Judge declines to dismiss case against county attorney

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A new chapter has been written in the continuing story of the lawsuit by Raydient Places + Properties and its parent company, Rayonier Inc., against Nassau County Attorney Mike Mullin and Nassau County.

Fourth Judicial Circuit Court Judge James H. Daniel denied a motion by Mullin and Nassau County on Oct. 20 to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit stems from Mullin’s relationship with Rayonier during a number of years he had stepped away from his position as Nassau County’s attorney. While working with the law firm of Rogers Towers during 2007-15, he assisted Rayonier in negotiations with the county in creation of the 24,000-acre East Nassau Community Planning Area, where Wildlight is being developed, in 2011, and in the creation of the East Nassau Stewardship District to coordinate and allocate funding for the development. Mullin then returned to his role as attorney for the county in 2015.

Raydient and Nassau County have been at odds over who should pay for and maintain parks and recreation facilities in the new development.

Raydient contends Mullin should not be allowed to represent Nassau County in its legal jousting concerning the East Nassau Community Planning Area. Judge Steven Fahlgren had dismissed an earlier complaint as well as an amended version, ruling that no damages had been proven and a conflict-of-interest matter should be handled through the Florida Bar, an organization that regulates attorneys in the state.

While the Florida Bar dismissed an ethics complaint last year against Mullin, it did warn him that his “actions were very close to the edge of violating The Rules of Professional Conduct” and ordered him to undergo 10 hours of professional development and pay the costs associated with the ethics case.

In September 2019, Rayonier filed a second amended complaint alleging, “Mullin negotiated a framework on Rayonier’s behalf that, among other things, relied on the fundamental premise that Rayonier’s recreational impact mitigation requirement was limited to donating land to the county.”

The filing says once Mullin returned to county government, he “knew that the County’s position contradicted the county’s regulations, standards and policies and his prior work for Rayonier, yet he took these positions with the knowledge and intention of causing massive harm to Rayonier.”

Mullin’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, but Rayonier opted to prepare and file an amended complaint containing specific allegations against Mullin. In the process, Rayonier added the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners to the complaint.

“The genesis of this case is found in a dispute between (Rayonier and Raydient) and the BOCC over which entity has the financial obligation to build and maintain ENCPA parks and recreational facilities,” the complaint says. “(Rayonier and Raydient) allege Defendant Mullin specifically worked on their behalf to ensure Plaintiffs, as they continued to develop the ENCPA, could satisfy their obligations under the Recreational and Open Space (ROS) Element of the 2030 Nassau County Comprehensive Plan (‘the comprehensive plan’) solely through donation of land to the county for parks and recreational facilities.”

Rayonier and Raydient said Mullin also breached the fiduciary obligation he owes to them as a former client.

Mullin said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case.

“Commenting on the current litigation and the meanings of rulings is outside the bounds of what is required by the Florida Bar so I cannot comment on that,” he said. “That is what the court system is for – to handle those things – and we still are in litigation and that’s the best I can say. I do not think it is proper for any lawyer to engage in discussions on current litigation over the specifics of orders or anything of that nature.”

Mullin’s attorney, Bobby Farnell, and Raydient spokesperson Alejandro Barbero also declined to comment.