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Judge rejects Mike Huckabee-linked suit over county's decision to close beach

by Stephen Steed | April 14, 2020 at 7:15 a.m.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is shown in this file photo.

A federal judge in Pensacola, Fla., on Monday declined to set aside a county ordinance to close a Gulf Coast beach that fronts the property of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee and his wife Janet and 14 other property owners near Destin, Fla., had sued Walton County and its sheriff for closing the beach in the county's attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

After a two-hour emergency hearing by telephone Monday morning with attorneys involved in the case, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson denied the property owners' request for an injunction against the county's ordinance. Vinson offered no comment in an order posed Monday afternoon on the court's website. The hearing was open only to attorneys representing the plaintiffs and defendants.

Attorneys on both sides didn't immediately return telephone calls from the Democrat-Gazette.

The Huckabees, who moved to Florida in 2010 and built a $3 million home on the coast, and the other property owners contended that the county's action amounted to an unconstitutional "taking" of private property without just compensation.

Florida law says privately owned beach property generally extends to a "mean high-water line," a section of beach that Huckabee and the other plaintiffs called their backyards. Public property extends from the water to the high-water line.

While the county's ordinance closed all access to the shoreline and water, the Huckabees and others contended they also had "littoral" rights of access to the water for fishing, swimming and other recreation that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had encouraged Floridians to continue while still practicing social distancing.

In a pre-hearing brief, Walton County argued that the property owners "will not be able to use a small portion of their unfenced in open beach property for a limited period of time. Under the existing emergency circumstances of the global pandemic, this restriction is reasonable."

A Section on 04/14/2020

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