In 2006, Fane Lozman, a Marine pilot who became a millionaire after he invented and patented a financial trading software program, docked his houseboat in Riviera Beach, and the drama began. After he stood up for everyday boaters by blocking big developers from taking over the city marina, city officials retaliated. He was slapped with infractions for walking his ten-pound dog without a muzzle and for disobeying boating regulations. Then came serious vindictiveness. Riviera Beach, with help from U.S. marshals citing federal maritime law, seized and destroyed Lozman’s floating home. Lozman wasn’t going down like that. “I did not care how much of my personal time it would take or how much it would cost or how long it would take — I vowed that I would get justice,” Lozman later explained. He waged a yearslong legal battle against the city, ultimately scoring a major victory in January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city and marshals had been wrong to seize his home by classifying it as a vessel. Wrote Justice Breyer, “Not every floating structure is a ‘vessel.’ To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not ‘vessels.’ ” At presstime, Lozman was still looking to recoup the value of his home, his furniture, and his legal bills, but he swore he had more corrupt officials in his sights.
They say the man who represents himself has a fool for a client, but this long-running David-and-Goliath case just might end with a local government looking like the fool. It all started in 2006, when Lozman, a retired Chicago financier with plenty of money to burn on justice, claimed he had been illegally evicted from his floating home in Riviera Beach because of his activism against last-minute plans to sell the marina to a developer using eminent domain. He won that case, but the city stayed on his heels, coming after him with all kinds of accusations (he owed fees to the marina; his ten-pound dachshund was too dangerous). Lozman resisted, and — long story short — the feds towed away his house. Last year, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal authorities had the right to do so, since his house was technically a vessel, subject to federal maritime law. Lozman balked at the ruling — his house, since destroyed, didn’t even have engines or steering — and petitioned the highest court in the land to decide what, exactly, distinguishes a boat from a house. The court picked his case, and it will be heard in October.
Numerous former public officials in two South Florida towns wish Fane Lozman would get a damned job. Because if he had one, they’d still have theirs. Lozman, a wealthy young guy who lives on a houseboat, has made the government’s business his business and has turned North Bay Village and Riviera Beach upside down in the process. Most recently, he sued Riviera Beach over its $2.4 billion redevelopment plan because it would have privatized the municipal marina where he lives. The city — his landlord — retaliated by evicting him. Lozman fought the eviction in court and, serving as his own lawyer, persuaded a jury that Riviera had violated his First Amendment rights. The eviction was overturned. Ten days after the verdict came down, four incumbents, including Mayor Michael Brown, were voted out of office — and Lozman had no small part in generating the “kick the bums out” vibe that sent Brown and his chums packing. How did he celebrate the Riviera revolution? A couple of bottles of bubbly in the marina he still calls home.
Fane Lozman is walking proof that the Little Guy can beat City Hall. While Lozman is not especially small ? he’s 6-foot-5 ? he was, in political terms, a kind of 95-pound weakling. We’re talking about his lack of clout in his adopted home of Riviera Beach, where last year he quixotically took on a questionable redevelopment program that was being ramrodded through by powerful city officials. Lots of harassment at Lozman’s city marina slip. An arrest. An eminent domain plan to turn the marina over to Fat Cats.
Long story short: Lozman sued to stop it. The development-mad officials were booted out by voters. And Lozman, a former floor trader at the Chicago commodities exchange, got some vindication in court: Representing himself, he beat back the city’s pathetic retaliatory attempt to have him evicted from the marina.
New Times: What does it take to be an activist?
Lozman: You have to be prepared never to give up. They’re going to try to intimidate you, to arrest you, to physically push you around. You have to be firm in your conviction that what they’re doing is wrong and that they have to abide by the Sunshine Law and the Constitution.
You’ve been in other countries where people were being intimidated.
I was in Kosovo in 1999. A friend asked me to try to get her sister and niece out of a refugee camp on the border of Macedonia. I saw three F-16s fly over and blow the top off a hill nearby. Loudest noise I ever heard. In December, 2001, I went to Afghanistan to see firsthand how international charities were working. It was bullshit. There were people over there soliciting money for schools and pocketing the money themselves.
What’s your favorite James Bond locale?
Well, Costa Rica is a beautiful country, with the rainforest, the beaches on the Pacific side. It’s got some of the best surfing beaches around. I’m not sure about the Bond angle, though. Costa Rica’s a good place to go to de-stress, whether you’ve been doing financial trading or fighting scum in Riviera Beach.