Lawsuit against Doral officials up in air; court hearing canceled


SDE Media, a billboard company that has sued the city of Doral and accused Doral council members of collusion, has withdrawn its subpoena of council members’ phone records.

The action doesn’t mean SDE is dropping its lawsuit, though. The company’s attorney said he is redrafting the subpoena to exclude three people who are not council members but whose records he initially asked for.

A court hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday was canceled at the last minute after SDE Media withdrew its subpoena.

The lawsuit stems from a 2014 dispute between Doral and SDE Media. The billboard company sued the city and the council after the council rejected a request to put a billboard on the northwest corner of the Palmetto Expressway and Northwest 36th Street, an intersection that has some of Doral’s heaviest traffic.

SDE Media alleged that there was collusion among several council members to vote against the request. Doral officials say the suit is a tool to manipulate the city.

On Tuesday night, SDE Media withdrew its subpoena after four protective orders were filed with the court — one from Doral’s attorneys, the others from the third parties: Vanessa Acosta, a city of Miami employee; Harkley Thornton, owner of a competing billboard company and a former business partner of Santiago Echemendia, SDE Media’s owner; and Brian May, a consultant for Thornton. It is unclear how they relate to the lawsuit.

The four orders demanded that the subpoena be quashed because it would invade their personal privacy.

Evan Owen, a Doral spokesman, said an earlier subpoena by SDE Media had resulted in the telephone companies turning over call logs beyond the scope of the original subpoena to SDE’s attorneys. He said the protective orders were “intended to prevent excessive irrelevant records from going to the plaintiffs.”

Months ago, SDE Media had requested communications between council members, but what they got back from AT&T and Verizon were entire personal call and text logs.

Now, Doral and the three individuals are fighting back, saying the three “private citizens” named in the subpoena have “no involvement with the subject matter of this litigation.”

“This illustrates how overly broad the subpoena by SDE Media was in the first place,” City Attorney Sam Zuskind said. “SDE Media is just using the public records law to go fishing in order to get around the city’s ordinance.”

SDE Media’s attorney, Thomas Julin, said he would narrow the subpoena “without having to go after records of the three individuals.”

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan