By Cindy Jackson
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.”
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.