Hurchalla-Fielding Email Exchange: Evidence of Skulduggery?
An email from former Martin County commissioner Maggy Hurchalla to current Commissioner Ed Fielding’s personal computer may be the key that unravels a blanket of secrecy currently cloaking not only Hurchalla’s communications, but Commission Chair Sarah Heard’s as well, in the Lake Point Water Restoration Project’s lawsuits filed nearly a year ago.
LakePoint’s suit against Hurchalla, filed in February 2013 for tortious interference (interfering with a company’s ability to conduct business) claims that the former five-time Martin County commissioner worked “aggressively behind the scenes” to convince the county commissioners and the South Florida Management District to breach their contracts with Lake Point, a rock mining operation in southwestern Martin County near Lake Okeechobee.
Hurchalla had made several public comments that Lake Point had destroyed 60 acres of wetlands, although Martin County Management Director Nicki van Vonno reported to the commission that no wetlands had been destroyed. Hurchalla also charged that Lake Point’s rock pit was deeper than allowed by the county’s Comp Plan, which the county has not verified and Lake Point disputes.
Using the code name “DEEP Rockpit,” Hurchalla’s private email exchange with Fielding was dated two days prior to the Jan. 15 County Commission meeting when the Lake Point project had been placed on the meeting’s agenda.
In the email, Hurchalla gave specific instructions to Fielding: “Avoid discussion of other issues. Don’t complicate things. Just set up a meeting to legally void that contract. Don’t issue any cease and desist order on the mining. Get the contract cancelled and wait for staff to come back. Doug (Commissioner Doug Smith) will scream that you are missing an opportunity to save the river and giving up money due the county. Engineering will back him up. (Don) Donaldson is Doug’s man.”
Fielding’s response, “Thanks for the input, Maggy.”
(Hurchalla’s Jan. 13 private email with Fielding’s response is attached to Lake Point’s legal motion filed Nov. 25 in district court asking that the county be compelled to produce all private emails of the commissioners that pertain to Lake Point, and to testify under oath as to their methodology in conducting the search.)
On the commissioner’s public email system, Hurchalla also sent an email the same day, Jan. 13, to all the county commissioners titled, “Tues Lake Pt. Agenda item,” which is still posted on the county’s public email database. Hurchalla says in what seems to be an entirely different tone: “I know that it is very hard to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I would strongly advise that you take (the Lake Point Restoration Project) off the agenda until you know what you are getting into.”
Two days later, at the Jan. 15 County Commission meeting, Commissioners Fielding, Sarah Heard and Anne Scott called for canceling the Lake Point contract, and none revealed having received any private correspondence from Hurchalla.
After Lake Point’s original request Feb. 7 for all email correspondence between Hurchalla and the commissioners, their attorneys spotted Commissioner Heard’s private email account with her code name, pockethouse, among the public emails as she routinely conducted county business from her private computer, prompting Lake Point to follow up with a request four days later that Commissioners Fielding, Heard and Scott provide their private email correspondence as well as the public correspondence relating to Lake Point.
“Ms. Hurchalla has produced some e-mails related to Lake Point that she had sent to Commissioner Sarah Heard’s private e-mail account,” the attorney’s motion reads. “No e-mails to or from any other commissioner’s private e-mail accounts, however, have been produced.”
The private email between Fielding and Hurchalla was provided by the county to Lake Point on Nov. 8, nine months after the original request and after several follow-up requests, according to attorney Ethan Loeb of Tampa. Heard, who provided some private Hurchalla emails to Lake Point, reported to Loeb that she was unable to comply fully with Lake Point’s public records request because her private computer had been “hacked” and most of her emails had been deleted, although she was using a web-based browser.
Lake Point in turn requested that Heard authorize Yahoo to allow access for a search regarding Lake Point emails stored in Heard’s account, after which she retained attorney Scott Zappolo, who denied their request. Subsequently, Lake Point asked 19th District Court Judge James McCann to order Commissioner Heard to sit for a deposition to explain the “missing” emails, but no date for the deposition has yet been set.
Hurchalla’s attorneys, Trey White, Karen Cambo, and Virginia Sherlock sought to have Lake Point’s motions against their client dismissed, but Judge McCann allowed the tortious interference charge to stand at a hearing Oct. 11 in Martin County. Dates to hear other motions in the case have been set for January.
Click on link to access the full 220-page motion filed Nov. 25