Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo was personally sued over allegations that he attempted to destroy Little Havana businesses in a campaign motivated by political vendetta.
But the only people who have to pay for Carolo’s legal expenses are Miami taxpayers. The cost of defending the Commissioner in federal civil court is estimated to be very high, making the $1.9 million more expensive than what has already been billed, even six weeks before the Commissioner’s trial begins already.
According to city records, the bulk of the bills, about $1.8 million, belong to the law firm Shutts & Bowen & Kuehn Davis Law. There are also smaller bills from the personal injury law firm, Marrero Wiedler, and the Fort Lauderdale law firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.
Before it’s all over, the final cost in bills to be paid by taxpayers is likely to be much higher, perhaps another million dollars, maybe more.
That’s because city records obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request only list the amount of the bill as far back as early April, before the trial began. The jury in the controversial commissioner’s trial was selected on April 10, so public records do not reflect the six weeks of work by myriad lawyers and other legal costs that have piled up since then.
Although the lawsuit only names Carolo, the city must pay the commissioner’s full legal fees. According to City Attorney Victoria Mendez, that’s because the Florida Supreme Court found that public officials have a right to legal representation at the public’s expense to defend themselves in order to do their jobs.
Mendez blamed the costly litigation on Little Havana businessmen William (“Bill”) Fuller and Martin Pinilla, who he says the commissioner tried to destroy many of their businesses—including the popular and iconic Ball & Chain Club—both Rivals in the 2017 election that Carolo ultimately won, following the political endorsement of the commissioner.
“We are in a dilemma because unscrupulous businessmen believe they can do whatever they want and violate city codes and ordinances,” the city attorney said in a text response to questions from the Miami Herald. said in the message. “They think that by filing lawsuits they can abuse elected officials and public servants and get them to do whatever they want.”
Carollo’s legal battle began in early 2019, months after the lawsuit was filed, according to documents released by the city of Miami.
The lawsuit alleges that Carolo pressured department heads to “weaponize” code enforcement and pressured police to harass business owners to force them to close many of their businesses. During the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs showed several videos of police and Code Department officers entering Little Havana businesses late at night and demanding to see permits. These are documents that city employees could have easily found on their car computers or at their desks, the attorneys said.
Carolo has refused to go after both dealers, arguing that their businesses sometimes ignored or violated codes and permits. So far, Carolo’s defense has focused on the citations that Fuller and Pinilla received on separate occasions for not obtaining the proper permits for the demolition and renovation of several of their properties on Calle Ocho in the center of Little Havana .
In one case, the employers failed to install fire sprinklers on a ball and chain roof. The commissioner has repeatedly denied using his position to coerce summonses to be issued to businessmen. On the contrary, Carollo said, every action she has taken has been done to improve the quality of life of the residents who live in the neighborhood.
In a trial that has seen plenty of twists and turns, attorneys and plaintiffs alike were banned from speaking to the media by Judge Rodney Smith of the Southern District of Florida. Last week, however, Smith strongly reprimanded Carollo’s attorneys, Ben Kuehn, Mark Sarnoff of Shutes & Bowen and Mason Pertonoy, and threatened them with jail after another attorney working for the commissioner took a photo. . Forbidden.
Miami’s commissioner since 2017, Carollo, who was the city’s mayor from 1996 to 2001, fought all the way to the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him in 2018. His argument for so-called qualified immunity – which protects government employees from being prosecuted for doing their job – was thrown out of court on appeal and did not reach the US Supreme Court.
It is not known exactly how much more the city will have to pay in attorneys’ fees during the remainder of the trial, which is expected to last at least a week or two, but it is almost certain that the amount of money will increase. formatively.
They are not compared, however, because this time it is a criminal trial, when in 2014, former Miami Lakes mayor Michael Pizzi was acquitted of federal bribery charges for allegedly receiving payments from Chicago businessmen The attorneys’ expenses for the trial exceeded $1 million, seeking to obtain lucrative federal grants.
After Wednesday’s testimony, Judge Smith gave the jury – which was told it would adjourn in early May – a break for undisclosed reasons. The testimony should resume on May 30.
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