Judge says Spence-Jones can't run a third time

caines | 4/10/2013, 5:30 a.m.

City commissioner plans to appeal decision As of last Tuesday afternoon, City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and former City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn, II, both had their eyes on the prize of the hotly-contested District 5 seat. Voters, too, were waiting to see whether or not Spence-Jones would even be allowed to run again, after having missed a huge piece of time in office in order to successfully battle two felony charges. Then later in the day, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge E. Cueto announced his ruling. He said that Spence-Jones could not run for a third term in November. The decision came in a suit filed by long-time political rival the Rev. Richard P. Dunn, II. His attorney, former State Representative J.C. Planas, 52, argued last Monday that City Attorney Julie Brus decision allowing Spence-Jones, 45, to run another term because she was not allowed to fulfill two full terms was in error and goes counter to the City of Miami charter. Planas further said that if the commissioners who drafted the charter amendment had wanted an exception for terms limits, they would have included one. After the judge announced his ruling, Bru defended her position and said the City would appeal the decision. Spence-Jones's attorney, Bruce Rogow, said his client plans to appeal as well. Here comes the judge Incidentally, Cueto, a former state prosecutor, was part of the team of attorneys that reviewed the case lodged against Spence-Jones by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Communications received by The Miami Times indicate that both attorneys had discussed this fact. We were unable to ascertain if there was any stated objection on behalf of the defense to Cueto serving as the judge or whether it could become an issue in the future. I have reviewed all of the documents and studied all of the legislation pertaining to this matter, said Cueto during Mondays 6:30 a.m. hearing. Whatever I do will have consequences. Cueto told both parties that he was ready to rule from the bench, but had decided to hold off from making an announcement until later in the week. Then late Tuesday evening, in a 13-page opinion, Cueto stood on an amendment to the City charter that garnered the approval of 73 percent of the voters in 1999 that imposed a two-term limit for the mayor and commissioners. "The drafters [of the charter amendment] were free to use the phrase 'elected and served for two consecutive full terms,' but they did not. To the court, that the drafters did not use the latter phrase and instead used the phrase 'elected and qualified for two consecutive full terms' is telling and evidence of their intent," Cueto wrote. Cueto wrote that since Spence-Jones was a qualified candidate [one who met the requirements for running for office] that she was prohibited by the City charter from seeking a third consecutive term. He rejected her claim that there was ambiguity in the charter. Dunn said he filed the lawsuit because the District 5 commissioner has already been financially compensated for two terms in office, that she should not be allowed to run for a third term. She beat one charge and a second was dropped but was out of office for 21 months before being reappointed by Gov. Rick Scott. She was rewarded full back pay, including pension and other benefits, totaling an estimated $200,000. The complicated story of Spence-Jones and Dunn Spence-Joness trouble began when two felony charges were lodged against her that involved the misuse of office. She was suspended by Governor Charlie Crist and absent from office for 21 months. Dunn was appointed by city commissioners to complete her term. After charges were dropped against Spence-Jones, she was restored to office and Dunn was forced to vacate the seat. But other details merit being mentioned. In the late 1990s, Dunn had been appointed to the District 5 seat, replacing City Commissioner Miller Dawkins when he was suspended from office. Dunn and Spence-Jones first squared off in 2005, making it to a run-off that Spence-Jones easily won. For a short time, Dunn even gave his support to Spence-Jones but after her 2009 suspension, he announced his intention to run in a special election scheduled for January 2010. She won again and was again suspended by Crist. Dunn was appointed by the commissioners to replace her his second time being appointed to the seat. In total, Dunn has lost elections to Spence-Jones three times over the last eight years. What's next? Dunn says he was "grateful" and "humbled" by the ruling, adding that he believed the City's attorney's office had tried to find a loophole in the law to appease their boss [Spence-Jones]. Rogow says that he spoke with Spence-Jones and that she was disappointed. "She asked me what I thought she should do, and I said appeal," he said. "She understands the process." By Jimmie Davis, Jr. and D. Kevin McNeirMiami Times writers