Crist Praises Ruling in Flag Case

Press release March 23,2005

TALLAHASSEE Attorney General Charlie Crist today praised the 4th District Court of Appeal's unanimous ruling that a Palm Beach County Marine veteran cannot be forced to sell his home to pay the legal fees of those who opposed him in court. George and Anna Andres had been forced to remove a flagpole from their property by their homeowner's association (Indian Creek Phase III-B) with the association subsequently seeking to compel the Andreses to pay their legal fees by placing a lien on their home.

The Attorney General, through Deputy Solicitor General Lynn Hearn, joined with the Andreses' counsel to argue that the Florida Constitution does not permit foreclosure on homesteads to pay legal fees. The appeals court, in reversing the trial court, agreed with that argument.

"In any event, we find that the (homeowner's) association documents do not provide for a continuing lien that preexisted the homestead exemption for the attorney's fees in question here," wrote the Court.

"This is a tremendous victory, not only for George and Anna Andres, but for the concept of property rights in Florida," said Crist. "This couple was brought into a conflict because they wished to prominently fly the flag of their country, and the Court correctly recognized that they could not be forced to give up their property in order to pay the other side's attorneys as a result of vigorously challenging attempts to limit their manner of expression."

The association sought reimbursement of more than $20,000 for its expenses in pursuing the flagpole case against the Andreses. The Attorney General's argument was that the lien was not imposed for purposes of taxes, repairs, improvements or labor that benefitted the property, but instead to pay lawyers, trampling the constitutional rights of the owners to their homestead exemption. In addition, other options were available to the homeowner's association.

"Indian Creek is not precluded from seeking other legal measures to collect on its judgment for attorneys' fees, but foreclosure upon the Andreses' homestead is prohibited," wrote the Court. "We, therefore reverse the final judgment of foreclosure."

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