In a recent New York Times article, Florida environmental activist Maggy Hurchalla discussed the ongoing SLAPP suit that was brought against her by a Florida mining Company. Hurchalla’s case revolves around emails she sent to Martin County commissioners urging them to get out of a deal with a mining company, Lake Point Restoration, which Hurchalla worried would result in harm to the downstream Everglades. The County took action against Lake Point, and the company sued three county commissioners as well as Hurchalla.
Although the commissioners and county eventually reached a settlement with Lake Point, Hurchalla continued her legal battle. Lake Point offered to drop the case if she would apologize, but she has maintained that she has nothing to apologize for. Even after a jury awarded Lake Point a $4.4 million judgment, Hurchalla has continued to fight. While she recently lost her appeal in the Fourth District, and was denied a rehearing with a full panel of judges, she still has the option of petitioning the Florida Supreme Court to reverse the Fourth District’s decision. Hurchalla has made clear that she is prepared to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if she has to.
The stakes in the case are extremely high, and the recent appeals decision makes clear that, as Hurchalla put it, “if you make a statement that government officials disagree with . . . it is clear and convincing evidence you lied with malevolent intent to harm.” Hurchalla seems to see her court battle as a representation of the future of the First Amendment in Florida. She has suggested that her losses have already had a chilling effect and prevent activists from “safely stand[ing] at a podium in the state of Florida.”