Lake Point vs. Maggy Hurchalla and Free Speech and Open Government Update

Lake Point vs. Maggy Hurchalla and Free Speech and Open Government Update

Martin County– Here is the updates from Civic activist and attorney Donna Melzer. Donna is incredibly logical and fair minded. She knows this case inside out so I’m deferring to her wealth of knowledge.

I’m hoping as you all read you will understand how important facts are.  We have a relationship or we are suppose to have a relationship with our Commissioners.  They are elected to be the representatives of the  people who live in the county. We need to able have open dialogue  wi thout worry  about a  SLAPP  suit.

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.



DAY 2:  Tuesday began with Opening Statements

Maggy Hurchalla is represented by Littman Sherlock & Heims, P.A. – a long-time, small Stuart law firm:  partners Virginia Sherlock, Esq. and Howard Heims, Esq. and an associate, Daniel Melzer (my son) have worked thousands of hours for Maggy in this litigation.  They have been outstanding.
    Maggy Hurchalla’s attorney, Virginia “Ginny” Sherlock began with a stellar Opening Statement.  Ginny gave a stellar explanation including that the Defense asserts that there was no breach of the Martin County Interlocal Contract, so no tortious interference; that Maggy voiced honest concerns and questions and had a right to share those with government officials and staff; the damages are speculative.  
Lake Point is represented by Ethan Loeb, Esq. with a large Tampa law firm and Texas co-counsel.  In the Court room each day, there appear to be 5 attorneys, 2-3 technical and support staff.  They are quite slick – plenty of help, must be very costly.

    Ethan Loeb’s biggest point different than the long testimony he gave during jury voir dire is that Lake Point has finally settled on asking only $4 Million from Maggy Hurchalla. 

Prior Lake Point reports and talks included claimed damages of $60 Million, $48 Million, $22 Million.  So since it is “only $4 Million”, the Jury should be comfortable despite so far any proof there were damages that were caused by Maggy Hurchalla’s emails to Martin County or South Florida Water Management District.

Day 2 afternoon witnesses were Don Donaldson, Martin County staffer, testifying that staff did analyze the project and did not have all the concerns Maggy did.  And that Maggy was listened to by county.  

Kevin Powers, former South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member, who testified Maggy had made comments of concern on Lake Point to him and to Melissa Meeker, then executive director of SFWMD.  He acknowledged that SFWMD were not acting under Maggy’s direction as to Lake Point.

DAY 3:  Most of the day was Jamie Rusbridge testifying at being just a small family business harmed by Maggy Hurchalla’s control of county officials.  Much of the claims of Lake Point were pronounced as fact by him.

Under the afternoon cross examination, Rusbridge defended that Lake Point was a “small family business” – made up of Jamie and his father Harry – Harry is also a large purchaser of Lake Point rock and rock products; George Lindemann Jr. of Miami and the son of a billionaire who is said to have made some guarantees of Lake Point loans; Miami Judd Laird; and a number of foreign investors. 

Although J. Rusbridge knew most other details, he couldn’t remember how many millions Lake Point got from foreign investors through the federal EB5 program.  Papers indicate that was about 40 foreign investors that each pay in $500,000. in exchange for visas for investor and investors entire family. The requirement is that 10 jobs are supposed to be hired in connection to each $500,000 investment.  J. Rusbridge did not seem to be aware of any new jobs provided with Lake Point.

DAY 4 – TODAY, Thurs., is to include two experts for Lake Point to assert the millions in damages and Ed Weinberg consultant to claim no wetland concerns existed.  

Dazzle vs Local Reality

Day 4 Lake Point vs. Maggy Hurchalla.    Described as “like watching a movie” *-  a great burden
is on the Jury to see past the dazzle to the substance.  Some judicial rulings raise questions. 
Fore example, questions about the water sales of public water for private profit appeared to be
made off-limits to the Jury.  The December 12, 2012, Article about Lake Point trying to profit from
selling public water for private gain  was a key cause of the litigation.
The basis of the judicial rulings are kept from the audience and the Jury.  
The “small  (Lake Point) family business” includes a Billionaire-son Investor George Lindemann that
you’ve probably read about regarding his past insurance fraud over a horse felony), monied Miami
investors, an owner of multiple corporate businesses that involve profit from rock sales, and numerous foreign investors.
Lake Point business lost millions for each year prior to any Maggy involvement.

EB5 Program – costs for wages not in accounting at all:

Lake Point got millions of dollars from foreign investment despite the lawsuit.
The testimony by the accountant paid $68,000 included that the Lake Point profit/loss reports did
not reflect any wages paid or to be paid for the almost 400 jobs that Lake Point was supposed to
generate from the Foreign Investors. 
Lake Point is claiming $4 Million but the question is the cost for future losses.
Wages for 400 jobs could be a source of claimed future losses.  (You and Jury can do the math:
400 jobs at 20,000 each = $8Million cost annually… –    $4Million that Lake Point demands from Maggy
would make at  least a small  in any wage obligations.) 
The foreign investment business Lake Point got $500,000. per investor from foreigners who
were granted American visas for their family. 
Businesses that get these $500,000 investments are obligated to generate 10 jobs per $500,000 investment.

Secreting Meetings of SFWMD regarding Lake Point & the Very Flawed Settlement –

Lake Point Attorney Disregarded the Very Protections SFWMD  in their Hiding the Meetings 

—  Is  Lake Point spending all this money for vengeance as was stated by South Florida Water
Management Governing Board member in a closed-door, attorney-client Shade Meeting.  Four of 5 transcripts
were only recently released after SFWMD tried to keep them secret.
—  In fact, SFWMD right now, is spending considerable taxpayer funds for legal fees – Stuart AND Tallahassee Law Firms.  SFWMD has its own legal staff but is paying high-powered law firms to try to make sure that Judge Roby decides  the secrecy of the August 23, 2017, closed-door, attorney-client Shade (not Sunshine) Meeting about Lake Point issue. 
—  SFWMD is claiming secrecy for the benefit of “third parties” – including Lake Point – based on “mediation confidentiality.”   In my opinion, after weeks of research and review, and filing  for disclosure  —  the secrecy is a violation of  Constitutional and Statutory Public Records Laws   
Ironically on  Wednesday  Lake Point’s attorney violated those very mediation confidentiality laws when rushing  to avoid Judge Roby  recusing himself in this Lake Point vs Maggy Hurchalla case.  

Costs of “watching a movie” 

One Lake Point expert testified that he is charging Lake Point at $900 / hour and he was just talking economy, not damages.  The claim is that Lake Point’s “reputation” was hurt apparently for every year out to 2032 or beyond.
I.E.. Maggy owes Lake Point millions stretched all the way to 2032 and beyond if rock is still being sold.  But the expert did not  show even one rock sale contract cancelled or breached.
The accounting expert  testified he was being paid $68,000 – for accountings that claimed Maggy was responsible
for interference out to 2032 or even beyond.
But the legal fees will remain unknown:  how much is Lake Point paying the 5 legal eagles in the courtroom daily for each day. And then there’s the support staff — of 2-3 more every day.  The slick “like watching a movie” presentation by Lake Point is clearly to persuade the Jury, obviously not relying on just the facts.

Day 4 Witnesses:  

Hank Fishkind — at $900. an hour testified that since house starts have a correlation to rock mining statewide,
that Lake Point, and thus each mine in the state, must have that correlation.  Lake Point has customers
that provide rock products to large projects like the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs that have no relationship
to housing starts — Fishkind discounted any indication that Lake Point didn’t have a correlation like the state.
And Fishkind said he was not testifying about the Damages, just the economy.  Some of the dazzle?
Accountant Morgenstern – said he was paid $68,000.  He testified that Lake Point lost millions of profit all the way to 2032 and possibly beyond.  Apparently asserting that Maggy’s 2013 statements damaged Lake Point forever, despite the lack of evidence that even one rock sale contract was cancelled or breached.


Ed Weinberg testified about wetlands issues on the site.

Computer Jorgensen testified that he had never inspected Commissioner Sarah Heard’s computer and  although the computer expert who did the inspection reported to the contrary that he “knew” that emails about Lake Point were not hacked.   I had to leave mid-testimony, but will report back when I get more details on the claims’ basis.  He spoke a lot of  the  great significance of the subject line including a “FW:  ” 
Still behind on getting folks The Defendant’s Pretrial Statement of the Case.  
Today’s witnesses are not clear.  Plaintiff may be close to through with their case.  Defendant’s case will then begin.  Plaintiff has announced its claim, next come Defendant’s.  Stay tuned.
Folks are suggesting “movie” titles might be  – “Billionaire’s Ex-Felon Son’s small business vs. Local Grandmother and River Hero.”  
Lake Point is NOT suing Maggy on Open Government law.
Maggy is NOT being accused of Sunshine Laws or Public Records violations.

Lake Point has asserted that Maggy caused them $4Million in lost rock sales — claiming damages going out beyond 2030. 

Lake Point did not produce one cancelled contracts, no loss of existing clients. 
But Lake Point claims damages about $22 millions. But Lake Point is “only asking” for $4Million, crediting Maggy for  Martin County and SFWMD gave them $18Million. The testimony was  lost business for reputation and ignored reputation issues of suing partners, of  rock that didn’t pass quality muster.  
Lake Point  excluded evidence about a benefit of litigations valued at about  $50Million per their own expert. If that were “credited” to Maggy, the damages would be ZERO since Lake Point got settlements that are negative to the public but super positive toward them.
Lake Point attorney yesterday argued that any time the government has a contract that is not ‘at will’ any resident complaints are subject to a tortious interference with a contract and not protected by the right of residents to petitioner their government.  (A transcript of the exact statement has been requested and will be shared.)   If we call about garbage problems, will we get sued?  If residents believe there is animal abuse but there’s a contract, will residents get sued for hundreds of thousands if not millions?


Motion for Directed Verdict by Maggy Hurchalla’s Attorney Virginia “Ginny” Sherlock – Maggy’s attorney argued that the case should be dismissed –  that Lake Point failed to prove in their case that Lake Point was party to the Interlocal Contract between Martin County and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD); failed to prove there was a breach; failed to prove that Maggy Hurchalla’s conduct was a cause of the claimed breach; failed to prove the Express Malice required to overcome the Qualified Privilege when residents voice concerns to their Elected Officials.  
Witness One – Martin County Growth Management Dept Director Nicki vanVonno  answered questions about what ACTION Martin County Commissioners and Staff actually took, not just the rhetoric.  Nicki was used to get important government records into the record and to establish Maggy’s continued action over the years of questioning studies and problem projects.

Witness Two – Nathaniel Reed.

     Nathaniel “Nat’ Reed’s extraordinary credentials were listed.  Mr. Reed worked for two(2) Presidents and six Florida Governors in various agencies including acting as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.   Mr. Reed was one of the authors of the Clean Water Act and of the Endangered Species Act. He has worked for the Everglades restoration for 50 years, 25 years with Everglades Foundation including being Chairman.  Mr. Reed moved to Florida after his military service in 1960.
     Nathaniel Reed and Maggy Hurchalla are two of the only 6 Hall of Famers named by Everglades Coalition.
     Mr. Reed testified that he has worked with Maggy Hurchalla since before 1977, but it was 1977 when they became close friends which friendship and respect continues today.  Mr. Reed testified that Maggy Hurchalla has worked on every conceivable matter affecting Martin County, Hobe Sound and Jupiter Island.  He testified about Maggy’s many awards from many state and federal organizations for her work for water, our lagoon, comprehensive planning for Martin County and the state since the beginning when Governor Graham got that Comp Plan Act adopted.  Maggy became an advisor to the Governor and to various communities about the Comp Plan.  Locally, Maggy Hurchalla was among two 2 or 3 leaders to put together the Martin County Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.  That locally and statewide, Maggy is known for her in-depth knowledge, her expertise, her hard work, her knowledge of law and growth management.
     Ms Hurchalla is known for asking questions, collecting information, reviewing science information.  She is among the best and brightest for science review and is widely admired.
    Ms. Hurchalla has reached out to the business community and residents and organizations.  She spoke at luncheons of all kinds of business groups.

Asked if Maggy Hurchalla would ever lie, Mr. Reed strongly responded “NEVER.”

     Lake Point objected to that claiming they didn’t say she lied, just that she misrepresented.

     Lake Point had that response stricken, clearly wanting to limit what the Jurors heard.

Lake Point previously tried to get Nathaniel Reed from testifying at all.

Lake Point did not cross-examine Nathaniel Reed at all.

Witness Three –  Tom Conboy began testimony as an expert there to offer opinions about the incorrect environmental claims made by Lake Point.
    Lake Point tried to get him excluded, expressing indignation that in his deposition he had not told them his opinions.
    But Howard Heims, Esq. for Maggy (with same law firm as Virginia Sherlock) strongly defended his right to testify and  read the detailed list of opinions he would be offering in Pretrial exchange of Witnesses information.  He asserted that Lake Point had  deposed Mr. Conboy back in August 25, 2016, when trial was eminent (and Martin County had numerous experts taking similar positions).
    Judge Roby gave Lake Point the opportunity to depose the expert on Friday.  The expert will testify on Monday.
There is a continuing sense that a part of this trial is to try to bolster Lake Point attorney and past employees claims against Sarah Heard’s with the State Attorney including having a computer “expert” testify – more against Sarah than Maggy.
Lake Point’s expert testified that he could tell just from a written report that Sarah had erased specific emails.  The prior report was by a court-required expert who inspected Sarah’s actual computer and testified that Sarah’s email was hacked.  It was hacked on multiple occasions.   
Courtroom Misconduct:  Barbara Clowdus, one of Lake Point’s biggest supporters who spreads their claims by her “martin county currents”, was expelled from the Courtroom and the Courthouse about noon for breaking rules, taking pictures of the trial despite the Court providing numerous warnings. 


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