Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Battling City Hall, the Wright Choice

            It is not often, in fact, never actually, that I write about court cases because frankly I find them quite boring.  Well, if I am involved in the case they are not so boring but to the sit and watch someone else’s case is pretty much like watching paint dry.   This case is different, at least to me.  I am not involved but a good friend of mine is.  James B. Wright v. The City of Miami Gardens and City Clerk Ronetta Taylor, Miami Dade County Circuit Court Case Number 2016-016248-CA-01.  The case was heard today in front of the Honorable Judge Bronwyn Miller who is perhaps one of the most well liked and respected judges in Miami-Dade County and who happened to preside over my very first legal victory when I sued Florida Power and Light for crashing into my car.  The City was represented by heavy hitter J.C. Planas and James had slugger Jason Murray in his corner. 

James B. Wright

            James wants to be Mayor of the City of Miami Gardens in North Miami-Dade County and a fine Mayor he will be.  For those of you who do not know Miami Gardens, is no garden at all.  Miami Gardens is home to high crime and poverty.  The City suffers from a lack of leadership and direction that James wants to and will correct.  Miami Gardens Police Officers are overwhelmed.  One commented to me recently that they have gone from crime fighting to crime maintaining, meaning they are not stopping crimes they are just writing reports of crimes.  I have no doubt with a little house cleaning James is the man for the job. 
            In order to be on the August 30th, 2016 ballot for Mayor, James had to qualify by June 2, 2016, which he did.  Here’s the rub.  After the qualifying period ended the City of Miami Gardens disqualified him because it received his filing fee check back from Wells Fargo.  Apparently Wells Fargo could not locate James’ campaign account and simply returned the check to the City.

The hearing was in courtroom 6-1, the Al Capone room

            Jason Murray stated first and came out swinging with his argument.  He made a very compelling and passionate argument that to disqualify James from running for Mayor would be inconsistent with our American Jurisprudence.  That the real issue in the case is that the City does not want to pay for the costs to have the ballots reprinted.  Murray knew he had case law that might run afoul of his position and made a very distinguishing analysis of why it should not apply to James.  Murray also argued that any costs the City might incur could be avoided by rescheduling the election in November because those ballots have not been printed. 
The statute at issue, §99.061(7)(a)(1), is very clear.  If a candidate’s check is returned by the bank for any reason the candidate must pay the filing fee by the end of the qualification period or be disqualified.  The problem in this case is that the City Clerk did not notify James until after the qualifying period ended.
Murray provided undeniable proof that James had an established campaign account, there were sufficient funds in the account and the check in question was never presented against his account.  These facts are not in dispute, Judge Miller correctly noted that this is a case of “wrongful dishonor” and “there is no bounced check in this case.” The only entity at fault in this case is the bank that wrongfully dishonored James’ check.
Planas relied on a strict reading of statute §99.061(7)(a)(1) and argued that “yes, the bank messed up” but “there is no remedy here, no remedy at all.”  Planas further argued that the facts in James’ case are just like the case law and the Court is bound to follow that case law.  The case law Planas is referring to is Levey v. Detzner, 146 So.3d 1224 (1st DCA, 2014) that involved a candidate who had a filing fee check returned because her campaign account had a hold placed on it.  The check James wrote was never presented to his account for payment as noted above.
Judge Miller is expected to issue a ruling tonight or tomorrow morning.  Whatever her ruling is this case will go on as both parties made it clear today that an appeal would be filed in the District Court of Appeals.  In my opinion, Murray had the more compelling argument today and may have given the Judge just enough to rule in James’ favor. 
To deny James Wright to be on the ballot would be a shame and an overly harsh outcome.  It would not be a loss to James because he will go on and be successful in other ways.  James will surely run for Mayor in the next election. The real losers here are the citizens of Miami Gardens who would be prohibited from selecting James Wright as their next Mayor, a mayor they so desperately need. 

Patrick J. McGeehan, Esq. is a criminal defense and family law attorney in Miami, Florida. He has over 20 years of law enforcement experience in the South Florida region. Mr. McGeehan was a police instructor in several areas as well as a court certified expert witness in D.U.I., speed measurement, accident reconstruction and other law enforcement fields. Mr. McGeehan has been featured on numerous national news networks, radio and print media regarding his legal work. He can be reached at the Law Offices of Patrick J. McGeehan, P.A., One Biscayne Tower, 2 South Biscayne Boulevard, Suite 3760, Miami, Florida 33131, 305-577-4933,;

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