- Faith & Family
April hearing hinges on interpretation of “term limits”
Michelle Spence-Jones has declared her candidacy and hopes to hold on to her city commission seat. The Rev. Richard P. Dunn II has also filed as a candidate. But before they can begin to battle it out for the support of the voters, there’s one hurdle that the incumbent must face. Dunn recently filed a lawsuit arguing that 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.
The hearing will take place on Monday, April 8 at 6:30 a.m. and will be heard by Judge Jorge Cueto. An earlier hearing had to be rescheduled after it was determined that Spence-Jones’s attorney was unavailable. The lawsuit hinges on terminology as expressed in the City charter that allows for a city commissioner to serve “two full consecutive terms.”
Bruce Rogow, whose law firm in based in Ft. Lauderdale and is a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, has taken over legal representation for the city commissioner.
“The case turns on the meaning of ‘serve,’” he said. “If we are correct, it means to have the opportunity to legislate and make decisions affecting one’s district. She [Spence-Jones] did not have that opportunity because of the charges against her. The ultimate acquittal of her required as a matter of law that she be compensated for the time that she was deprived of and importantly, that the deprivation was determined to be invalid by the jury by virtue of their acquitting her. So, contrary to the double-dipping argument, it really requires one to view her as being a victim. The compensation [an estimated $200,000 in back pay and benefits] is irrelevant to the issue of whether she was entitled to serve.”
As would be expected, Juan Carlos Planas, the attorney representing Dunn’s suit, which incidentally, is against the City of Miami and not Spence-Jones, believes that the City has interpreted its charter incorrectly.
“We believe that in every area of the law, the city commissioner is term limited and may not run for a third term, said Planas, a lawyer with Kurkin Brandes in Aventura. “I can’t explain why City of Miami Attorney Julie O. Bru has made the opinion that Spence-Jones could seek re-election in 2013 [a decision Bru first made public in 2011 and then later reaffirmed during a January 2013 commission meeting]. And there’s no way to get inside Bru’s rationale except to look at the opinion. In both its holding and its rationale, the opinion is incorrect.”
Both attorneys say next stop will be appellate court
Both Planas and Rogow agree on one thing: whenever the judge makes his ruling, the case will assuredly go to the Third District Court of Appeals. Both men also say that as judges tend to expedite election cases, that they are confident that this issue will be resolved long before the qualifying date for candidates comes up in September.
But will voters have enough time to make their decision?
“Voters will have plenty of time to chose the candidate they prefer,” Rogow said.
As for the two candidates, Dunn says he’s pleased that things are proceeding so quickly.
“The election isn’t until November so we still have a small window,” he said. “But things are moving faster than we had expected. Since Spence-Jones filed as a candidate, it opened the door for the lawsuit. This is not about the court of public opinion. Many people in District 5 agree that I’m doing the right thing. Politics is always a contact sport.”
Spence-Jones was more reserved in her comments.
“I continue to put my trust in the Lord,” she said.
By D. Kevin McNeir