June 24, 2010

CONTACT: media@aclufl.org

BONIFAY, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) announced today a settlement redressing government abuse by Holmes County officials.  Together the two legal organizations represented Holmes County resident Daniel Stone in a June 2009 lawsuit against the county after officials took over part of Stone's property.  The county agreed to cease grading the private access and pay Mr. Stone $2,500 for damages.

Beginning in 2006, as a favor to Holmes County commissioner Jim King's friend who lived behind Mr. Stone, the county began grading the neighbor's private access, which runs over Mr. Stone's property.  The county widened the two-tire track to a 30-, and in some cases 40-foot-wide dirt road, which it claimed was a county road. 

"Florida's eminent domain laws specifically prevent government from taking someone's property without a good reason and compensation. The Constitution binds all government officials, including those in Holmes County.  We are pleased that the judicial system was able to restore some of what government unlawfully took from him," said Benjamin James Stevenson, ACLU staff attorney based in Pensacola.

"The county claims that it had long-maintained the easement located on Mr. Stone's property, when in fact photos show that the access was unmaintained prior to the grading that began in November 2006 (see photos below.)  "Without exercising eminent domain, the county simply can't just take someone's property like this – it's just plain illegal," said Stevenson.

"County officials simply cannot use their official positions to dole out favors for friends without consequences.  Hopefully, the county will end this sort of conduct going forward," said Larry Crain, ACLJ senior attorney.

Attorneys for Mr. Stone in Stone v. Holmes County are Benjamin James Stevenson, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, based in Pensacola; and Larry Crain, senior attorney and lead litigator with the ACLJ, based in Tennessee.

Stone v. Holmes County marks the first time the ACLU and the ACLJ – often battling each other in court – are working together, jointly representing the same client.

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