A trial jury levied a $4.3 million judgment against environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla after finding that she interfered in a deal between Martin County and a mining company.
Hurchalla, sister of late U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and a former member of the Martin County Commission, told the Palm Beach Post she will appeal the verdict.
The legal fight pitted Hurchalla against mining company Lake Point Restoration. Lake Point’s principals include billionaire George Lindemann Jr., son of billionaire George Lindemann.
Lake Point paid $47.7 million in 2008 for approximately 2,200 acres near Lake Okeechobee in western Martin County for a polo-themed community development.
After dropping the idea for a polo community amid a crash in the housing market, Lake Point decided to conduct mining operations on the land for a 20-year period, then donate mined land to the South Florida Water Management District. The water management district agreed to a plan to use holes in the mined land to store and treat water that overflows Lake Okeechobee.
Lake Point and the water management district urged Martin County to allow mining on the land by promising to divert lake overflows from the St. Lucie Estuary and to provide the county with a new public park.
Lake Point accused Hurchalla of interfering with its relationship with Martin County by falsely claiming in emails to county commissioners that destruction of wetlands warranted termination of the company’s agreement with the water district.
The emails triggered a lawsuit by Lake Point against Martin County alleging that the several county commissioners violated public records laws.
The county settled that lawsuit last year by agreeing to pay $12 million for a 400-acre tract of land it doesn’t want and to apologize in writing to Lindemann and other principals of Lake Point.
Two members of the Martin County Commission and a former member now face individual charges related to violations of public records laws arising from the county’s dealings with Lake Point.
Hurchalla has stuck to her claim that the emails to county commissioners were a legal exercise of free speech.
Lake Point also sued the water management district, which settled the suit last year by agreeing to purchase 50,000 tons of rubble annually for 15 years from Lake Point’s mining operation in western Martin County, and after 50 years, the district would be able to use the mined land for water storage and treatment.
According to Ethan Loeb, an attorney for Lake Point, the settlement with the water district is worth $6 million and, together with the county’s $12 million settlement, will cover $18 million of $22 million in damages the company has claimed. That was the basis of the $4.3 million judgment against Hurchalla. [Palm Beach Post] – Mike Seemuth
= = =