North Miami - NMB

Defeated NMB candidate sues opponent Councilwoman Phyllis Smith over absentee ballots

Miami

A defeated candidate in last month’s North Miami Beach runoff is challenging the election results and alleges that the winning candidate, Councilwoman Phyllis Smith, benefited from illegal absentee ballots to keep her seat.

Attorney Michael Joseph, who lost the May 19 runoff for the Group 3 seat, on Tuesday sued incumbent Smith and the city’s canvassing board — naming board members city clerk Pamela Latimore, city attorney Jose Smith and City Manager Ana Garcia as defendants. The Jewish Leadership Coalition joined him as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Phyllis Smith denies any improprieties. “My election was run 100 percent with the utmost responsibility to what an election should be,” she said. “I’m positive that when all is said and done, everything will stand as it is.”

Joseph is asking a judge to order the canvassing board to delete the absentee ballot votes from two election precincts, 127 and 123, and to declare him the winner of the runoff.

In the civil complaint, Joseph alleges that Smith hired three absentee-ballot brokers to help collect ballots for the runoff. With the help of Councilman Frantz Pierre, the complaint reads, Smith hired Hubert “Bob” Campbell, Guilna Prosper and Pierre Myrthil to illegally collect fake absentee ballots.

“Several voters in precincts 127 and 123 were coerced by one [or] more of these individuals to vote for Smith in the runoff election,” the complaint reads. “And some voters may have received financial or other form of compensation in exchange for their votes.”

In the two precincts, Smith received 202 absentee ballot votes while Joseph received 112 votes. Smith won the runoff election by 71 votes.

Smith, who has served on the council since 2007, said Wednesday that her election was run honestly, fairly and with complete accuracy. She did not directly address any allegations in the complaint, including her relationship with Pierre.

Joseph’s attorney, Juan Carlos Planas, said that beyond hiring the brokers, some of Smith’s other actions also raised concerns.

“What’s most troubling is that Phyllis Smith did not fill out the required form to disclose workers that were working with absentee ballots,” Planas said. “We’d also like to know who paid for those absentee ballot workers because it’s not reflected on her campaign finance documents.”

Planas said the Jewish Leadership Coalition joined the case because members believe Smith’s actions are part of a larger problem in South Florida elections.

“Part of the membership lives in North Miami Beach, and their interest goes beyond this election, their interest goes into cleaning up the process,” Planas said.

City attorney Smith said that the city is neutral in the case and plans to comply with whatever the judge eventually rules.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be about what the evidence will show,” Smith said.

In addition to the complaint, Joseph also filed a “request for production” asking Smith to provide various documents, including proof of payments to anyone who worked on her campaign, any correspondence with the alleged ballot brokers listed in the complaint, and all of her filing paperwork with the city, Miami-Dade Elections, the state elections department and the state and county commissions on ethics.

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