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Ruling still stands: Spence-Jones case moves to State Appellate Court

caines | 5/2/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Attorneys for the defense withdraw motion for bias hearing Attorneys representing City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and the City of Miami both withdrew their motions requesting a bias hearing last Monday, paving the way for Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Marc Schumacher to move the case to the State Appellate Court. After the hearing, which took less than 10 minutes, J.C. Planas, the attorney for the Rev. Richard P. Dunn, II, said, on this day we won. I think both attorneys withdrew their motions because it was pretty clear that Judge Cuetos ruling showed no evidence of bias towards Spence-Jones, he said. We still believe that his decision that said she could not run for another term was based on its own merit and the City charter. Spence-Jones said she did not want to get stuck in the lower level courts and local politics and wanted to take the case to a higher court. We still believe he [Judge Jorge E. Cueto] should have disclosed and removed himself from the case but we are approaching the month of May now, Spence-Jones said. We need to move on to a higher court because of timing [before the election in November] and because we think it is imperative that residents know we will be on the ballot. We thought it was best to take the high road. We still feel confident about our class.

How we got to this point

City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was upbeat following her appearance in court last week saying that what transpired was a clear victory. But as litigation continued between her and the Rev. Richard P. Dunn, II, one could say that the burden of proof had been placed on the shoulders of her attorney, Bruce Rogow. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Marc Schumacher, who was assigned the case after his colleague, Judge Cueto stepped down, determined last Wednesday that Cuetos ruling that prohibited Spence-Jones from running for a third term still stood. However, he did agree to hear testimony that would have likely included judges and prosecutors to determine if Cueto failed to be impartial when he ruled that the city commissioner could not seek a third term. Cueto disqualified himself after questions were raised about his participation in an investigation of Spence-Jones in 2007 when the judge was then working as a Miami-Dade prosecutor. Cueto contended that while he agreed to step down, he still did not recall the matter or his involvement. In his ruling, he held that Spence-Jones had qualified to run and was elected twice, which according to the city charter meant she could not run again. He also referenced a 1999 public referendum where 73 percent of voters called for a two-term limit on the City of Miamis elected officials. Rogow requested a new hearing, saying that the motion on the disqualification of Cueto had not been ruled on by the court. But Schumacher denied his request. Rogow emphasized to the court, however, that a bias hearing could feature a long list of witnesses, including himself, Dunns attorney, J.C. Planas and Joseph Centorino Cuetos boss when he was working in the state attorneys office. Planas said that the defense was trying to take a second bite at the apple, and told the judge that he believed the case should proceed directly to the appeals court. Both attorneys said they believed the case would ultimately end up in the appeals court, no matter how Schumacher ruled in the bias hearing. It now appears that they were correct. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com