A collection of leading free-speech, open government, and environmental advocates joins a growing list backing former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla as she appeals a judgment entered against her for questioning the environmental benefits of a rock mining project near Lake Okeechobee. Eight organizations and individuals are now asking permission to join the Florida First Amendment Foundation’s request to file a friend-of-the-court brief, adding their weight to the push for justice for Hurchalla.
The latest organizations seeking to weigh in on the case include the Florida Press Association, Florida Society of News Editors, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Women Voters, Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. Joining them is private free-speech advocate Fane Lozman, a Floridian who has brought cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Together, they have filed a motion for permission to join an amicus curiae brief of the First Amendment Foundation.
“The First Amendment Foundation is proud to support Maggy Hurchalla in her appeal and her fight to protect her First Amendment rights. We’re doubly proud, too, to be joined in our support by citizen-activist Fane Lozman and a robust and diverse group of public service organizations from across Florida,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “We encourage citizens to engage with their government, and they should feel free to express concerns without the fear of being bullied or coerced into silence. By standing up, by refusing to be bullied, Maggy Hurchalla stands up for all of us and our First Amendment right to petition our government. We owe Maggy not only our support, but our deepest gratitude.”
Hurchalla is embroiled in a contentious case involving the Lake Point development, which she argues would cause environmental harm. The developer went to court to stifle Hurchalla and came away with a $4.3 million judgment against the long-time environmental advocate. In their motion, the seven organizations and Lozman say they frequently rely on free speech and open government laws to scrutinize the conduct of public officials, and therefore have an “ongoing stake” in ensuring that these laws are not abused by governmental entities, including the judiciary.
The case involves the Lake Point project, which Hurchalla questioned in email communications with Martin County Commissioners. Hurchalla expressed her belief that the rock mining operation might not be beneficial to the environment and might, in fact, cause environmental harm. Even though her speech fell squarely within her First Amendment rights as a citizen, a jury imposed the outrageous judgment against her personally.
“Ms. Hurchalla and I share a common history in that we have both been targeted for exercising our First Amendment rights as U.S. citizens,” Lozman said. “The First Amendment Foundation also filed a critical amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in my retaliatory arrest case that was decided by the Court in June 2018. The Court ruled in my favor, by an 8 to 1 margin, that probable cause is not an absolute bar to a First Amendment retaliatory arrest.”
In their motion, the organizations and Lozman suggest to the Fourth District Court of Appeal that allowing them to join the First Amendment Foundation brief, rather than filing their own separate briefs, “will be the most efficient way for (the group) to bring its collective knowledge and experiences to the Court.”
Added Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director: “The outrageous $4.3 million judgment against Maggy Hurchalla attacks the constitutionally guaranteed right of every Floridian to speak out against pollution of their air and water and the destruction of the natural environment in their communities. It must be overturned.”
The motion First Amendment Foundation motion was filed by attorney Paul M. Crochet of Weber, Crabb & Wein in St. Petersburg. Crochet and Richard Grosso, a sole practitioner in Davie, prepared previous amicus motions in this case.