Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Supreme Court turns down request from Millview families suing St. Joe Co.

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from 75 mostly poor African-American property owners of polluted land in Port St. Joe whose fight became linked to the "Taj Mahal" building scandal.

In 2003, the landowners in the Millview community sued the St. Joe Co., saying its defunct paper mill had dumped toxic waste on their property, and a year later they got a judge to combine their complaints into a single class-action lawsuit.

That made it economically feasible for the plaintiff's lawyers, working on contingency, to pursue the case against the deep pockets of the St. Joe Co.

In 2005, the St. Joe Co. asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to reverse the lower court's ruling on the class action.

After St. Joe filed its appeal — but not disclosed at the time — the 1st District Court proposed building a new courthouse in a St. Joe development called Southwood, on land acquired from St. Joe, and appeals court Judge Paul Hawkes purchased a half-million-dollar home in Southwood.

A three-judge panel of the court, including Hawkes, heard St. Joe's appeal and overturned the crucial ruling that the trial judge had made in favor of the Millview residents.

The Millview side didn't find out about the court's land dealings with St. Joe until five years later, when the St. Petersburg Times published stories about the opulent new courthouse since dubbed the Taj Mahal. In that time, not a single one of the Millview lawsuits has gone to trial.

Robert G. Kerrigan, head of one of three law firms representing the Millview families, asked the state Supreme Court to send the class-action issue to a different appeals court.

Late Wednesday, without the usual public notice, the Supreme Court turned down that request, saying it lacks jurisdiction. That means the Millview residents' claims will be handled individually.

Despite the setback, Kerrigan vowed to fight on.

"If we have to, we will try them all," Kerrigan said Friday.

In something of an irony, the Supreme Court, a day after rejecting Kerrigan's appeal, bestowed upon him the state's highest legal honor, the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award.

In a ceremony where lawyers who have volunteered their time received various awards, the court praised Kerrigan for his work in human rights cases, the help he gave to victims of Hurricane Ivan and a lifetime of philanthropy.

The court did not announce the St. Joe decision until a St. Petersburg Times reporter asked about the case Friday.

Other awards handed out by the Supreme Court on Thursday included a Distinguished Judicial Service Award for Hillsborough Circuit Judge Susan G. Sexton for her work in probate, guardianship and mental health cases.

Lawyers Murray Bruce Silverstein of St. Petersburg and Rosemary E. Armstrong and Rachel May Zysk, both of Tampa, were also honored for the hours they have donated to those in need of legal help.

Supreme Court turns down request from Millview families suing St. Joe Co. 01/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Can the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl thrive in competitive sports market?


    ST. PETERSBURG — It's a funky name: the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. But the new sponsors for the former St. Petersburg Bowl might need more than an eye-catching name to create a thriving, profitable contest.

    NC State head coach Dave Doeren clutches the championship trophy after winning the Bitcoin Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg in 2014. Bowl organizers are changing the name of the game to the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

  2. Dirk Koetter says Bucs used team meeting to discuss social issues


    Four days before their preseason home opener against the Cleveland Browns, which had 12 players not stand for the national anthem prior to their last game, the Bucs used their team meeting to discuss social issues that might have led to that demonstration, coach Dirk Koetter said.

    "The main thing is we have to respect everybody's opinion," Dirk Koetter said, "because everybody is not going to agree." [AP photo]
  3. Rookie tight end Antony Auclair making case to stick with Bucs


    Don't let his modest preseason stats fool you: Antony Auclair, the undrafted rookie tight end from Canada is making a strong case to stick around on the Bucs' 53-man roster this season.

    Bucs tight end Antony Auclair (82) collides with a defender following a catch during training camp. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  4. Who is that 'Blacks for Trump' guy standing behind the president at his Phoenix rally


    At a number of political rallies over the last two years, a character calling himself "Michael the Black Man" has appeared in the crowd directly behind Donald Trump, impossible to miss and possibly planted.

    Michael the Black Man, variously known as Michael Symonette, Maurice Woodside and Mikael Israel, holds up a sign as President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on Tuesday in Phoenix, Arizona.  [Ralph Freso | Getty Images]
  5. Off-duty Manatee County deputy saves couple from burning car

    Public Safety

    MANATEE COUNTY — Neil and Claudia Cook are lucky to be alive after an off-duty deputy spotted them trapped in their smoking car and rescued them just before it became engulfed in flames on …

    Neil and Claudia Cook were trapped in their smoking car on Sunday when an off-duty deputy kicked out the window, rescuing them just before the car became engulfed in flames. [Courtesy of Manatee County Sheriff's Office]