A Lee County Circuit court judge will decide in about a week if Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam can continue denying reimbursement to residents for their healthy citrus trees his department removed.
About two decades ago, the Florida Department of Agriculture removed thousands of healthy citrus trees that were within 90 feet of trees infected with the bacterial disease citrus canker, but the Canker Eradication Program was a failed project. Since then, class action lawsuits were filed across the state to compensate residents for lost healthy trees. A jury in Lee County awarded its residents about $200 per uprooted tree.
But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican who's running for governor, says that because different circuits assigned different value to the citrus trees, he does not think it would be wise to give some tax payers more money than others based on where they live in the state.
“This needs to get to the Supreme Court," says Putnam. "There needs to be a final answer about whether the state was appropriate in taking those trees as part of a larger effort to preserve the industry. If the answer is yes, what is the value of those trees?”
However, attorney Bobby Gilbert, who represents residents across Florida, says the judgements in Lee, Broward, Orange and Palm Beach Counties are final.
“These amounts cannot change. They have been determined in courts of law. The appellate courts have upheld its decisions," says Gilbert. "So it is ludicrous, in fact it's just false, for him to claim that there’s some way that the Supreme Court of Florida would change the amounts that have been awarded.”
Lee Circuit Judge Keith Kyle told Gilbert and the lawyer representing the department of ag to each submit proposals, which he’ll use to make a ruling.
Below is the official Lee County Circuit Court hearing transcript from Tuesday, Feb. 6:
WGCU's Quincy Walters contributed to this story.