Florida backs vet in flag fray

Article Courtesy of Sun Sentinel
By Peter Franceschina 
Posted May 21 2003 

George Andres, the Jupiter man who has been battling his homeowners association over his 12-foot flagpole and faces losing his home, got some free, top-flight legal representation Tuesday courtesy of Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Crist sent one of his top lawyers, Deputy Solicitor General Lynn Hearn, to make a last-ditch effort to get Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Edward Fine to reconsider his order in late March that allows the association to force Andres into a foreclosure sale to collect legal fees.

Hearn and Andres' Boca Raton attorney, Barry Silver, argued that Florida's homestead exemption establishes a constitutional protection against the sale of a home to collect a debt, in this case the legal fees spent by the homeowners association in a saga that has spanned more than three years and multiple court cases.

"The flag symbolizes justice," Silver told the judge. He left much of the technical legal argument to Hearn, who told the judge the case could have wider implications for other residents with homestead exemptions if the association is allowed to foreclose.

The Indian Creek Phase 3B Homeowners Association permits flags flown only from wall brackets attached to homes, and its members insist the dispute is over the flagpole, not the flag. But Andres, a retired electrician, maintains he has a constitutional right to fly the flag from the pole.

The 66-year-old former Marine, who also has the support of Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature, has vowed to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said Tuesday he was not worried about the prospect of losing his home.

"If I do, I know where to go. I will go right down to the county shelter," he said. "I believe justice will prevail."

Andres lost the main case in the dispute, and Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson ruled in October 2000 that he had to remove the pole. An appeals court agreed with Brunson. 

In a separate case, the association filed a $21,000 lien against Andres' home for legal fees and sought to foreclose on it to collect.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill designed to alleviate Andres' legal troubles, and Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law. 

It allows people to fly a removable American flag "in a respectful manner" regardless of homeowners association rules. On Flag Day last year, Bush delivered an American flag to Andres that had flown over the state Capitol and helped him raise it. 

The new law was made retroactive, so it would apply to Andres' situation, but it was passed long after the lien was filed and the homeowners association won its case. 

Fine ruled in April that the homeowners association could go forward with the foreclosure, despite the new law. Fine did not say when he would rule, but Andres' house is scheduled for a foreclosure sale May 29.

West Palm Beach attorney Steven Selz, who represents the association, said board members are willing to negotiate a compromise so Andres and his wife are not forced from their home, but that Andres has been unreasonable and wants the association to pay his legal fees. Andres has said those fees are about $90,000. "One way or another, he is going to wind up being taken to task for this," Selz said.

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