The story of Florida public records law violations in Martin County moved further into the public light Thursday for County Commissioner Sarah Heard and former commissioner Anne Scott.
Heard was indicted and booked on two criminal counts of violating public records laws, according to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office. She was released on her own recognizance after her fingerprints and mug shot were taken.
Her charges are criminal misdemeanors that could lead to a fine and/or jail time if she’s found guilty. She also could be removed from office by the governor.
Thursday’s charges were in addition to a previous non-criminal infraction filed by the prosecutor Nov. 27 for not responding to a public records request in January 2013, to which she pleaded not guilty.
A hearing date was set for Feb. 19. The state prosecutor informed Heard’s attorney, Barbara Kibbey Wagner, during a December court hearing that five days needed to be set aside for the hearing due to the case’s complexity.
Officials close to the case, however, anticipate the additional misdemeanor charges will result in a request for a hearing continuance. Heard also may now ask for a jury trial, if she pleads not guilty.
Heard is up for re-election in August for the District 4 County Commission seat; however, she has not yet filed, according to Martin County Elections Office records.
Former commissioner Scott, of Jupiter Island, also was charged Thursday with two additional criminal misdemeanor counts of violating public records laws. She, too, was booked and released on her own recognizance, according to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office.
Scott pleaded not guilty to the two previous criminal misdemeanor charges filed Nov. 27 for public records violations, and a trial date was set for December 2018.
The indictments came as the result of a criminal investigation by the grand jury, first convened by the Martin County State Attorney’s Office at the end of October. The jurors, all Martin County residents, have been delving into the evidence produced as the result of a court-ordered arbitration in Lake Point’s civil lawsuit filed against Martin County in 2014 alleging public records violations.
The arbitrator, Howard Googe of Stuart, ruled Feb. 8 that the actions of Martin County Commissioners Heard, Ed Fielding and former commissioner Scott violated public records laws by not turning over or preserving their email correspondence from and to former commissioner Maggy Hurchalla regarding the Lake Point mining and water restoration project, among other findings. The emails are public records, which state law requires to be preserved and protected.
Upheld by the circuit court, the county was ordered to pay Lake Point’s attorney fees and costs of $502,000.
Lake Point alleges that Hurchalla interfered with its agreements with the South Florida Water Management District and Martin County. SFWMD and the county both recently settled through mediation Lake Point’s lawsuit for breaching their 2008 agreements.
Lake Point attorney Ethan Loeb said in court testimony that the Hurchalla emails from the personal email accounts of Heard, Scott and Fielding were relevant to Lake Point’s civil lawsuit against Hurchalla for allegedly interfering in their agreements with the county and SFWMD.
Heard was a commissioner when the agreements were approved unanimously by the Martin County Commission in 2008.
Hurchalla’s attorney, Virginia Sherlock, claims Lake Point’s lawsuit is a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation); however, she sought dismissal four times on those grounds before three different judges, all of whom denied her motion.
Hurchalla and Lake Point will meet in Circuit Court Judge William Roby’s courtroom Feb. 5 at the Martin County Courthouse to argue their cases before a jury.
Fielding also was charged Nov. 27 with two criminal misdemeanors for violating public records laws. He received no additional indictments Thursday, according to the sheriff’s office. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in December 2017, and his trial was set for December 2018.
Barbara Clowdus is editor and publisher of Martin County Currents. This story is reprinted from a posting Thursday on Currents’ Facebook page.