Mara Hatfield, Esq.
Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A.
After watching President Farmer’s video asking members to come up to Tallahassee for FJA Lobby Days, Mara Hatfield went to the electronic schedule to sign up for a few days that she could drop in, thinking she would probably watch more than help because she’d never been a part of the effort before. Like many of our members, it didn’t look like her schedule afforded the time. She put it off.
Then, on Monday April 1, her calendar opened. She emailed, Lynn McCartney who assured her there would be something to do. She got in her car at 5:30, making it to Tallahassee just in time to attend the 12:00 Lobby team meeting. She thought it would be a day where she watched and learned. Within a few hours, everything changed.
Mara noted that one of the bills which was being discussed in the Senate committee on Community Affairs was titled Brownfields. Mara litigates environmental torts, so the issue caught her eye.
Glancing a portion of the bill that would provide immunity to developers for any downstream property damages, she became concerned. Lynn McCartney printed out the bill and directed her to where the committee was meeting.
A brownfield site is a site of historical contamination that can be revitalized, and short of such revitalization, is a continued threat to the physical and financial health of its neighboring communities. However, if these sites are remediated negligently, or without concern for the effects on the surrounding properties, they can become even more hazardous. The problematic portion of the bill would “incentivize” a brownfield developer by protecting them from liability if the remediation causes an increased risk. It makes absolutely no sense to allow a brownfield developer, who has had every foreseeable advantage provided by the act, to remediate a dangerous site with a license to do so negligently—especially because historical polluters can sometimes be sanctioned as re-developers.
When Mara got to the committee, the bill had already passed through that committee. It would have one more committee stop before going to the floor. Mara then spoke with Kevin Sweeney, an FJA lobbyist about her concerns. He set up a meeting with the office of the Senator sponsoring the bill, Senator Alston. FJA helped her draft a position paper, and within the day, Alston’s chief of staff reported to Kevin that the Senator would to amend the bill so that it would take care of Mara’s concerns—which are concerns about the property rights and access to courts.
Essentially, it’s never too late to make a trip and make a difference for your clients.
For most of my life now, I’ve been writing. Interestingly, one of my favorite books is about an American trial, To Kill a Mockingbird. It didn’t motivate me to become a lawyer – it made me want to be a writer. Ironically, Gerald Manley Hopkins was the artist that propelled me to leap into law school. I was reading the Windhover in the height of my first pregnancy—I did some reckoning. I knew I was having a girl. I knew the world she was being born to was vulnerable. I wanted a career that would be something a daughter could admire. Just before I moved to Vermont to start law school, we had Willow, our first child. We named her for the blossoming trees we left behind.
I admit, my favorite course in school was not one of the many environmental courses, but entertainment law. I knew the backstory and it was familiar territory. I designed a development company, LilWil Pictures. I’m still trying to get it off the ground. But, having children shifted my focus to helping families. I have represented several families in a cancer cluster in Palm Beach County, and I am stunned at how unaware Floridians are about the quality of their natural resources. At the end of the day, that should not be an abstract concern.
I was raised in Palm Beach Gardens, always along some sinuous water, and sometimes I am surprised to find I have meandered back home—surprised and grateful. My husband was diagnosed unexpectedly with lung cancer just before I took the Bar exam. This really cemented my perspective on the importance of family and a healthy place to call home. He has remained an artist through it all; still painting and still cooking—though his palette has become far more healthy.
We have three kids now including Willow, noted above, Lily (like the flowers that abound in Vermont) and Atticus (after Atticus Finch in Mockingbird.) My mom, Marnie Poncy, lives nearby and is a practicing nurse-bioethics lawyer. My brothers and I have made professions out of childhood dinner conversations—we are lawyers, a singer-songwriter, a doctor. We live the memory of my father, an author, scientist and musician.
Back to writing: I still do it—but differently. I am fascinated by the people I work with, who treat their profession like an art form—honing their craft. As an associate here, it’s like I never left being a writer—I just added another dimension to my portfolio.