Martin County Taxpayers Are Being Told NOT to Want Their Money Back
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Richard Grosso, the environmental attorney ordered by the 1st District Court of Appeal to repay court costs because he filed a frivolous appeal, may not have to pay back the taxpayers of Martin County after all.
You heard right. Tough as times are, Martin County commissioners are being asked to waive the court's sanctions -- that is, forgive repayment of a bill that falls somewhere between $11,000 and $35,000. Numbers vary widely. The point is, they might do it.
Grosso and his clients, 1000 Friends of Florida and Martin County Conservation Alliance, didn't like it and, even though it's almost universally considered a good and ecological thing and sound policy to help the damaged Everglades, they sued Martin County, the Florida Department of Community Affairs and various development interests. They lost. And they were sanctioned for wasting everybody's time and money.
It might not have been a landmark case, but it was close, striking a knockout blow to all who would raise "meritless appellate arguments on the chance they will 'stick.'"
When you sue a county, remember, you aren't suing politicians you don't like. You are suing taxpayers.
Well, as it happens, attorney Grosso has a lawyer friend, Virginia Sherlock -- a kindred spirit, really -- who knows just the right people in Martin County (wink, wink).
Sherlock, like Grosso, is an environmental lawyer, involved in many lawsuits against Martin County over the years. With the change of commission majority in the last election, Sherlock has acquired considerable influence and power. Among county insiders, it has won her the title of "unelected commissioner" for her ability to catch County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard's ear and get county staff to cross her at their own peril.
Sherlock and Heard both are spiritually alligned to the plaintiffs in the losing case.
On July 1, Sherlock wrote a four-page letter with attachments pleading Grosso's case to Heard -- copies to the rest of the commission, attorneys and the county administrator -- to waive the DCA's sanctions.
"Our elected officials should honor and respect citizen participation," wrote Sherlock, "not seek to punish those who engage in the process to protect our comprehensive plan and our urban boundaries ..."
It seems to me what is most offensive in her letter is reference to a previous County Commission as "decidedly citizen-unfriendly," and to the groups she at different times -- and Grosso in this particular case heard by the DCA -- refers to as "citizens" who have "dared to challenge ..." and "citizen participation in local government" and "Martin County citizens clearly benefitted ..."
It's a litany in Martin County government today: "What the citizens want ..." It's used to divide good guys and bad guys. Bad guys being virtually anyone who owns a business.
Citizens are taxpayers, all of them, not just the ones who belong to Sherlock's club.
Grosso, Martin County Conservation Alliance and 1000 Friends of Florida were told that because they "pursued appellate review without any foundation in law or fact, they are properly subject to sanctions under section 57.105, Florida Statutes."
Why would a County Commission that represents the people who fund it, the taxpayers, argree to punish those people by forgiving a court-ordered payback -- payback for a wrong it was done? And why don't taxpayers know yet exactly how much money they're being asked to forgive? Why is it all thousands of words in an attorney's/"unelected commissioner's" letter?
It seems to me before a commission agrees to forgive money being returned to taxpayers, it should be certain it has surpluses throughout its budget. Didn't Martin folks hear at budget time that the county needed every dime?
In all the years I lived in Martin County -- nearly 28 of them -- I can only remember one time when Sherlock's club won a clear victory in a case (Grosso in the Villas of Pinecrest Lakes, 1998). Look at the attachment below. You'll see a few, but not even half of the lawsuits.
Were these lawsuits, do you think, filed on behalf of the "citizens" or the lawyers?
The 1st DCA majority knew what it was doing when it called for sanctions: Protecting the taxpayers and, no doubt, protecting the court.
Give Martin County "citizens" their money back.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.