By Cindy Jackson
Reporter
November 4, 2020

Motions to dismiss, motion for protective order, motion for extension of time, consent to withdrawal and substitution of counsel, deposition after deposition . . . and a judge recused himself.  The Fourth Judicial Circuit has been very busy (and a number of attorneys made very rich) as a result of the seemingly unceasing legal wrangling between Rayonier/Raydient and Nassau County and Michael Mullin.  And it has been going on for years.

There is not just one case, not two, but three.  One relates to the issue of a Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU), one to alleged violations of the Sunshine Law and at the crux of it all yet another relating to a “breach in fiduciary duties.”  Judge James H. Daniel issued a ruling on that on October 20, 2020 and in citing another case, observed:  “A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter must not afterwards represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client.”

County Attorney Michael  Mullin (File Photo)

In 2011, Nassau County approved creation of the ENCPA on 24,000 acres of land owned by Raydient. Michael Mullin served as the attorney for Rayonier at that time.

In 2015, Raydient and Nassau County agreed to establish the East Nassau Stewardship District (ENSD) — a unique government entity that can create, finance and maintain public infrastructure.  (A “stewardship district” is a mechanism often used when development will take place over a long period of time and when there are additional conservation concerns). Mullin was also the attorney of record for Rayonier/Raydient during the creation of that ENSD.

Later in 2015, however, Mullin became the Nassau County Attorney.  As such, he began advising the Board of County Commissioners on land use planning, in general, but more specifically how parks and recreation facilities should be financed.  And that is where the trouble all began.

Rayonier had filed an ethics complaint with the Florida Bar Association in 2019 and while he was not disbarred nor was any punitive action taken against Mullin, he was “cautioned” with respect to his ethical obligations.  To the initiated observer, would seem like a mere slap on the hand but in attorney circles, it seems that had Mullin been a younger man, he would have likely found it most difficult to make money as a lawyer.

Yet making money is something Mullin has made a lot of since joining the County – over $1.1 million over the past five years.  In 2018, according to public records, his annual salary was $270,130 — 506 percent higher than the median salary in Nassau County.  Not to mention County contributions to his annuity.

To that point, a part of the complaint filed by Rayonier included this language:

Advocating for the rescission and/or modification of the ENCPA altogether Mullin’s intentional and malicious conduct and his reinforcement of the false representations is driven by an obvious motivation: despite serving a county of approximately 85,000 people, Mullin is being paid more than $270,000 for his dual roles as County Attorney and County Manager. By contrast, Governor Ron Desantis, the chief executive of a state with a population of over 21 million people, has a salary of approximately $130,000. In other words, Mullin is intentionally, maliciously, and in bad faith violating his fiduciary obligations to Rayonier in order to maintain an income that is more than twice that of Florida’s governor and over five times greater than the median household income of Nassau County’s residents.

At this point in time, Judge Daniels’ opinion, appears to be damning of Mr. Mullin’s actions and ethics.

As a result, there is a  special closed session scheduled today for members of the County commission to discuss the case against Mr. Mullin.

When asked for public comment about the Rayonier litigation, Commissioner elect, John Martin had this to say:

“I will reiterate what I said on the campaign trail; “regardless of whether you are pro-Rayonier or anti-Rayonier, it never should have gotten to this point.  Now a judge will determine the outcome and the only winners are the lawyers.  After I am sworn in and assume my duties as a County Commissioner in November, I intend to task the County Manager with providing the BOCC with a full accounting of the cost to Nassau County taxpayers to fight these lawsuits.  I also want to be briefed by the County Attorney and the outside law firm representing Nassau County on our chances of prevailing in these pending lawsuits and the future costs involved to continue.”

 

To be continued.

 

 

 

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John Goshco
John Goshco
1 year ago

I’ve asked this before, but never received a satisfactory explanation. Long before Mr. Mullin worked for Rayonier (through his employment with the Rogers Towers law firm) he was County Attorney for Nassau County.

Didn’t he owe prior allegiance to Nassau County? Shouldn’t he have declared a conflict of interest before accepting an assignment to work against the County and the very regulations he helped to create? Shouldn’t he have suggested that Rogers Towers assign a different attorney to the job?

Is it only a “conflict” when Mr. Mullin helps the County vs Rayonier but not a conflict when he helps Rayonier vs the County?

Just curious.

Collin Fordham
Collin Fordham
1 year ago
Reply to  John Goshco

That’s a good question John. I’m sure Radient hired Mullin specifically for his knowledge of the County Code and the relationships he had in place. But bigger than that, I’m sure Rogers Towers hired Mullin based on the premise he would be the “go-to” lawyer in Nassau County for that same reason. Do you think Mullin represented himself to clients as being able to grease the skids with staff and commissioners? No doubt. Was it legal? Probably. Was it ethical? Probably not.

Sheryl W Harrell
Sheryl W Harrell
1 year ago
Reply to  John Goshco

His fiduciary duty was established with Rayonier in 2011 when this land deal all started and papers were signed, recorded, etc.

Perry Anthony
1 year ago

Go John Martin, he is the man for the job and he will get things done. He is a man of integrity!

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr.
1 year ago

Sounds like the lawyers are now the problem.

Ben Martin
Ben Martin
1 year ago

It is funny how the general public has considerable disdain for lawyers in general. What I have to wonder if it is possible to use “local rule” to ban certain firms within a jurisdiction. Better regulation of the legal profession would be popular with the public. Lawyers (like doctors) typically graduate with a tremendous amount of student loan debt. Could that cause many to be morally compromised? Some say that there really isn’t enough legal work for lawyers so many will create work for themselves by various means. Confusion is one of their tools. The devil loves confusion. And with that idea in mind it would seem there are certain lawyers out there who are possessed with demons from head to toe. Better regulation of the legal profession is needed.

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT
1 year ago

As talented a lawyer as Mr. Mullin is, I argued against the County rehiring him and argued even more vehemently against having him be the Boss Hoss of Nassau County in the County Attorney and Manager position. Paying him the equivalent of both salaries was ridiculous. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Many of the same commissioners are in the same boat as Mr. Mullin with regards to the Sunshine Law violations.It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr.
1 year ago

Be wary of settlements that involve potential attorney fees and court costs.

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