Jacksonville veteran’s trial over right to fly flag begins Monday

Article and Video Courtesy of First Coast News

By Andrew Pantazi

Published February 26, 2020



Larry Murphree is a Jacksonville Air Force veteran who wants to put a flag in a flower pot. His homeowners association wouldn’t let him.


A nine-year battle between a flag-wielding veteran and a zealous homeowners association will reach its denouement Monday as the two sides — as bitterly divided as when they began — meet in court for a two-day trial.

The fight started in the summer of 2011 when Larry Murphree, a former U.S. Air Force air traffic controller, began defying his homeowners association’s rules by flying a 12-inch by 17-inch flag in a flower pot by his front door. He began incurring a $100-a-day fine, which reached $1,000.

In 2012, he filed a federal lawsuit against The Tides Condominium at Sweetwater by Del Webb Master Homeowners’ Association, which Murphree, 79, and the association settled, with the association paying Murphree $4,000 for legal fees and waiving the $1,000 in fines it had levied against him. The association and Murphree also agreed he could display a flag, as long as his display complied with association rules and as long as association rules complied with state law.

An attorney for the condo association didn’t return a request for comment Friday.

In exchange, Murphree agreed “not to make any disparaging statements” about the homeowners association.

In 2013, the association again began charging Murphree a $100-a-day fine, this time because of a new rule about flower pots. The condo association allowed flags to be displayed, the rules said, but not in flower pots. In response, Murphree again filed a federal lawsuit.

Murphree cited the federal Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005, which made it illegal for condominium associations to ban the display of the Stars and Stripes.

However, a federal judge dismissed Murphree’s federal lawsuit in 2014, saying that law didn’t give him the ability to sue to enforce the law. That judge told Murphree that his claims would be be “best addressed by the state courts.”

The U.S. Congress, as it turns out, is not the only legislative body in this country concerned that condominium associations might oppose the finer points of flag appreciation. The Florida Legislature, clearly stated in statute 718.113, subsection 4, says: “Any unit owner may display one portable, removable United States flag.”

But before he could file suit against the condo association, the association filed suit against him in 2014, demanding that he be gagged from disparaging the association.

He countersued, demanding $1 million in damages.

Murphree’s disdain for the association was evident in his countersuit: “The lawsuit mystically assumes that because the violation of the new regulation is entitled ‘a flower pot regulation’ that this court will somehow believe that it is not the same exact items that were the subject of the Mutual Settlement and Release of Present Claims.”

Murphree said he no longer lives at the condo association, having sold it after the condo association placed a lien on it. He said all the money he’s raised from supporters, which he estimated at $10,000, has gone back into his lawsuit.

“I’m going to stand up for the flag,” he said. “They don’t like losing. It got ridiculous. I’ve lost my health. I spent my life savings on this thing. But I feel like if you believe in something and you had an opportunity to stand for something and you didn’t do it, you’d have a very large regret for the rest of you’re life. My wife says can you go on a cruise, and I say no.”

He said the judge told them they’ll start Monday in a small courtroom, but Murphree expects his supporters to come by the dozens and then they’ll move to a larger courtroom.

At his new home in the Cascades World Golf Village, he said he has seven flags out front.