The photo speaks for itself, so today I want to tell you about Fane Lozman, a city activist whose home has been seized by the federal government and is now being sold out from under him by the City of Riviera Beach. It's a case in which a vindictive city is crushing a critic with the help of U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas. It was Dimitrouleas who ruled on January 6 against Lozman, effectively taking his floating home away from him. It amounts to an outrageous injustice, which is something Dimitrouleas isn't unfamiliar with (more on that later).
Lozman is a dogged activist who has his own website dedicated to what he calls the slime in Riviera Beach government. The city was really ticked after Lozman successfully fought an unlawful attempt by the city to allow developers (including Wayne Huizenga) to use eminent domain to snap up homes (and the marina where he lived) for a $2.4 redevelopment plan. Gov. Jeb Bush joined Lozman, and the plan was killed.
It was during that controversy that the harassment began from Riviera's finest. You can read about one incident I witnessed here. Then the city sued Lozman to evict him from Slip 452, claiming he had a dangerous dog (a tiny dachshund named Lady). Lozman represented himself at trial and beat the city. It was a beautiful thing.
But the city wasn't done with Lozman — this was a grudge match. Next the city changed the rules at the municipal marina to demand that all houseboats there have propulsion. Lozman's home, of course, had no such propulsion. So City Attorney Pam Ryan, after having lost in state court, took it to federal court in April.
Dimitrouleas wasted no time: The same day the city filed suit, the judge sent a team of U.S. marshals to the marina to seize Lozman's homesteaded floating home and tow it to Miami.
I couldn't believe a federal judge would take that kind of action against a citizen — a former U.S. Marine pilot, no less — without so much as a hearing. I thought Dimitrouleas would see the light eventually, but he didn't. Instead, he ruled that Lozman's home was a "vessel" — even though it had no propulsion — and that it had been trespassing on city property.
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He then gave the city the go-ahead to sell Lozman's home at auction. They won't even give Lozman his furniture back. "I've got a bar, a bar chair, my desk, my bed, all my stuff in there," said Lozman. "Why does my furniture have to be auctioned off? When I bought that floating home, it was empty. I want my furniture back." We shouldn't have expected anything more from Dimitrouleas, who is best-known as the prosecutor in the infamous Frank Lee Smith murder trial. Smith was innocent, and the case was a travesty. One witness claimed that Dimitrouleas pressured her to lie about what she had seen to help match the state's case, which was in part built upon the fabrications of a BSO officer named Richard Scheff. The case was clearly bogus, but Dimitrouleas pushed it forward anyway and got his conviction. Dimitrouleas called the Smith conviction a "fair American trial." By the time DNA tests proved Smith's innocence, it was too late — he had died on Death Row.
I'm sure Dimitrouleas has been involved in making good rulings, but the Smith and Lozman cases are two giant strikes against him.
Lozman, a wealthy man, says he plans to prove the judge wrong. He has finally hired an attorney and is appealing the Dimitrouleas ruling. I would be shocked if he didn't win the appeal, but the way this thing has gone, anything is possible.
"No floating residential structure has ever come under federal admiralty jurisdiction before this case," says Lozman. "It always comes under state jurisdiction. Dimitrouleas never should have taken this case. He should have kicked it back to state court, and I think the appellate court is going to tell him that."