Taj Mahal controversy raises questions about 1st DCA ruling for St. Joe
When the 1st District Court of Appeal started negotiating to build the courthouse that would come to be derided as the Taj Mahal, the St. Joe Co. was in an important legal battle before the same court. St. Joe, former owner of the land the new courthouse would be built on, was fighting a class-action lawsuit by 75 mostly poor, mostly African-American property owners who lived in Millview.
The town was what the name suggests, within view of the smoke-belching paper mill St. Joe opened in Port St. Joe in 1938. The mill closed in 1998, two years after St. Joe sold it. Some Millview residents fought to save houses that were cracking and crumbling as the land beneath them shifted. Others just wanted a house where they could safely use well water and have a garden. Their lawsuit seeks compensation for the land and modest homes built over the years St. Joe dumped waste on the property.After the residents won a crucial ruling in their lawsuit against St. Joe, the company appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal. Unbeknownst to the Millview families and their lawyers, the court they were relying on for justice was working with the very company they were fighting.
..."It's just an outrage against voiceless people,'' said Robert G. Kerrigan, head of one of three law firms representing the Millview families. "My clients, like all litigants, deserved a fair, impartial judge. Instead they got a buddy of the St. Joe Company. That fact, undisclosed by him, suggests he is unfit for the bench.''