Three Martin County commissioners, Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding, and former commissioner Anne Scott of Jupiter Island, were arrested Tuesday and charged with violating Florida public records laws, according to court records and sources close to the investigation.
Heard called in sick Tuesday, said County Administrator Taryn Kryzda. Within a few hours, she was arrested by the Martin County Sheriff’s Department for failing to respond to a public records request.
Had Heard not called in sick, she likely would have been at the dais of the Martin County Commission meeting, which spared her constituents the sight of a sheriff’s deputy escorting her out of the commission chambers during a live-streamed meeting.
Fielding’s arrest on two counts of public records law violations came after the meeting concluded. He was processed and released, according to sources close to the investigation. Scott, also charged with two counts of public records law violations, turned herself in and was released on her own recognizance.
Heard’s attorney, Barbara Wagner of Stuart, waived a formal arraignment and pleaded not guilty in writing to all charges on Heard’s behalf, asking also for a jury trial after filing a formal request with the Martin County Clerk of the Circuit Court for a copy of the indictment or information filed in the case.
Thus far, only one count was filed by the State Attorney’s Office with the clerk in a non-criminal information, a formal document that begins a criminal proceeding in the court.
The information listed only one count of a public official violating state public records laws by failing to respond to a public records request, a non-criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the grand jury was still in session, sources close to the investigation said, so more charges are expected in the case that stems from a public records request made by the Lake Point mining and water restoration project in February 2013.
Lake Point was seeking evidence in its breach-of-contract case against Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District, and asked for all emails on private email accounts between former commissioner Maggy Hurchalla and commissioners. As of Sept. 27, 2017, copies of commissioner emails were still being provided to Lake Point attorney Ethan Loeb, according to court testimony.
Lake Point also filed suit against Hurchalla for tortious interference in those contracts. Now that both Martin County and the SFWMD have settled with Lake Point, the only defendant in the case is Hurchalla. Her jury trial will begin Feb. 5.
Over the past four-and-a-half years that the case has been in the courts, Martin County has paid the fees of commissioners’ personal attorneys to defend them against Lake Point’s charges of public records violations.
A “mini” trial conducted in February by court arbiter Howard Googe found Heard, Fielding and Scott guilty of violating public records laws, which prompted the state attorney’s investigation.
Googe’s ruling, which was upheld by Circuit Court Judge William Roby, levied sanctions against Martin County that have totaled more than $500,000. More attorney fees are likely still to be awarded to Lake Point, should the company file for additional sanctions, because the first two awards for attorney fees and costs included the time only through July 2017; court hearings for public records were still going on as late as October.
After the Lake Point settlement with Martin County, however, the county no longer is paying private attorney fees for commissioners, and the joint defense agreement with Hurchalla also ended.
Heard’s attorney also requested all evidence in the case, including Heard’s grand jury testimony, wire taps, all emails, or any other investigative reports in the case in her request for the court to allow sufficient time to obtain evidence in the case.
Barbara Clowdus is editor and publisher of Martin County Currents.