Judge disqualifies himself in Spence-Jones case

caines | 4/18/2013, 5:30 a.m.

City commissioner gets a reprieve in quest for third term City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones says dont count her out just yet. She had already planned to appeal last weeks ruling by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jorge C. Cueto that said she could not run a third term for her District 5 seat. Then last Monday, her attorney, Bruce Rogow, filed a 45-page document, arguing that Cueto failed to follow rules established by the state Supreme Court that say a judge should disclose information that the judge believes the parties or their lawyers might consider relevant to the question of disqualification, even if the judge believes there is no real basis for disqualification. Faced with a motion to disqualify, just after 1 p.m. last Tuesday afternoon, Cueto submitted a four-page document stating the following: In this case, this court did not shirk its duty to rule. Any failure to disclose any involvement with Spence-Jones was purely inadvertent and the written opinion rendered by this court speaks for itself. Based on the foregoing, this court disqualifies itself from any further action in this matter. During the proceedings, Cueto added, My ruling on the case was solely based on the law and was not in favor of Spence-Jones or Dunn.

How was Cueto involved?

Cueto was a state prosecutor from Nov. 1, 2004 to Nov. 26, 2008 and was assigned to the public corruption unit from March 2007 until Nov. 26, 2008. He left the unit after being elected judge. However, public documents indicate that Cueto investigated Spence-Jones and questioned nearly a half dozen witnesses, including City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, in a 2007 case in which the State was trying to show that Spence-Jones had sought improper compensation before a vote for a development deal at Mercy Hospital. The case was dropped and the plan fizzled. As part of last Mondays motion, Rogow included a three-page signed affidavit from Spence-Jones in which she points out that she had no knowledge of Cuetos involvement in the Mercy Hospital case prior to recently being contacted by someone who had read about her recent hearing online. Why would I have taken the chance to have a judge oversee my case who had previously tried to hurt me? she asked. My attorneys and I contend that he should have disclosed right up front and certainly before he ruled on whether I could run a third term. Because he did not, it gives the appearance that he was not being fair and impartial. Thats simply unacceptable for me or anyone else. As this story went to press, no determination had been made as to what judge will now hear the case. Legal experts say, however, that the new judge will have the opportunity to make his or her own decision without having to consider Cuetos former ruling. Dunn, in a press conference held before Cueto made his announcement, said: I do not begrudge Michelle Spence-Jones from pursuing whatever legal means she can in fact, I encourage her to do so because thats the American way. Rogow had no comments but said in a public correspondence, I have no statement the motion and affidavit speaks for itself. Rogow has made a name for himself as an appeals lawyer, including in 1992 when he argued for former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke seeking to have his client included on the Florida Republican presidential primary ballot. According to an article posted by The Sun Sentinel, Rogow argued for Duke on behalf of an American Civil Liberties Union team and asked the judge to invalidate the law and to order that Dukes name be placed on the Republican primary ballot [March 10, 1992]. He offered the same argument on behalf of four Democratic presidential candidates who had been excluded from the Democratic primary ballot. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com