Foundation system

Former Everglades Foundation scientist says group has ‘lost its way’

Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference in the Everglades on August 3, 2021 Photo: Twitter

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

UPDATE: September 1 – The Everglades Foundation has settled its lawsuit accusing its former chief scientist Thomas Van Lent of stealing or destroying numerous undisclosed trade secrets when he resigned in February, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Although the terms of the confidential agreement have not been made public, Van Lent has agreed to accept a permanent injunction restraining him from disclosing “directly or indirectly” Everglades Foundation “confidential information” to anyone. Previously, Van Lent’s attorneys had told the court “there are no trade secrets.”

Such information includes knowledge of the foundation’s plans, business activities, donors, board members, employees, research or technical know-how, the Miami Circuit Judge’s order states- Dade, Carlos Lopez. It does not include information “independently developed” by Van Lent.

Lopez’s order says Van Lent also waived entry to factual findings about events leading up to and before the foundation sued him last spring. The court retained jurisdiction in the case to enforce the injunction, warning that any violation may be “held and/or prosecuted in contempt of this court”.

Van Lent had claimed in response to the lawsuit that he left because the Everglades Foundation had “lost its way” and shown “loyalty” to Governor Ron DeSantis and Republicans.

Florida bulldog sent an email Thursday to Van Lent’s attorney, Michael Rayboun of Tallahassee, asking if his client continues to support these claims and others he has made in his defense. No response was received immediately.

The Everglades Foundation effectively forced its chief scientist to resign after expressing “opinions contrary to the prevailing political regime headed by the governor and the ruling party of Florida, to which the Foundation had become beholden,” according to previously filed court documents.

While the foundation’s complaint against Van Lent was filed in early April, it was not until August 1 that Judge Lopez made it public by granting a motion filed in mid-July by Florida bulldog and The Capitolista for-profit, Republican-minded digital news site based in Tallahassee, seeking to open it.

Lawyers for Van Lent, a top hydrologist, argued the foundation “raised” the Miami-Dade lawsuit against him, alleging he stole her valuable trade secrets.

Van Lent’s responses to the lawsuit include a number of disturbing counter-claims, including that the wealthy and well-connected Everglades Foundation has “ignored(d) its mission and denied(ied) inconvenient science and facts about the Florida’s natural resources, as well as the mechanisms to sustain or save them,” Rayboun wrote.

Others are:

  • The Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization, is concerned that “Dr. Van Lent would reveal to others that the Foundation has strayed to the extent that it has strayed from its stated mission, all in the purpose of showing loyalty to (Governor Ron DeSantis) and (his) administration, with actions that run counter to facts and science.
  • “The Foundation, despite its mission statement and tax-exempt status, seeks to punish and intimidate Dr. Van Lent, who happens to be in a singular and unique position to demonstrate that science has been suborned to a political agenda. , which works directly against the Foundation’s posture as a “science-based” organization and knowing that this could affect the opinions and decisions of its financial donors to continue donating.
  • That Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg would receive a second salary from the Everglades Trust, a nonprofit political and lobbying organization with shared board and staff members, “which would hide the CEO’s full salary on tax filings required of all” 501(c)(3) organizations like the foundation. Van Lent did not disclose Eikenberg’s salary from the trust, but Eikenberg’s foundation compensation for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020 was $306,883, according to his most recent tax return.
Everglades
Eric Eikenberg

Van Lent, whose compensation during the same period was $173,530, was sued by the foundation in April. The group’s longtime science and policy director has been accused of secretly stealing and destroying numerous ‘sensitive Foundation materials’, including trade secrets, in the weeks before his resignation, which took effect on 28 february.

EVERGLADES FOUNDATION TRADE SECRETS?

The foundation’s lawsuit does not further explain these trade secrets, except to say that they contain “information which is not generally known or available to the public, and which is of economic value to the Foundation, in particular because it support the work of the Foundation, its efforts to seek research grants, and its efforts to obtain funding for its annual budget.

The foundation listed assets of $17.6 million on its last federal tax return.

In his amended response filed Thursday, Van Lent strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying he never had “confidential documents to destroy or that he destroyed any documents allegedly confidential by the Foundation.” Additionally, Van Lent said the foundation has never asked him to keep anything secret, “because to do so would apparently be in direct violation of his mission statement and well outside of scientific principles.”

Everglades
Dr. Thomas Van Lent

He added that any deletions of data he made from his computer on leaving were “innocent and reasonable”, but had been wrongly described by the foundation as harmful.

The court documents also deny “the Foundation suffered any harm caused by Dr. Van Lent or his departure, other than how his activities and efforts to bury facts and science may be discovered by others.”

Van Lent’s attorneys further demanded that the Palmetto Bay-based Everglades Foundation produce “strict evidence…as to how the Foundation seeks to classify the documents as trade secrets, when its stated mission is to educate.” the public, and knowing that scientists like Dr. Van Lent regularly send models and papers to the scientific community for peer review and comment.

“No trade secrets exist,” the lawyers wrote. They also asked the court to transfer the case to Tallahassee, where Van Lent resides, and award him attorney fees.

THE SECRET COMPLAINT

Van Lent’s response also asks the foundation to explain “how or why it purports to ‘inform and educate policy makers and the public’ while unfairly redacting scientific papers released to the public, and also seeking to seal and render all the matters of this action confidential.”

While the foundation’s lawsuit against Van Lent was filed in early April, it wasn’t until Monday that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carlos Lopez made it public when he granted a motion filed there. two weeks from Florida bulldog and The Capitolista Tallahassee-based, Republican-oriented, for-profit digital news site seeking to open it.

Attorney Edward L. Birk

Jacksonville First Amendment attorney Edward L. Birk successfully argued that Lopez improperly sealed the complaint and other documents at the foundation’s ex parte request. Ex parte refers to a motion that asks for an order without hearing from the other party.

Van Lent’s response to the complaint says the Everglades Foundation used “buzzwords to create drama on a cinematic level” and made unreasonable requests to examine his home computer in “an effort to bury Dr. Slow in paperwork, court appearances and distracting him. working outside the Foundation and tarnishing its name and reputation.

Van Lent is currently an unpaid volunteer who works on the political and science committee of the much smaller, Stuart-based Friends of the Everglades, according to its executive director Eve Samples.

Van Lent argues that the Everglades Foundation “systematically” isolated him from participating in certain “external processes, such as the Lake Okeechobee System Operations Manual, solely because he would express opinions contrary to the prevailing political regime. led by the Governor of Florida and the ruling party, to which the Foundation was indebted.

He also argues that the Everglades Foundation has “unclean hands.”

“Although Dr. Van Lent sought no technical whistleblower protection, the Foundation’s efforts to harass, intimidate, intimidate and smear Dr. Van Lent is exactly why laws are created to protect whistleblowers. whistleblowers who fear retaliation for telling the truth about what a company or employer has done,” the response reads.

In a farewell photo, Van Lent also said the Everglades Foundation still owed him unspecified compensation owed to him.

This is an updated version of a story originally published on August 5

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