“Rundle had no legitimate reason to attempt to influence Mrs. Bru on a commission matter, to create a quorum on the commission, or to help Regalado pick his ally to fill Spence-Jones’ seat,” according to the suit.
Voters in August retained Fernández Rundle, the county’s top prosecutor since she was appointed to replace Janet Reno in 1993. She was challenged in the Democratic primary by defense attorney Rod Vereen, who was actively supported by Spence-Jones. No Republican or independent candidate filed to run.
Vereen used the failed Spence-Jones case as a campaign rally point, saying he would end “political prosecutions.”
Spence-Jones has endured at least six separate criminal investigations, ethics and campaign violations, two grand jury indictments, a fight in civil court to retain her seat and the successful defense at her bribery trial.
Spence-Jones, who represents Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti, was arrested for the first time in November 2009 and charged with grand theft stemming from her days as a city aide.
The investigation centered on $75,000 in grants from the Miami-Dade Action Plan Trust, or MMAP, a quasi-county agency that administers grants to community groups. In September 2004, Barbara Carey-Shuler, then-chairwoman of the county commission, directed the agency to award a total of $25,000 grants to three groups.
Carey-Shuler, in a letter, later asked MMAP to re-direct the other $50,000 to Spence-Jones’ family company. Carey-Shuler initially told prosecutors that the letter was a fake and the money was never supposed to go to Spence-Jones — spurring the arrest of Spence-Jones.
But Spence-Jones’ criminal defense attorney, Peter Raben, uncovered in county files an early draft of the letter with Carey-Shuler’s handwritten notes in the margin. Carey-Shuler then admitted she likely had authored the memo after all. Prosecutors dropped the case.
In a final close-out memo in August, lead prosecutor Scruggs suggested the draft letter was planted by Spence-Jones or a surrogate after her arrest. Raben called the allegation “grossly offensive.’’
In March of 2010, Spence-Jones was accused of illegally soliciting a $25,000 bribe from Miami developer Codina in 2006, using a pending commission vote as leverage to squeeze him for money for a nonprofit organization she ran from her office.
But Spence-Jones maintained the donation was legal and made to benefit her constituents. During trial in March 2011, Codina blasted Scruggs from the witness stand, insisting the prosecutor repeatedly lied to him about key details of the solicitation. The commissioner was acquitted.
Scruggs was eventually reassigned and is now prosecuting murder cases.
“As a result of what the defendants did, Michelle Spence-Jones lost two years of her life,” according to the suit, filed by Coral Gables lawyer Ray Taseff and New York law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.
A former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who reviewed the case said it was more than just a lawsuit. “It’s a declaration of war,” said attorney Peter Walsh.
But he added: “A malicious prosecution case is extremely hard to prove because it’s designed that way. You have to prove a negative — an absence of probable cause.”