car and the kayaks can be replaced. The First Amendment cannot.”

“I will not be destroyed,” she vowed.

Supporters cheered and demanded Lindemann — or the courts — call off the dogs.

Lindemann has said if Hurchalla apologizes and promises not to criticize Lake Point in the future, he’d back off.

You can guess how well that suggestion went down with Hurchalla.

So now it'll be up to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach to decide if justice was done in this case. The court is unlikely to hear the case until next year; if, ultimately, it rules against her, we're probably headed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Hurchalla has brought in some high-powered lawyers, including Talbot "Sandy’’ D’Alemberte, the former American Bar Association president who has agreed to work pro bono. The First Amendment Foundation, Florida League of Women Voters and Florida Press Association say they plan to file briefs in support of Hurchalla’s appeal.

D’Alemberte calls the case against Hurchalla a “SLAPP” lawsuit — that is, a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” designed to punish and intimidate critics.

SLAPP suits are indeed a thing, and a dangerous one at that. Still, the notion that John Q. Public should fear for his livelihood should he dare to speak out at a public meeting is overblown. Hurchalla was targeted specifically because she's not some mere citizen; she's an environmental icon and former county commissioner who had clout — and who, in Lake Point's telling, used that clout improperly.

This is indeed a David vs. Goliath tale. But it's not as if David is some sort of pipsqueak. Rather, Hurchalla has been a titan; some revere her, others want to take her down. That's how it goes for titans.

And her clash is nowhere near over.

Gil Smart is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and a member of the Editorial Board. His columns reflect his opinion.

https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/columnists/gil-smart/2018/07/20/they-took-her-kayaks-and-04-toyota-but-hurchalla-vows-not-destroyed/800693002/

____________________________________________________________________________


POLITICO

Car seized from environmentalist Hurchalla following loss in lawsuit

By Bruce Ritchie  07/16/2018 06:46 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE — Martin County environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla says her 2004 Toyota Camry, a gift from her late sister, former Attorney General Janet Reno, was seized by sheriff's deputies Monday after she lost a lawsuit to a developer earlier this year.

Lake Point LLC and developer George Lindemann Jr. filed suit against Hurchalla in 2013, alleging that her influence caused Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District to breach contracts with Lake Point, TCPalm.com reported in February.

Hurchalla is a former county commissioner and high-profile environmentalist. The company says she was directing county officials through private emails about what they should do and they were doing it.

A jury last February ordered Hurchalla to pay $4.4 million, which she has appealed. The jury agreed with Lake Point's claims that directives Hurchalla gave to county commissioners amounted to sabotage of Lake Point's project and cost the company millions of dollars in lost business, according to TC Palm.

Hurchalla says Linemann's lawsuit was a "SLAPP" suit aimed at silencing her. She joked to the Tampa Bay Times in March that all Lindemann, a billionaire, could get from her is "two kayaks and an aging Toyota."

Sheriff's deputies also took the two kayaks on Monday.

"There is something very childish about thinking that if they take away my car and [my] toys I will burst into tears and stop defending the First Amendment," Hurchalla wrote in an email. "The car and the kayaks can be replaced. The First Amendment cannot."

A spokesperson for Lake Point Restoration said Hurchalla wants to make the issue about the owners of the company but said it's not about them.

"Calling names and saying things that simply aren't true doesn't help her," spokesperson Honey Rand said. "The First Amendment doesn't protect a lie."

There was no immediate response from Martin County Sheriff William D. Snyder.

Hurchalla has appealed the verdict to the Third District Court of Appeal. Former Florida State University President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte and the American Bar Association have joined her side in the case.

Her lawyers accused the jury foreman of misconduct because his part-time Florida residency and undisclosed criminal history made him ineligible, TC Palm.com reported in June. The court on July 3 denied Hurchalla's motions, according to the court docket.

During the trial, Lake Point attorney Ethan Loeb in his closing arguments painted Hurchalla as someone who "operates in the shadows," communicating with county commissioners on their private email accounts and using them as her puppets, according to TCPalm.com.

Hurchalla said Monday that Lindemann must have spent $5,000 to $10,000 in legal costs pursuing her Camry, which has logged 207,000 miles and is in need of "expensive" repairs, and her kayaks.

She said the Martin County Sheriff's Department seized the vehicle as she was finishing a deposition with Lake Point in an office north of Stuart.

She said she told the officer that if he let her drive home she could save the cost of towing the vehicle. But she said he responded that he had an order and needed the keys immediately.

"Lake Point supporters have said that if I do not apologize to George Lindemann for saying that a hole in the ground can't store water and an agricultural wetlands is a wetland, he would destroy me," Hurchalla said. "I will not be destroyed."

"What will be destroyed are the last shreds of Lindemann's reputation," she said. "I can't imagine that, if he continues to act like a vengeful billionaire, that anyone would want to do business with him ever again."

Rand responded that a jury decided that statements Hurchalla made about Lake Point "were intentional lies — because they were."

"Those lies interfered with Lake Point's business costing the company millions of dollars," Rand said.

She said said Hurchalla could have at any point admitted that she lied "and the case would have gone away."

"She created this situation and she alone could have resolved it," Rand said. "Calling names and saying things that simply aren't true doesn't help her. The First Amendment doesn't protect a lie."


____________________________________________________________________________

BLOOMBERG ENVIRONMENT

AROUND THE WEB

  • The sister of former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, a longtime Florida environmentalist, had her sister’s old kayak and her own Toyota seized as a mining company pursues a $4.4 million judgment against her.



Florida Phoenix .  Quality Journalism for Critical Times


Deputies seize 2004 Toyota and kayaks from 77-year-old Maggy Hurchalla in free speech case


By Julie Hauserman,  July 17, 2018

Sheriff’s deputies seized a 2004 Toyota and two aging kayaks from well-known South Florida environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla yesterday, she says.

The seizures are the latest in a dramatic legal battle that pits the 77-year-old Hurchalla against a billionaire who filed suit against her after she opposed his South Florida rock mining operation. Hurchalla is the sister of the late U.S.  Attorney General Janet Reno.

Hurchalla says she has been the victim of a SLAPP suit – which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. She was sued by Lake Point Restoration, which is co-owned by billionaire George Lindemann, Jr. Hurchalla found herself on the losing end of a $4.4 million judgment in February, which she is appealing.

In an email, Hurchalla said a sheriff’s deputy approached her after she left a deposition related to her legal appeal and demanded her car keys.

“I told him that if he could let us drive home I could save him having to tow it and I could show him where two kayaks that Lake Point wished to seize were stored.  The 14-year-old and 19-year-old kayaks are the only property I own except for the Toyota.

The deputy answered that I could ‘deal later’ with how to get me home, but I needed to give him the keys immediately or he would have the car towed.  ‘We have an order and we have found the car here so we must remove it now,’ he said.

I suggested it would be easier to take everything together from our home since that’s where the order said the car and the kayaks were located and I could show him which kayaks he wanted. He refused and said they were presently at my house removing the kayaks.

When I did get a ride home the ancient kayaks were gone and court papers were stuffed in the screen door.

There is something very childish about thinking that if they take away my car and my toys I will burst into tears and stop defending the First Amendment.

The car and the kayaks can be replaced. The First Amendment cannot.”