.Orlando Martinez de Castro says that after South Miami fired him as police chief in 2013, his career went from being “top cop” to down the drain.
Now the city must pay, a Miami-Dade circuit judge has ruled — and it could cost taxpayers more than $1 million.
“I applied to over 20 jobs,” said Martinez de Castro, who sued South Miami after the firing. “It has been very bad for me and my family not only in this lawsuit, but in other lawsuits. Because who would give me an opportunity for a job as a chief when I was the top cop and they have put doubt on my career?”
On Monday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jose M. Rodriguez awarded nearly $435,000 to Martinez de Castro following a three-day trial.
But the total number assigned to South Miami’s taxpayers could exceed $1 million, according to his lawyers, who are likely entitled to about $250,000 in attorneys fees.
Florida law allows for a multiplier on the attorney’s fees of 1.5 to 3 times. Martinez de Castro is entitled to 4.75 percent interest on the $435,000 verdict amount, dating back to his firing on Aug. 13, 2013. He is also allowed to request interest from Jan. 8 on the award of the entitlement to fees.
“If we get two times multiplier you can do the math on that or 2.5 with 3 percent,” said Martinez de Castro’s attorney, Paul G. Totten of Franqui Totten, LLP. “It will be up to the judge, but the case law does support an award for a multiplier and that’s what we will be asking for.”
Martinez de Castro was first hired as chief in 2003. He left South Miami in 2006, then returned in 2010. He was fired in 2013 after the city determined he violated his contract by serving as acting city manager while also serving as chief. He filed several lawsuits in 2013 and 2015. Monday’s verdict stems from Rodriguez’s 11-page March order, which found that Martinez de Castro never served as acting city manager because he was never properly appointed to the position. He was also granted motions for partial summary judgment and breach of contract.
Totten said the city could have avoided the large loss if it had honored the terms for his client’s contract. Rodriguez ruled the contract legal, despite the city’s arguments to the contrary.
“All we were trying to do was to get them to implement the 3 percent longevity pay increase and the 5 percent annual performance-based increase that he had received for his annual evaluation,” Totten said. “If they had just responded to our letter and approved the contractually negotiated and agreed upon numbers, I wouldn’t have any attorneys fees or very little, if anything. At the very beginning if they had just honored the terms of the contract, we are talking about nickels on the dollar as opposed to what they are looking at now.”
“I don’t know if they could have settled for $200,000 early, but if they had just honored the terms of the contract and allowed Orlando to finish out his employment under the contract and receive what the city negotiated with him to receive under the terms of the contract, it wouldn’t have cost much at all other than giving Orlando his salary,” he said.
Martinez de Castro began working for the city in 1998. His different titles included assistant director of public works, director of public works, assistant city manager, and director of development.
South Miami City Attorney Thomas Pepe said in an April 19 report that the damages awarded to Martinez de Castro “was not surprising,” which was expected in light of the judge’s rulings on liability.
“It was approximately 34 to 35 more or less than what was being demanded. Once the verdict is reached at final judgment, the case will be ripe for appeal. We have not been able to appeal the court’s partial summary judgment on liability until there was a trial on damages. I’m requesting advice from the commission regarding the litigation in light of the current situation in the case so that we can discuss the litigation and what direction the commission wants to pursue.”
South Miami will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. May 3 regarding the case. A final judgment hearing is expected to be in June and the city could appeal. At its last commission meeting, Commissioner Josh Liebman called for city staff to compile cost estimates incurred since the case began.
“Nobody wants to speak about it, but why not,” Liebman asked from the dais. “It’s a liability. I’m a commissioner. I have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers here. . . . I’ve been asking for [it] forever. Now is as good a time as any. It’s better for people on this commission that contributed directly to that. Let’s talk about that. I think we are closer to seven figures. Nobody wants to speak about it. I can understand why.”
“We owe this to the public,” Liebman said on the dais. “These are the taxpayers and now they are on the line for a million dollars potentially because of the fault of the commission. It’s something that nobody wants to talk about but I want to talk about it.”
Martinez de Castro also has pending defamation lawsuits against Mayor Philip Stoddard and Vice Mayor Bob Welsh.
“Everything I said was true,” Stoddard told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “There is no defamation.”
Welsh declined to comment.
“I feel that it is unfortunate that we have to resolve this and other issues in a court of law,” Martinez de Castro said. “On many occasions we attempted to resolve this matter with the city to avoid prolonging it and the cost and time associated with it. But as you see, however, in the end I will be vindicated. And obviously the judge agreed. We are optimistic that [what] we lost will also be resolved.”