Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo must turn over cellphone bills and credit card statements to a vanquished political foe ahead of a trial set for early next month that will decide whether the controversial politician should be expelled from public office, a judge ruled Tuesday.
With a final hearing set for Jan. 5, Judge Thomas Rebull ordered the city’s newest commissioner to produce documents requested by an attorney for Alfonso “Alfie” Leon, who lost to Carollo in a Nov. 21 runoff election to represent the city’s third district. Leon wants to invalidate Carollo’s victory on the grounds that the commissioner failed to meet a requirement that candidates live in the boundaries of the Miami district they want to represent for at least one year before a deadline to qualify to make the ballot.
The deadline this year was Sept. 23. Carollo, who has lived for years in a Coconut Grove house outside the district, signed a lease for apartment 504 at Brickell Station Lofts on Sept. 22, 2016, just barely making the cut to run for the seat being vacated by his younger brother, Frank.
This case is a distraction that is plainly being pursued by monied interests who have long opposed Commissioner Carollo.
Ben Kuehne, attorney for Joe Carollo
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But in a complaint filed the day before the election and later amended, Leon argues that Carollo didn’t change his address on his voter’s registration and driver’s license for weeks, proving Carollo actually moved into the third district well after the execution date of his lease. Leon, who said in a text message that he is “preserving the integrity of the election process,” is now pulling the power bills for Carollo’s home and apartment, financial bills to show where he received his mail, and documents from the apartment complex to see when and how frequently he was at the building.
“Residency [under the law] is a combination of intent and physicality,” said Leon’s attorney, J.C. Planas. “Showing that Carollo’s voter registration and driver’s license weren’t changed is a reflection of the lack of intent to properly move. Combined with what we received from FPL and what we expect to see where he’s getting his cellphone and credit card bills, we think that also goes to the physicality, that he neither moved there by intent in September 2016, nor did he actually really live there.”
Combined with what we received from FPL and what we expect to see where he’s getting his cell phone and credit card bills, we think that he neither moved there by intent in Sept. 2016, nor did he actually really live there.
J.C. Planas, attorney for Leon
Planas said Florida Power & Light has already responded to a subpoena. On Wednesday, Maria Cervantes, the building manager for Brickell Station Lofts, is required to turn in reams of documents, such as key card swipes and move-in dates for Carollo’s apartment. Carollo has until Dec. 26 to turn in his own personal documents, Planas said, although some of the documents and information requested by the Leon campaign remain under dispute.
In court Monday, Planas told Rebull that Leon wants the courts to order a new runoff election between himself and the third-place finisher in the race, Zoraida Barreiro. Leon said he’s paying for the lawsuit with leftover campaign funds.
Carollo, who is represented by attorneys Benedict Kuehne and Tania Cruz Gimenez, tried unsuccessfully Monday and Tuesday to get Rebull to reject the subpoenas by Leon’s campaign and force an instant trial. Attorneys for Carollo, who famously used the courts to invalidate a fraud-tainted 1997 election that gave Xavier Suarez the city’s mayoral post over him, said the state’s laws demanded the plaintiff go to trial with the facts and documents already in hand.
“We vehemently disagree the citizens of the city of Miami should have to wait until January … so that essentially the people, the residents of the city of Miami, don’t know who their elected commissioner is,” Kuehne said to Rebull. “They have their evidence and they can subpoena their witnesses to establish their evidence, not subpoena the witnesses to engage in some discovery donnybrook to figure out, ‘Gee, do we have a case?’ ”
But Carollo will now have to cobble together records over the holidays. He said Monday that the lawsuit is a lame attempt by his opponents to distract him from his duties as a city commissioner and damage his ability to pull together a staff.
“Everybody who knows and has dealt with Commissioner Carollo knows that above all he follows the law,” said Kuehne. “He established his legal residency as the law requires and is spending all of his waking hours representing the citizens of Miami. This case is a distraction that is plainly being pursued by monied interests who have long opposed Commissioner Carollo, and we call upon Mr. Leon to abandon this reckless and misguided effort to undermine the integrity of the election.”