In most local elections, the bad blood from campaign rivalries seems to fade by the time candidates’ signs come down.
But in Palmetto Bay, nine months after the last village election, the nastiness remains — played out in a series of defamation lawsuits at the county courthouse, a dormant movement to recall two elected leaders, and in subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at Village Council meetings.
“It’s really a sad state of affairs,” village resident Pam Reid told the council at a recent meeting. “What is this bullying tactic? What is this game? Are you terrorizing the village residents with lawsuits? It’s really becoming a very strange place to live where you get sued for the most unbelievable things you could imagine.”
Details of the suits
Most recently, an unsuccessful council candidate and an election campaign worker have both sued Mayor Shelley Stanczyk.
Jim Araiza, who unsuccessfully ran for council in 2010 and in 2012, and Louis Medina, who campaigned for Vice Mayor John DuBois and other candidates during the 2012 election, say that Stanczyk wrote false information about them on a political website called Palmetto Bay Checks the Record, according to their complaints.
Stanczyk later admitted in court papers that she ran this website and wrote the articles.
Araiza has said that Stanczyk wrote on the political blog that he committed a felony when he accepted illegal campaign contributions during the 2012 election. Araiza also has sued Councilwoman Joan Lindsay’s husband, Jerry Templer, alleging that he spread the same information through emails. According to the complaint, Araiza has said he made an error when he filed four $500 checks for his campaign because of problems with his eyesight and corrected the mistake on the following business day.
In the other litigation, village resident Medina has said that Stanczyk called him a boletero, a Spanish term for a person who collects and turns in absentee ballots. Medina campaigned for Vice Mayor John DuBois and unsuccessful council candidate Howard Tendrich, according to the complaint.
Medina had also sued Councilwoman Lindsay; her husband, Templer; and two other village residents, Delores Triana and Gary Pastorella. But in late July, the four defendants were dismissed from this litigation, said their attorney Benedict Kuehne.
Attorney J.B. Harris, who lives in Palmetto Bay and supports a now-inactive recall effort against Stanczyk and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay, filed both complaints.
“While the courts savor protection by the First Amendment, they also realize that a person cannot wrap themselves in the First Amendment to slime, defame and libel people and damage their reputation in the community,” he told the Miami Herald. “It’s disgusting. It’s ridiculous and that’s what Stanczyk is doing.”
Harris said he subpoenaed PayPal and WordPress and obtained information that shows Stanczyk funded the website, Palmetto Bay Checks the Record, leading him to file the lawsuits against her on behalf of Araiza and Medina.
Stanczyk declined to discuss the substance of the allegations.
“I thought that when the elections were over everything would go back to normal. And I am hoping it shortly will,” she told the Miami Herald, referring to the November 2012 village election – one of the most contentious in Miami-Dade County.