On April 12, Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard was acquitted of public records violation charges arising from a lengthy and sometimes bitter conflict between the Martin County Commission and the Lake Point Restoration mining company.
The two charges against Commissioner Heard were first-degree misdemeanors: the failure of a public official to allow inspection and copying of public records, and the failure of a public official to maintain public records.
If she had been convicted, Commissioner Heard would have faced impeachment or removal from the Martin County Commission, up to a year in jail, and a fine of $1,000. However, the jurors – four women and two men – took less than half-an-hour to deliberate and return the acquittals.
HOW AND WHEN DID THIS LONG LEGAL BATTLE BEGIN?
“We’re just very happy for Commissioner Heard,” said Stuart criminal defense attorney Jordan Wagner, who represented Commissioner Heard along with attorney Barbara Kibbey Wagner at the five-day trial.
“She had her name dragged through the mud unnecessarily,” Jordan Wagner told the Palm Beach Post, “and she’s never done anything wrong.”
The charges against Commissioner Heard emerged after Lake Point Restoration brought a lawsuit against Martin County in 2013 for public records violations.
WHAT’S THE HISTORY BEHIND THE CASE?
Martin County eventually agreed – even as criminal charges against commissioners were pending – to pay $12 million to Lake Point Restoration (for four hundred acres of land southwest of Stuart) and to apologize for “unnecessarily tarnishing” the mining company’s reputation.
In 2009, Lake Point Restoration contracted with Martin County and with the South Florida Water Management District to conduct mining operations in the western part of Martin County, but concerns quickly arose regarding the environmental effect of the mining on wetlands.
Former commissioner Maggy Hurchalla emailed Martin County commissioners – sending emails to both private and public email accounts – regarding her concerns.
WHAT WAS THE ACCUSATION AGAINST MARTIN COUNTY COMMISSIONERS?
Lake Point Restoration sued Martin County in 2013. The mining company charged that Commissioner Heard, along with former commissioners Ann Scott and Ed Fielding, failed to produce or destroyed emails that should have been available as evidence in the case.
When Lake Point Restoration sought Commissioner Heard’s emails, she found that her private Yahoo email account had at some point been hacked. She was thus unable to produce the emails.
“She really tried to do what she could to recover the emails, which shows the good faith effort she was making all along,” Jordan Wagner said. “There was no evidence of criminal intent.”
“A SPLENDID JOB”
“It’s a great day,” Commissioner Heard told the Post. “I’m very thankful for my wonderful team, the Wagners did a splendid job, my experts did a splendid job, and the jurors were spot on. I’m so grateful to everyone.”
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