MIAMI — A judge on Tuesday denied Michelle Spence-Jones’ request for a temporary injunction seeking to block Gov. Charlie Crist from suspending the embattled city commissioner a second time.
Spence-Jones’ attorney, Dennis Bedard, argued that keeping her out of office is unconstitutional because it gives the governor “unfettered discretion,” and causes irreparable harm because Spence-Jones must forfeit her right to serve the people who elected her.
Crist suspended Spence-Jones from the Miami City Commission after she was charged with grand theft in November. He suspended her again on Jan. 14, after she won a special election on Jan. 12.
After emphasizing the huge margins of victory Spence-Jones held in both the general and special elections, Bedard described Crist’s actions as unfounded and as a direct disregard for the will of the people.
In the Jan. 12 special election, Spence-Jones received more than 53 percent of the vote and defeated eight other candidates. Prior to Crist’s first suspension, Spence-Jones was re-elected on Nov. 3 with nearly 83 percent of the vote.
“What [Governor Crist] is saying to the voters of Liberty City and in that district is: ‘You know what? Your vote doesn’t count,’” Bedard said.
The state countered by arguing that there is no conflict between Florida’s constitution and Crist’s actions. After hearing arguments from both sides, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge
Victoria Platzer on Tuesday denied Spence-Jones’ request, stating that a temporary injunction was unnecessary.
Platzer did, however, agree to expedite the hearing for a permanent injunction.
“I recognize how important this case is to everyone, so I’m happy to give you an early setting,” Platzer said.
That hearing is tentatively set for Feb. 12.
In spite of Tuesday’s apparent loss for Spence-Jones, she told reporters gathered in the courtroom that she saw the proceedings as a victory.
“It should be obvious what the state presented today was definitely not enough to stop this case from going any further,” she said.
Some of Spence-Jones’ constituents were not as optimistic.
“I’m not happy because I wish it was settled today. I clearly feel like all of the voters from District 5 were cheated and she should rightfully have the seat she was elected to,” said Liberty City resident Sara Alvin.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s a racial thing because our votes put her in there, so why can’t she stay in there to serve us?” Liberty City resident Rosa Phinzy said.
“I feel robbed,” said Lisa Russell of Liberty City.
District 5 includes Overtown, Lemon City, Model City, Buena Vista, Spring Garden, Little Haiti, Wynwood and Liberty City.
On Jan. 4, a week before the special election, Spence-Jones filed a civil complaint against Crist in Miami-Dade County Court, seeking to prevent him from suspending her a second time if she were to win. The complaint led to Tuesday’s court hearing.
Spence-Jones also said on Tuesday that Crist was disrespectful for issuing her re-suspension so close to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. King would have been 81 on Jan. 15.
“The seniors that are involved, they walked that line…we're talking about people that had to run from dogs and water hoses and you would think about doing something like this around that time. How disrespectful is that?” she asked.
In November, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office charged Spence-Jones with one count of second-degree grand theft, a felony. She is accused of steering two county contracts totaling $50,000 to a company she and family members owned, and spending the money for personal use.
Miami City Commissioners will appoint a replacement for Spence-Jones at a Jan. 26 special meeting.
Spence-Jones maintained on Tuesday that she is innocent.
“I will continue to fight because I know I am innocent, and if you were innocent you’d fight too,” she said.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Michelle Spence-Jones