Taxpayers Likely Losers in Martin County Environmental-Attorney Shell Game

(By Nancy Smith at SUNSHINE STATE NEWS) Most Martin County (FL)  taxpayers have no idea what pocket-picking shenanigans are going on between a powerful clique of environmental attorneys and the County Commission majority.

It becomes an issue of state interest Tuesday, when the commission is due to discuss publicly whether to “forgive” Richard Grosso the money he owes Martin County taxpayers. Grosso, remember, is the environmental attorney ordered by the 1st District Court of Appeal to repay sanctions and court costs because he filed a frivolous appeal.


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Click Here To Send An Email To All County Commissioners

Sample Email:  I am extremely disappointed that the Martin County Commission is considering to “forgive” Richard Grosso the money he owes Martin County taxpayers.  Grosso has been ordered by the 1st District Court of Appeal to repay sanctions and court costs because he filed a frivolous appeal.

It is bogus lawsuits like this that are costing taxpayers money and destroying the legal system.   Time and time again lawyers like Grosso file frivolous lawsuits with the hope of “gaining the system” or bullying people into their extreme environmentalist ideology.

You were elected to represent The People, not special interest groups.   If you don’t collect on Grosso, why should Martin County Taxpayers pay their property taxes.  Due the right thing and demand payment from Richard Grosso!

Or feel free to contact them individually:

District 1 – Doug Smith Phone: (772) 221-2359 Email: Doug Smith

District 2 – Ed Fielding, Vice Chair Phone: (772) 288-5421 Email: Ed Fielding

District 3 – Anne Scott Phone: (772) 221-2357 Email: Anne Scott

District 4 – Sarah Heard, Chair Phone: (772) 221-2358 Email: Sarah Heard

District 5 – John Haddox Phone: (772) 221-1357 Email: John Haddox


 

This was the December 2010 appeal of a 2009 case: Martin County Conservation Alliance and 1000 Friends of Florida Inc. v. Martin County, the now-defunct Florida Department of Community Affairs and two private companies.

Word at county hall is, forgiveness is imminent. If that’s true, it will make winners of those advised by the court to fold their hand but didn’t — and losers of Martin taxpayers, who, by the way, would end up lawyers’ patsies for the second time.

The case is more than an oddity. It’s virtually landmark stuff, striking a knockout blow to all who would raise “meritless appellate arguments on the chance they will ‘stick.'”

Why will so many in Martin County miss this agenda item when it finally comes up at Tuesday’s commission meeting? Because they’re supposed to. That’s the idea. It was attached as a supplemental memo to the previously posted commission agenda — slipped in during the busiest travel week of the year, Thanksgiving, and the first day of Hanukkah this year.

What’s more, the matter involves a violation of the spirit, if not the letter of Florida’s open-government law. County attorney Michael Durham used “attorney-client privilege” to arrange a behind-closed-doors meeting to discuss the results of “negotiations” with Grosso and his clients. Read Barbara Clowdus’ superb editorial, “Democracy Dies Behind Closed Doors,” in Martin County Currents.

Attorney-client privilege? Why? The suit is over. Grosso, the Conservation Alliance and 1000 Friends lost. Case over. Why would attorney-clients be afforded behind-closed-doors treatment at this point?

Bear with me while I tell you why.

In 2009 the commission majority voted to reduce the minimum lot size on 191,000 agricultural acres in western Martin County from 20 to 2 acres. The idea was to pave the way for clustered development, an avenue for saving green space and allowing rural property owners to trade large parcels for development credits.

That’s what Grosso and his clients didn’t like, and that’s why they sued. But that was a different commission majority in 2009. They were ideological light years away from the commission elected in 2012. In fact, four out of five of the current majority either were members of one of the organizations suing the county in 2009, or they professed during their election campaigns that their sympathies lay with the anti-clustered-development camp.

The new commission chair after the election was Sarah Heard, who gave her friend, environmental attorney Virginia Sherlock, a role in county government. In fact, some say unelected Sherlock, who provides commissioners with how-to-vote guidelines and gives orders even to the county administrator, is the most powerful force in Martin government.

Sherlock, her law partner Howard Heims, Martin County Conservation Alliance’s Donna Melzer and Grosso — environmental attorneys all — are friends; kindred spirits.

Sherlock, like Grosso, has been involved in many lawsuits against Martin County over the years, plain and simple.

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 …”

That pretty much was the last the public heard of the court fees due back to Martin taxpayers — until the tucked-away agenda attachment on a busy week when most folks weren’t paying attention.

The people in power today — the people who serve on the County Commission right now — are the people who were suing the County Commission in 2009.

So there it is. Martin County is a shell-game of slow-growth and no-growth and lawyers who prey on its waterfront wealth.

Sadly, not everybody can look past their emotions and see that when you sue a county, you aren’t suing politicians you don’t like. You are suing taxpayers.

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