Lawyer Chris Byrd had just won a court victory on behalf of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. After a four-day trial, a jury had ruled that a Marion County couple had illegally filled in wetlands by an aquatic preserve along the Rainbow River. Instead of celebrating, the DEP attorney felt worried.
“As soon as the verdict came back, I had a sinking feeling,” he said. “I thought, ‘When (Florida Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary) Jeff Littlejohn hears about this, I’m probably going to lose my job.’ ”
Sure enough, Littlejohn met with the defendants and listened to their complaints about Byrd. Five months after his win, Byrd was one of four DEP lawyers ousted from their jobs.
Byrd and colleague Kelly Russell believe they were terminated because they frequently clashed with Littlejohn over how — and whether — to enforce state laws protecting the environment.
Although he’s in charge of regulatory programs, “Littlejohn doesn’t like enforcement,” Byrd said. “He doesn’t want the department to do any high-profile enforcement cases.”