The bribery case against suspended Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones will go to trial on Aug. 23, a judge ruled this week.
Spence-Jones’ criminal defense lawyer, Peter Raben, and Assistant State Attorney Richard Scruggs squared off during a Wednesday, May 5 hearing in which Raben filed three motions to compel discovery. Raben argued that the prosecution was dragging its feet in turning over evidence to the defense. Spence-Jones did not appear in court.
Raben said he has requested copies of 100 or more documents that he believes are relevant to his client’s case, and that he has yet to receive them.
“I shouldn’t have to wait a month when I send him a letter asking if this is acceptable,” Raben told Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Colodny.
Scruggs countered by saying he was only being a good steward over the documents in his care.
“I’m only trying to maintain control of the documents under my supervision,” Scruggs said.
Colodny agreed with Raben, and gave Scruggs a maximum of ten days to get Raben the documents he requested.
“I’m going to ask you both to act professionally, diligently and to respect each other. This is a case both parties feel the magnitude of and we need to be working towards moving forward,” Colodny said.
After ruling on the motions to compel, Colodny set a trial date for the bribery case, since Spence-Jones has waived her right to a speedy trial in a separate grand-theft case.
“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 the grand-theft charge.
The grand-theft 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 Spence-Jones’ challenge 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 businesses.
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.
The bribery trial is set to begin Aug. 23 in Colodny’s courtroom.
Photo: Michelle Spence-Jones