A doctor who came here from Russia twenty years ago sent me this email: "I am hopeful that this unique American privilege to talk back to the power money government will win!"
The First Amendment allows us all (at least we thought it did) to think our own thoughts and express what we think - in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and freedom to petition government. Our government doesn't have to do what we tell them to. They do have to let us express our opinion. Up until now, we have had the right to do that without fear that corporate bullies would slap us with claims of "tortious interference".
The general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard, we have said, ‘was fashioned to ensure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people’... it is a prized American privilege to speak one’s mind although not always with perfect good taste, on all public institutions and this opportunity is to be afforded for ‘vigorous advocacy’ no less than ‘abstract discussion’....those who won our independence believed ... that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be fundamental principle of the American government.... The constitutional protection does not turn upon the truth, the popularity or social utility of the ideas and beliefs that are offered.
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
The First Amendment belongs to all of us.
It's about individuals and advocacy groups. Can you be sued for opposing a local zoning change? If you told your local representative that the use of masks for virus protection "had not been documented", could you be sued by a mask company? If you said the benefits of hydroxychloroquine had not been documented, could you be sued by the manufacturer?
But it's also about small businesses. If you were competing for a government contract, could a big business with deep pockets sue you for tortious interference if you criticized their proposal and they lost the contract?
It even applies to big businesses which regularly and aggressively lobby Congress for treatment that benefits them and harms their competitor.
It applies in an area where all of us agree. No one wants to see government corruption. Can whistleblowers be sued for tortious interference?
This is a cause worth fighting for.
We kept the faith.
We fought the good fight.
We will finish the race.
Thank you for having my back!
Maggy Reno Hurchalla
SLAAP suit against Florida environmental hero leaves her down, but not out | Fred Grimm. (09/18/2020)
Florida Groups Back Environmentalist In ‘Malice’ Case (10/20/2020)
Supreme Court should hear Florida environmentalist’s appeal | Editorial. (11/29/2020)
Florida environmental 'gladiator' wants U.S. Supreme Court to hear 'SLAPP' case (12/4/2020)
"Protect the Protesters" article on 7/25/2020 is about the case. Click below to read:
THE SUPREME COURT HAS DENIED REVIEW IN THE LAKE POINT CASE January, 2021
No reason was given.
We kept the faith.
We fought the good fight.
We finished the race.
The Supreme Court has denied review of the Lake Point case.
I would have thought that these times, above all others, would affirm the importance of the First Amendment right to peacefully tell government what to do.
That's important to all sides on every issue. Without it, there is no "We the people". If you can't sort out what's right by public discussion, the alternatives are dictatorship or violence.
I am so proud of my lawyers, my family, my friends and my supporters who have been with me all the way. They have convinced me that, though this case is over, someone else will come forward and one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, the Supreme Court will re-affirm the First Amendment rights we all thought we had.
We are at the end of the road in the Lake Point case, but the first amendment is not dead, it's just dangling. I'm not at all sorry that I have spent the last 7 years fighting for it.
Meanwhile I'm going kayaking and I'm going to keep on saying what I think.
Defending the First Amendment
Update December, 2020: We have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Please go to www.DefendMaggy.com to read all about the SCOTUS appeal.
November 26th was my 60th wedding anniversary.
December 11th is my 80th birthday.
The First Amendment is not ok.
There is a principle at stake that is important to all of us on every side of every public argument.
The Friend of the Court briefs on the www.Defendmaggy.com site cover every shade of the political spectrum. I am proud to have all of them on my side.
The United States of America is the only country in the world that was founded on the principle that we can tell our government what to do.
The Slappee with Slapp Protector attorneys Howard Heims and Ginny Sherlock on a court ordered inspection tour of Lake Point.
Palm Beach Post May 13, 2020
F. Gregory Barnhart, West Palm Beach
Point of View: Florida will suffer for punishing citizen participation in planning.
It’s particularly alarming when the power of the people to challenge their government on development policies is threatened.
America’s Founding Fathers left no doubt where their priorities lay when they enshrined freedom of speech and the right to petition the government in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Nearly two centuries later, our state’s leaders also guaranteed freedom of speech and the rights of the people “to instruct their representatives, and to petition for redress of grievances” in the 1968 revision of the Florida Constitution. This is the foundation for that document’s declaration that “all political power is inherent in the people.”
So when that foundation is undermined, there’s good reason for all freedom-loving Floridians to be alarmed. It’s particularly alarming when the power of the people to challenge their government on development policies is threatened.
Fast-growing Florida has been losing 10 acres of open land each hour to development.
At issue is a rock-mining company’s lawsuit against Martin County environmental advocate Maggy Hurchalla, first filed in 2013. Lake Point Restoration contended Hurchalla cost the company millions of dollars by appealing to county commissioners to back out of a deal allowing Lake Point to mine limestone and use the rock pits to store, treat and sell water.
The filing bore the hallmarks of a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against political participation) suit, typically wielded by powerful interests against citizen activists to stifle their opposition.
In 2018, a Martin County jury ordered Hurchalla to pay the company $4.4 million in damages. Last year, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the verdict, faulting her for telling commissioners in emails that there were no studies documenting the environmental benefits of Lake Point’s project.
In fact, there were studies, but they weren’t peer-reviewed, the usual standard for scientific credibility. But for the three-judge panel that ruled on Hurchalla’s appeal, her incomplete statement demonstrated “actual and express malice,” the high bar that Florida courts have set for quashing constitutional free speech protections.
And last month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected, without comment, Hurchalla’s latest appeal, leaving her on the hook for the trial court’s crushing verdict.
The profound constitutional implications of the case are too important for our state’s highest court simply to take a pass. If Floridians feel they are at risk of being dragged into court and bankrupted for speaking out on controversial policies — if their comments to their elected representatives are vulnerable to parsing by lawyers and judges — few if any will raise their voice.
As Hurchalla’s lawyers argued in their appeal to the high court, “The Fourth District’s approval of a multi-million-dollar judgment for communicating with government officials will do more than chill public expression — it will freeze it.”
The timing on the Supreme Court’s decision couldn’t be much worse. As Florida’s leaders have steadily eroded governmental controls on development over the past decade, the role citizens play in shaping their communities has become more crucial than ever.
Yet last year state lawmakers also created a daunting new deterrent to public participation by passing a law that forces citizens who challenge a development order and lose to pay the winning side’s legal costs, which can easily reach six or seven figures.
Again, citizens who dare get in the way of a development face financial ruin. Meanwhile, Florida has been growing by nearly 900 residents a day, compounding development pressure. The best way to ensure that development is sustainable and compatible with community interests is to promote citizen participation in the planning process, not punish it.
Since our founding in 1986, 1000 Friends of Florida has been dedicated to empowering citizens in the process of planning the future of their communities. In 2008, we began recommending that local governments adopt a bill of Citizens Planning Bill of Rights.
Of the five rights, two are especially notable now: the right to be free of fear of unwarranted legal retaliation from a SLAPP, and the right to more easily challenge decisions made by your local government. If lawmakers undermine these rights, and courts fail to uphold them, the damage to our state’s constitutional principles will inevitably be followed by damage to our environment, economy and quality of life.
Editor’s note: Barnhart, a senior partner at Searcy Denney Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley, is vice chairman of 1000 Friends of Florida.