An ongoing feud between a Doral councilman and the city’s former clerk may be coming to a legal end.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Norma Lindsey has granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by fired City Clerk Barbara Herrera in favor of Councilman Pete Cabrera. Lindsey granted the dismissal without prejudice and gave Herrera’s legal team 20 days to amend the complaint.
The lawsuit is part of a conflict between Cabrera and Herrera that dates back to at least 2009. Since then, according to Herrera’s complaint, Cabrera twice tried to have her fired, finally succeeding at a December 2014 meeting of the Doral city council. Herrera has twice sued Cabrera.
Previous complaints against Herrera — including a 2012 grievance by city employee Christina Muñoz, who accused Herrera of abusive treatment and discrimination — were used at the meeting to bolster the argument in favor of her termination, even though the complaint was later dropped in 2013.
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Herrera’s most recent suit alleged one count of tortuous interference with a business relationship. Her attorneys alleged that Cabrera “intentionally … interfered” with the agreement Herrera had with Doral and that “Cabrera’s actions were with ulterior motives and detrimental to the interests of City of Doral.”
The dismissal was granted based on two important factors in the case:
▪ Under Florida law, Herrera would have to prove that Cabrera is a “stranger or third-party” to the relationship, according to the language in the motion to dismiss.
▪ Cabrera’s attorneys allege that since the councilman was acting within the scope of his public office, he is entitled to “absolute immunity” from any punitive damages.
Cabrera told the Herald on Monday that the suit was “frivolous” and part of “political games” that distract from the city’s resources and the business of the people, but did acknowledge that these conflicts do affect media coverage and public image within the city.
“Instead of focusing on the positive things that are going on in the city, there’s time and energy being wasted on listening to nonsense — things that have no merit and no weight,” said Cabrera.
To many, Herrera’s dismissal came as a surprise. The year before her firing, she and her office were granted 20 percent pay raises. Even Cabrera’s decision to pursue her termination came seemingly out of nowhere. After Herrera’s initial lawsuit involving Cabrera was settled, both worked together during Cabrera’s previous term as a councilman.
Since being fired by the city, Herrera has not been able to find a job, but is currently self-employed after opened her own government consulting business where she helps people with administrative processes, such as permitting and licensing.
“I was just one in many firings of charter officials. You have to wonder where this animosity is coming from,” said Herrera.
Herrera does not live or vote in Doral, but says that she did see the politics trickle down to staff.
“It’s a bit of a dichotomy. Doral is viewed as a city that is attractive for businesses and families,” Herrera said. “For the observers of Doral’s policymakers, they have to question if their motives are in line with the needs of the residents. I think that these firings have a chilling effect on staff. What’s to say that tomorrow you look at someone the wrong way and you lose your job?”
Cabrera rejected any notion that this lawsuit has adversely affected the morale of city employees.
“In this case in particular the city is fine, the employees are fine, and they understood her situation and what she was about,” Cabrera said. “Anyone who knew the past was probably happy to see her go.”