- A motion to intervene and unseal all currently sealed judiciary records was filed by The Capitolist in the case of the Everglades Foundation v. Thomas Van Lent
- On April 6, 2022, the Everglades Foundation filed a lawsuit against Van Lent, their former chief scientist, and asked the court to temporarily seal documents related to the case
- Van Lent told the court the documents in question should not be secret, as the very purpose of his scientific records and the Everglades Foundation’s mission was to influence public policy
- Van Lent also accused the Everglades Foundation of putting politics before science
- The Everglades Foundation has used scientific reports and data produced by Van Lent to influence public policy and the allocation of billions in state and federal tax dollars
- By rule, the court was required to hold a hearing within 30 days – May 6th – to determine if sealing the documents from public view is proper, but that did not happen
- More than 90 days have now passed without a hearing and the records remain sealed
Attorneys working on behalf of The Capitolist filed a motion to intervene Tuesday morning asking the court to unseal and make public all records pertaining to a lawsuit filed by the Everglades Foundation against its former chief scientist, Thomas Van Lent. The Everglades Foundation sued Van Lent on April 6th, 2022, accusing him of stealing work-related documents and information, and asked the court to seal all records in the case.
Eleventh Circuit Judge Carlos Lopez granted the Everglades Foundation motion for a temporary seal on all documents pertaining to the case, pending a hearing on the matter within 30 days to determine if the seal should be made permanent or lifted. But that hearing never took place.
More than 90 days later, the seal remains in effect even though Van Lent, the defendant in the case, has subsequently disputed the Everglades Foundation claims to the court that the documents should remain secret and confidential.
In his answer to the lawsuit, attorneys for Van Lent raised the question “how or why the Foundation is seeking to classify documents as trade secrets, when its stated mission is to educate the public, and knowing that scientists like Dr. Van Lent routinely send out models and papers to the scientific community for peer-review and comment.”
In his own filing, Van Lent argued that the nature of his scientific work required his findings to be shared with outside parties for review, comments, and to confirm or dispel findings. Much of the Everglades Foundation research and briefing documents have been provided to state lawmakers,the governor’s office, and with members of Congress in order to influence public policy, as well as state and federal budget decisions.
In the motion to intervene filed by The Capitolist, the motion points out that the Everglades Foundation seeks to maintain a one-sided veil of secrecy making only vague and unsupported claims of “trade secrets” and “confidential and proprietary information” that the Foundation claims Van Lent misappropriated, but those claims aren’t supported except by an outline of some general categories of allegedly stolen information and general forensic measures taken to develop proof of those claims.
The Capitolist’s motion also points out to the court that the information at the center of the dispute may be of great public interest:
“…keeping these documents sealed could keep the public from ever learning whether the Legislature and Congress were deceived or misled into misspending tens of billions tax dollars.”
The Everglades Foundation has a history of publishing and promoting allegedly scientific and economic claims about its work, and also has a track record of engaging in more than one scheme to designed to facilitate taxpayer-funded, billion-dollar purchases of vast agricultural land holdings under the premise of Everglades restoration. And the Everglades Foundation frequently releases allegedly scientific data designed to influence public opinion and resource allocation.
In 2017, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) blasted the Everglades Foundation and Van Lent in a letter for manipulating scientific assumptions in a modeling document “to dictate your preferred outcome.” The letter also stated that “Releasing a report in this form is a misrepresentation of the facts.”
Even in his own filing, Van Lent told the court “that the [Everglades ] Foundation has lost its way in how far it has strayed from its stated mission, all in order to show fealty to Florida’s governor and administrations, with actions that run counter to facts and science.”
If true, Van Lent’s assertion suggests that the documents currently under seal could reveal that irreparable financial harm to Florida taxpayers has occurred due to reliance on the “science” advocated by the Everglades Foundation. If the Everglades Foundation concealed, manipulated or misrepresented the scientific findings, it may have resulted in unwarranted or misdirected investment of billions of tax dollars for multiple restoration projects.
Either way, the public deserves to know which party is telling the truth.
Read The Capitolist’s motion to intervene, here (PDF).