On Friday, June 2, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $37.4 million appropriation to pay Broward and Lee County homeowners in a 16-year citrus canker litigation. The litigation has dragged on for nearly two decades, resulting from the Florida Department of Agriculture’s destruction of over 500,000 healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees under the failed citrus canker eradication program.
Now, the attorney at the helm is speaking out. Read more about what Bobby Gilbert of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen has to say in the press release below, along with next steps for affected homeowners.
GOVERNOR VETOES $37.4 MILLION APPROPRIATION TO PAY BROWARD AND LEE COUNTY HOMEOWNERS IN 16-YEAR CITRUS CANKER LITIGATION
Legislature finally appropriated funds this year following epic court battle
Late Friday afternoon, Governor Rick Scott vetoed the Legislature’s $37.4 million appropriation to pay more than 70,000 families in Broward and Lee Counties court-awarded compensation arising from the Florida Department of Agriculture’s destruction of their healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees nearly two decades ago.
“With the stroke of a pen, Governor Scott disregarded the letter and spirit of Florida’s Constitution for his own personal political agenda,” said Bobby Gilbert, lead counsel for the homeowners. “Every Floridian who believes in the constitution and private property rights should understand that the governor is working against their interests.”
The saga began back in 2000, when the Florida Department of Agriculture destroyed over 130,000 healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees in Broward County – including three trees at the home of Toby and Bob Bogorff in Davie – as part of its failed effort to eradicate citrus canker. The Bogorffs, joined by several other Broward homeowners, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 58,000 families against the Department of Agriculture and its Commissioner to recover full compensation under the Florida constitution for the destruction of their private property. In 2008, a Broward County jury awarded $11.5 million in compensation to the Broward homeowners. The Department’s appeals dragged on until 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined the Department’s request to review the judgment.
In 2003, a similar legal battle took shape in Lee County, where the Department destroyed nearly 34,000 healthy, uninfected residential citrus trees owned by Lee County families. Lois and Chuck Stroh, Cape Coral homeowners, joined by several others, sued the Department of Agriculture and its Commissioner seeking full compensation on behalf of approximately 12,000 Lee County families for the Department’s destruction of their private property. In 2014, a Lee County jury awarded $13.6 million in compensation to the Lee homeowners. The Department’s appeal was rejected in early 2016.
Despite losing the cases in Broward and Lee courts, as well as similar cases in Orange and Palm Beach courts where compensation totaling more than $58 million was awarded to those counties’ homeowners, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam refused to pay the judgments. As a result, the amounts due continued to increase with accrued interest. As of March 31, 2017, the amounts due under judgments awarded to homeowners in Broward, Lee, Orange and Palm Beach Counties exceeded $100 million, with additional interest accruing each year. Two weeks ago, the Florida Legislature approved the state’s 2017-18 budget, including $37.4 million to pay the amounts due under the judgments awarded to the Broward and Lee County homeowners.
Gilbert concluded: “Governor Scott claims he vetoed these appropriations because litigation is still pending. He’s wrong – the cases in Broward, Lee, Palm Beach and Orange Counties were concluded long ago. All that remains to be done is to pay the Florida homeowners. The governor is relying on false news that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam repeats time and again. Because of Governor Scott’s irresponsible action, we will now return to courts in Broward, Lee, Palm Beach and Orange Counties seeking special writs to force the Department of Agriculture to pay these judgments without further delay. I’m confident our judicial system will ultimately protect and enforce the constitutional rights of the 200,000-plus Florida families who I have been privileged to represent for the past 16 years. Although we may not be there yet, I see the promised land on the horizon.”
In addition to Gilbert, the homeowners are represented by a team of prominent South Florida lawyers, including Bruce S. Rogow, William S. Williams, Joseph H. Serota, Neal A. Roth and J. Alex Villalobos.