A Lee County circuit court judge said the state agriculture department needs to repay local residents for destroyed citrus trees, or explain why it refuses to pay. The Florida Department of Agriculture has less than 40 days to respond.
The department removed thousands of healthy citrus trees nearly two decades ago. It was a failed attempt at eradicating the bacterial disease citrus canker. Juries in Lee and Broward Counties both ruled in favor of repaying the homeowners for each tree taken from them. The Florida Legislature allocated the roughly $37 million for both counties in this year’s state budget.
And then Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the reimbursements. So thousands of residents submitted formal requests in Lee and Broward circuit courts to force agriculture officials to pay the compensation. Now, Lee Circuit Court Judge Keith Kyle ruled the agriculture department must pay Lee residents or explain why it won’t within 40 days.
"So that's a positive first step," said Bobby Gilbert, the attorney for the Lee and Broward residents.
He’s still waiting to hear back from the Broward Circuit Court, though. But aside from those cases, he’s taken Gov. Scott to the Florida Supreme Court, asking for his reimbursement vetoes to be overturned.
"If the Supreme Court rules in our favor... the money will be paid and paid forthwith immediately and this whole thing will be over and done with once and for all with respect to Lee and Broward," he said.
Gilbert said, otherwise, it could take at least a couple years to move forward with the cases at individual circuit courts. He said he expects the high court will issue a ruling before its summer recess.
Below is Judge Kyle's official written ruling: