MIAMI – Michelle Spence-Jones returned to court on Friday, seeking to convince a judge that she should reclaim the District 5 city commission seat. She lost the seat when Gov. Charlie Crist suspended her after she was charged with grand theft.
A judge heard arguments from attorneys on both sides of the issue on Friday, Feb. 26, and sought answers to her questions about the rights of state government vs. the rights of voters.
Another special session is expected next week.
Spence-Jones entered the courtroom on Friday to applause from supporters, some of whom wore T-shirts bearing the slogans, “Right the Wrong” and “Make Our Vote Count.”
She responded with a smile and the words, “I love each and every one of you.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Platzer heard arguments from Spence-Jones attorney Dennis Bedard, Assistant Attorney General Charles Fahlbusch and American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Kuehne, who is representing five voters from District 5 who were allowed to join the lawsuit Spence-Jones filed to reclaim her seat.
Bedard argued that Crist’s second suspension of Jones following her re-election in January is unconstitutional because it violates a Florida statute, allowing the governor to exercise “unfettered discretion,” which he said could in turn abuse.
“This suspension is a direct violation of the state constitution. The governor could choose to suspend someone on a whim because he doesn’t like them. It’s a violation of our democracy,” Bedard argued.
Fahlbusch countered by calling the plaintiff’s attempt to label Crist’s actions as a re-suspension “semantics.”
“Just because a level of discretion is provided in a statute doesn’t make it unconstitutional. A re-suspension is still a suspension and the governor has the power to suspend,” Fahlbusch said.
Crist first suspended Spence-Jones in November – just days after she was re-elected by an overwhelming majority – 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.
Kuehne argued that Crist disregarded the will of the people when he re-suspended Spence-Jones because her constituents elected her again, with full knowledge of the crime she is alleged to have committed.
“The people have spoken,” Kuehne said.
After hearing the case, the judge still had some questions.
“My main concern is with the re-suspension. Do the rights of the voters trump the rights of the governor and the Legislature?” Platzer asked.
The judge told all parties to submit final briefs – no longer than five pages each – addressing her questions, and said she will set a special session for next week. She said she hopes to have a ruling in about 10 days.
Even though Platzer did not make a ruling on Friday, Spence-Jones said she is happy with the results of the hearing.
“I feel good about today,’’ Spence-Jones said. “I’m thankful to all of the wonderful people here who’ve supported me. To God be the glory, and in the end, I do think we’ll be victorious.’’
Pictured above is Michelle Spence-Jones.