Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz pleaded not guilty Monday to drunk driving stemming from a Sept. 19 arrest in Key West.
“He has a right to plead not guilty,” said Richard Wunsch, the commissioner’s attorney. “We’re going to go forward.”
Diaz did not attend Monday’s hearing in Key West, and Wunsch entered the not guilty plea on the four-term commissioner’s behalf.
Key West police arrested Diaz after they pulled him over on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle for doing 74 mph on South Roosevelt Boulevard, where the speed zone is 35 mph. It was during the Key West Poker Run motorcycle weekend. The arrest was captured on video by police body- and dashboard cameras, and they showed Diaz declining a breath-alcohol test. Police said he failed field sobriety tests.
The incident instantly became an embarrassment for the four-term commissioner, who was heard on the surveillance footage saying his political career was over. He introduced himself to officers as “Commissioner Diaz from Miami-Dade County” and, when he didn’t have a driver’s license, noted Monroe County Rick Ramsay knows his name. Diaz later called Ramsay and apologized for using his name, spokespeople for Diaz and Ramsay confirmed Monday.
By refusing an alcohol test, Diaz had his license suspended for one year. But state records show he successfully applied for a waiver available to first-time offenders that will allow him to continue driving for work-related reasons. His 2014 campaign documents have Diaz working for Coastland Construction in Miami, and the waiver should also allow him to make trips related to his commission duties and other day-to-day errands, said William Heffernan Jr., a veteran DUI lawyer in the Keys who isn’t involved in the Diaz case.
“It means you’re allowed to drive to work, get groceries, see your lawyer,” Heffernan said. As a first-time offender, Diaz could qualify for a diversion program in Monroe that lets people charged with DUI accept a lesser charge of reckless driving in exchange for a program that includes classes and community service. “The punishment is basically doing the program,” Heffernan said.
Monroe County Judge Wayne Miller set a pre-trial conference in the Diaz case for Oct. 29. A trial date is expected to be set in November for either the 9th or the 16th, Wunsch said.
Brian Andrews, a Diaz media consultant, issued a statement Monday morning that read in part: “Just like anyone else facing similar charges, Mr. Diaz will go through the legal process, following his lawyer’s advice. He will be using all of the legal opportunities that are afforded to him under the law as he and his attorney work to resolve this matter.”
This item was updated to correct the name of the reporter at the Diaz hearing in Key West, and to add a second possible trial date in November.