A lawyer for thousands of families in Lee and Broward Counties is taking Florida agriculture officials to court over money the state owes them. Officials removed healthy citrus trees across the state in a failed effort to eradicate the bacterial disease citrus canker. The families won their cases, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed their reimbursements in the state budget. The attorney said he may also take legal action against the governor.
The Florida Department of Agriculture, under Commissioner Adam Putnam, removed thousands of healthy citrus trees in Lee and Broward counties nearly two decades ago. Individual jury trials decided in favor of reimbursement—about $265 per tree.
Recently, the Florida Legislature worked both compensations into the proposed state budget at a combined $37 million. Then Gov. Scott vetoed them. So, Bobby Gilbert, the attorney for Lee and Broward homeowners, is issuing a Writ of Mandamus in both counties’ circuit courts, which would basically force Putnam's department to pay up.
"That’s who owes the money," said Gilbert. "Even though Gov. Scott vetoed these bills... the entities that owe the money are Commissioner Putnam and the Department of Agriculture. So, they will have to pay it."
A spokesperson for Scott said in an email that the veto was due to “ongoing litigation” regarding a similar case in Miami-Dade County.
“It is unfortunate what happened to these Floridians over a decade ago and Governor Scott sincerely understands their concern," said McKinley Lewis with Scott's office. "Due to ongoing litigation, the $37.4 million in the budget was unable to be approved. We are hopeful that all litigation regarding this issue will be completely resolved very soon, allowing the issue to be addressed comprehensively across the state.”
But attorney Bobby Gilbert said what’s happening in Miami-Dade does not change the cases already settled in Lee and Broward. So he said he’s looking into any possible legal action against Scott’s vetoes.
"Gov. Scott, whether we try to hold him legally accountable or not, he will be held accountable, ultimately," said Gilbert. "I'm sure that the 100,000-plus families who are affected by his veto will not forget this. I'm sure that they will not forget that he turned his back on them."