MIAMI — The start of the criminal trial of suspended Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones on grand theft charges was delayed on Wednesday, April 28 because a prosecutor was out sick.
Spence-Jones’ criminal defense lawyer, Peter Raben, was informed that he and his client would have to wait for an official hearing. Spence-Jones did not appear in court.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Colodny informed Raben that the hearing must be re-set because Prosecutor Richard Scruggs was sick.
The hearing has been rescheduled for May 5 at 9:30 a.m. in front of Judge Colodny.
Raben was sympathetic to Scruggs’ condition, but complained that the prosecution was dragging its feet in turning over evidence.
“I’d like to file motions to compel discovery. I’m kind of frustrated…,” Raben told reporters.
Raben also said the prosecution’s snail pace was a catalyst for Spence-Jones’ decision to waive her right to a speedy trial on the grand-theft charge.
“To do a speedy trial, you have to be prepared, and we haven’t received much evidence.” Raben said. “She chose to be professional and competent, and waived her right so she could prepare.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the latest development in an ongoing legal saga that began in November, when Gov. Charlie Crist first suspended Spence-Jones – just days after she was re-elected by an overwhelming majority – following her arrest on a grand-theft charge.
The charge relates to her allegedly redirecting two county grants totaling $50,000 to a family business, and using some of the funds for personal expenses.
After Spence-Jones convincingly won a special election in January, Crist suspended her again.
The twice-suspended commissioner challenged Crist’s decision in court, arguing that she should not have been suspended because she was never indicted. But the case was dismissed after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office sent down indictments against Spence-Jones on both the previous grand theft charge and a charge of bribery.
Spence-Jones was indicted in early March on the bribery charge for allegedly taking $25,000 from two prominent developers in exchange for support of a project that would enhance their business.
Prosecutors allege that in 2006, Spence-Jones solicited money from MDM Hotel Group, Inc., the developers of the Metropolitan Miami office and residential complex, and the Codina Group Inc., another developer that sought an extension of Brickell Avenue.
In exchange, Spence-Jones voiced her support of a move to extend the name of Brickell Avenue further north along Southeast 2nd Avenue in downtown Miami, thus making the area more marketable for development.