Downtown Miami

Beckham’s still on the ballot: Judge tosses challenge to referendum on soccer complex

MasTec executive Jorge Mas listens as his franchise partner David Beckham speaks at a public hearing at Miami City Hall on July 12, 2018, on the soccer stadium proposal for Melreese Country Club. Their proposal prompted a lawsuit against the city government, which was dismissed Wednesday, Aug. 15.
MasTec executive Jorge Mas listens as his franchise partner David Beckham speaks at a public hearing at Miami City Hall on July 12, 2018, on the soccer stadium proposal for Melreese Country Club. Their proposal prompted a lawsuit against the city government, which was dismissed Wednesday, Aug. 15. pportal@miamiherald.com

The ballot question on David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium has withstood its first legal challenge.

A circuit court judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have the question removed from the November ballot on the grounds that the city of Miami failed to follow proper competitive bidding procedures.

In a five-page order, Judge Reemberto Diaz said the city of Miami followed the law in putting a charter amendment before the voters.

“The city has complied with every required legal duty in proposing a charter amendment to the electorate,” Diaz wrote.

Last month, the Miami City Commission voted to hold a referendum to ask voters if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham’s ownership group to build a $1 billion commercial and soccer stadium complex on the city’s only municipal golf course, Melreese Country Club.

William Douglas Muir, a local attorney, filed an unusual request for “mandamus,” which is used to compel someone to perform a clear legal duty. He contended the city failed to follow its own charter by not opening up the project to a competitive bidding process.

Diaz said Muir failed to state a valid claim and did not have proper standing to bring the case.

Muir “fails to allege or even demonstrate that he has suffered any injury, let alone an injury that is different than the public,” Diaz writes.

Muir said he plans to file an appeal.

A second legal challenge to the referendum, citing different grounds, may be coming. Grant Stern, an activist who attempted to intervene on Muir’s side in the case, told reporters he plans to bring a separate lawsuit arguing that the city failed to follow the Sunshine Law in presenting the proposal to the public.

The city offered little information to the public about the Beckham group’s plans before the commission voted to approve the ballot question. The city released a new term sheet the day before the vote and did not publish the full meeting agenda until the night before.

In Diaz’s order, the judge notes that the public did have a chance to comment.

“It is clear from the four corners of the complaint that the public was provided an opportunity to comment during the public hearing,” Diaz writes, noting that well over 100 people spoke at the July 12 hearing.

While residents were allowed to comment at that meeting, there was no public comment period when the meeting resumed five days later, after new details had been released.

On Tuesday, Muir filed an amended complaint, citing additional case law to support his claim that the city’s actions were unconstitutional. The judge has expressed confusion about Muir’s intentions and approach at three hearings over the course of a month, and on Wednesday, he asked Muir why he had filed an amended complaint the day before.

“I’ll be very honest with you: I was prepared to rule today,” Diaz said, noting that he did not see the amended complaint until Wednesday morning.

Without saying how he planned to rule, Diaz gave the city and the Beckham group, Miami Freedom Park, the option to forgo a response to Muir’s new complaint and instead let Diaz issue his ruling right away. They accepted that offer after a brief recess, at which point Diaz returned and announced he was tossing the case.

When Muir sought further clarification, Diaz was curt: “I suggest you read the order,” he said before leaving the courtroom.

John Shubin, an attorney for Miami Freedom Park — which intervened as a defendant in the case — told reporters the decision was a win for residents.

“This was a lawsuit that was brought to deprive the residents and voters of the city of Miami from voting on a very important issue,” Shubin said. “We’re glad that Judge Diaz followed the law that was cited to him and dismissed this.”

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