Just weeks after receiving double indictments on grand theft and bribery from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, suspended Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones got more bad news last week. A judge dismissed her lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Crist.
The lawsuit challenged Crist’s authority to suspend Spence-Jones twice from office for the same crime.
One of Spence-Jones’ initial arguments was that Crist’s actions were unconstitutional because the governor used “unfettered discretion” when he suspended her a second time from office – following her second re-election – especially since she had not been indicted.
At the March 19 hearing, however, Assistant Attorney General Charles Fahlbusch introduced the notion that Spence-Jones’ case was a moot issue because – regardless of the outcome on the grand theft charge – her new bribery indictment gave the governor the right to suspend her again, which Crist had promised to do.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Platzer agreed that the law was on Crist’s side, but she did not announce her decision until after she had expressed some concern.
“I’m not going to pontificate, although I’d like to. There are some things obviously that concern me. This whole thing could have been avoided if there had been an indictment from the beginning,” Platzer said.
Platzer also said she found it pointless for Spence-Jones to have even been allowed to run again in January’s special election.
“It does seem a little bit like an exercise in futility to allow Ms. Spence-Jones to stand for office and then allow her to be suspended again on the same facts,” Platzer continued before dismissing the case.
Crist first suspended Spence-Jones in November – just days after she was re-elected by an overwhelming majority. The suspension came after she was charged with grand theft. 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 made good on his promise, and suspended her again.
Since then, Spence-Jones has been indicted on both the previous grand theft charge and a charge of bribery for allegedly taking money from two prominent developers in exchange for support of a project that would boost their business. The latter of the two hurt her case on Friday.
When court was adjourned, Spence-Jones told some of her discouraged supporters not to lose heart.
“This isn’t over. We don’t do that at all. For me, I’m at peace because I know in the end that justice will prevail. It doesn’t matter what you may try to do … We will continue to fight. We will continue to stand,” Spence-Jones said.
After her speech, Spence-Jones and her supporters formed a circle and prayed for God to deliver her from her trials, and to dispense justice in her situation. After saying, “amen,” supporters seemed reinvigorated.
“God is a good God, honey. He’s always there and all of the truth is going to come out. I’ll fight until the end,” said Lillian Slater, a 71-year-old resident of Overtown’s Town Park Village who said her rights were violated when Crist removed Spence-Jones from office.
Dennis Bedard, Spence-Jones’ attorney, said the new bribery indictment was just a ploy by the governor to keep her from winning the case.
“It is our position that the bribery charge was a stunt to remove her from office,” Bedard said.
On March 18th, Spence-Jones’ defense lawyer, Peter Raben, filed motions to dismiss both of her criminal indictments, citing lack of detailed information regarding the alleged crimes. Raben and Spence-Jones are set to appear in court on March 30 to argue the motions before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Yvonne Colodny.
As for her lawsuit against Crist, Spence-Jones told reporters that she is considering an appeal. But for now, she and her lawyer are focusing on moving forward and finding the evidence to support their belief that the governor’s office and the state attorney’s office were in cahoots.
“We believe there was communication going on between the governor’s office and the state attorney,” Spence-Jones said. “I’m just so thankful and blessed for the judge (Platzer) because she saw what was going on. Stevie Wonder saw what was going on and he can’t see.”
File Photo. Michelle Spence-Jones