Round 1: Carollo v City

Political Cortadito:

Joe Carollo recall lawyers win first round in court; city’s turn to respond

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Miami city attorneys have until Monday to come up with a really good reason for rejecting the recall petitions against Commissioner Joe Carollo signed by more than 1,900 District 3 voters, said Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Alan Fine.
His ruling Wednesday basically means that lawyers for the Take Back Our City political action committee — which had turned in the petitions electronically on Saturday and in person Monday morning — have made their case already that the petitions were delivered on time, and it’s up to the city now to “show cause” why they were not.
“The burden is now on them,” said JC Planas, one of the PAC’s attorneys who filed a lawsuit with attorney David Winker Monday night against the city and City Clerk Todd Hannon. That motion for a writ of mandamus — to force the city to turn the petitions over to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, as required by state law — was filed just hours after the petitions were rejected, which was about seven hours after city first told the county that more than 1,900 petitions were received to be reviewed and delivered later that day.
“Now the city must convince the judge that they had the right to reject the petitions or the judge will order them to forward the petitions on to the county,” said Winker, an activist attorney who has battled the city before.
Three assistant city attorneys — John Greco, George Wysong and Kerri McNulty, with City Attorney Victoria Mendez calling it in on the phone — asked for 20 days to prepare a response. That’s been their tactic since Monday — delay, delay, delay. The judge said no. He wants their answer by 5 p.m. Monday. The hearing will be on Tuesday. Ladra can’t wait.
Let’s go back a little bit for those of us just joining the party.
After a series of chaotic meetings and the resignation, under pressure, of the city manager and the flight of the assistant city manager and building director, and the candy grab made by the Three Amigos power shift created with the November election of Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, and the open hostility between Carollo and the city’s mayor, a couple of activists, including Juan Cuba, former executive director of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and Rob Piper, a Roads resident, opened a political action committee with the intent to recall Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo. Their stated reason is abuse of office both when he harassed Bill Fuller, a Little Havana businessman who had an event for Carollo’s 2017 opponent at his bar, and what is commonly referred to a PaellaGate, the use of office money and staff for a catered lunch for seniors in public housing with then county commission candidate Diaz de la Portilla.
After that, the grassroots effort was taken over by former Miami manager and Jackson Public Health Trust Chairman Joe Arriola — basically because he felt insulted by Carollo (though Ladra is certain he’s got ideas on who should run for the seat) — who brought money to pay longtime political consultant Emiliano Antunez for the canvassing effort and Planas for legal advice and others to produce and pay for TV and radio ads. He brought former Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro on board. This became a real movement — and the thought that Carollo could be recalled became very real.
That obviously scared the commissioners and Diaz de la Portilla has proposed changing the city’s recall rules so that any failed attempt cannot be restarted against the same elected for a year. That passed 3-1 on first reading and will come back later this month for second reading before it, too, is challenged in court.
Meanwhile, the canvassers kept gathering signed petitions from voters. Organizers talked to voters who had felt duped or intimidated by Carollo for their TV and radio spots. Those convinced others to sign. The Take Back PAC needed 5% of the registered voters, or just about 1,580 signed petitions. They collected 1,914 by Saturday, which is when they were told they had to turn them in. In an abundance of caution, they spent three or four frantic hours scanning them all and sending a them in a drop box to the city clerk before midnight on Saturday. Then on Monday morning, they brought the hard copies in.
Organizers always thought they had until Monday, because if the numerical deadline falls on a Saturday or Sunday or a legal holiday, when the county elections department is not open, then the date would automatically become the next regular business day. This is actually the way its been done before, over and over again, and so there is case law and there are precedents and that’s what Winker and Planas presented in their lawsuit on Monday.
And that’s why the judge said that the motion showed “a prima facie case for relief,” which is legal mumbo jumbo for it was pretty f&^%ing obvious, like on its face obvious.

What Ladra wants to know is why it took three — maybe four — city attorneys to fight this petition signed by voters who pay their salaries? Shouldn’t this be something that is challenged by Carollo’s own attorney and not the city’s employees?
There’s one good reason why Carollo wouldn’t want to challenge the petitions himself — because that means he could be deposed as part of the discovery, which would open a Pandora’s box. He could be questioned, under oath, about PaellaGate and his Inspector Clouseau-like stalking of Fuller. He could be questioned about anything, because it’s about abuse of power.
If Carollo is so certain that this is a communist-led effort that won’t be supported by his people, then why doesn’t he just let the group try to collect the second round of signatures, which is harder to get because it’s 15%, or close to 5,000. That’s more people than voted for him in the 2017 election. A long shot, right Joe?
Instead, Carollo is costing the city more in unnecessary legal fees. And Ladra is learning so much about the law!

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