Environmental icon Maggy Hurchalla has called in the cavalry. She apparently thought she needed more help than top-rated Florida law firm D'Alemberte & Palmer, PA could give her.
After the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected more than a half dozen of its petitions and motions filed since March in Hurchalla's appeal of a Martin County jury's $4.4 million damage award in the Lake Point case, she added flashy national firm WilmerHale LLP.
With more than 1,000 attorneys worldwide, WilmerHale is ranked second in the nation in American Lawyer's A-List of top BigLaw firms. Attorney Robert Mueller was a partner at WilmerHale's Washington office before being hired as special counsel to the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
One of WilmerHale's attorneys now representing Hurchalla is David W. Ogden, who served as the deputy attorney general of the United States under President Barack Obama. He also was a high-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Defense during the President Bill Clinton era, when Hurchalla's late sister, Janet Reno, served as attorney general.
That's the connection, something Hurchalla knows well how to use.
Other attorneys approved Aug. 6 by the appellate court to represent Hurchalla in this case, all Harvard Law School graduates at WilmerHale, are former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, Justin Baxenburg, David Lehn and Meghan Ingrisanon from the firm's Washington D.C. office.
Hurchalla also will continue her current representation by Talbot “Sandy” D'Alemberte, former president of the American Bar Association, former president of Florida State University, and former member of the Florida House of Representatives representing Dade County, site of the Reno family home.
Also still on Hurchalla's appeal is Richard Ovelman of the Miami office of the Carlton Fields law firm, who is considered an expert in constitutional, land-use, and local government law, particularly the First Amendment.
Those are just the generals, however.
The rest of the cavalry includes two professors who literally “wrote the book” on SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suits, which is what Hurchalla's personal attorney, Virginia Sherlock, continues to call Lake Point's lawsuit against Hurchalla for interfering in its contracts with Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District.
Three lower court judges disagreed with Sherlock, however, denying her four attempts to automatically dismiss the lawsuit based on her claim that Hurchalla's First Amendment rights to free speech and the right to petition the government were being violated by Lake Point's lawsuit.
One of those judges, Circuit Court Judge Thomas McCann, told Sherlock during a 2014 hearing that “... lies are not protected speech.”
Jurors in the case also disagreed with Sherlock that Hurchalla's right to free speech was violated. Instead, they rendered their decision Feb. 14 that Hurchalla's actions and speech had damaged Lake Point's business. Of the $22 million in lost profits, Hurchalla was responsible for $4.4 million.
Harvard law professor George W. Pring seems to disagree with McCann, however. He co-wrote “SLAPPS: Getting Sued for Speaking Out” in 1996 with University of Central Florida Sociology Professor Penelope Canan.
They contend in their book that speaking out to government officials about a private company should always be considered a SLAPP suit -- regardless of truthful intent or not -- and judges should immediately dismiss them.
Pring and Canan filed a motion Aug. 8 asking to submit an amicus curiae brief to the appellate court, which is commonly called a “friend of the court” brief. It is intended to advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider, but is not required to do so.
The First Amendment Foundation also filed a separate motion for permission to file an amicus brief, as did a joint motion among Bullsugar.org, Florida Wildlife Foundation, Friends of the Everglades and the Pegasus Foundation of Hobe Sound.
Another joint motion to submit an amicus brief was filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida Press Association, the Florida Society of News Editors, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida's School of Journalism, and Riviera Beach resident Fane Lozman, who has taken two of his cases against local government to the Supreme Court.
In late June, the appellate court denied motions from the late Nathaniel Reed and The Guardians of Martin County to file amicus briefs.
Six of the Fourth District's 12 judges have issued rulings in Hurchalla's appeal thus far, reminding her at one point that the appellate court's function is not to retry the Lake Point case, and it does not intend to do so.
Even without the multitude of additional briefs, the Circuit Court Clerk of Martin County submitted 8,626 pages of court records, and 1,905 pages of trial transcripts for judicial review.
It appears that even the cavalry will not speed up the process. If anything, it will slow it down to a trot and when all is said and done, may not be enough to save Maggy Hurchalla at all.
Barbara Clowdus, editor and publisher of Martin County Currents, has covered the Lake Point case from the beginning.