By Trevor Bach
By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
Rare is the adolescent resident of a high-rise who hasn't converted his balcony into a laboratory for a detailed study of gravity. Young inquiring minds, several stories up, need only the simplest materials to explore important scientific concepts such as the parabolic trajectory and terminal velocity of a soggy toilet-paper roll. Equally rarely do such investigations attract the interest of attorneys and provoke threats of lawsuits. Unless, of course, the junior experimenters happen to live in a condominium where rules don't always accommodate the quest for scientific knowledge.
For fourteen-year-old Jose Padial, Jr., August 20, 1990, was a fine day for research. His projectiles of choice were ice cubes and raw eggs, his lab was the balcony of his fourth-floor condominium in the C tower of Brickell Place, a four-building group overlooking Biscayne Bay on Brickell Avenue near the Rickenbacker Causeway. With his parents away at work, and with several buddies serving as co-scientists, the experiment was destined to be a success.
Jose and his pals launched the debris toward the pool deck below, unaware that they weren't the only ones observing the project. Several people, including the condominium's chief of security, witnessed the impressive barrage. Later that evening, yet another vigilant officer saw Jose hanging out with a friend who was roller-skating outside the building, a flagrant violation of condo regulations.
Soon after, two spotlights on the fifteenth floor of neighboring building D mysteriously plummeted to the ground below and shattered. Again, a security officer had seen Jose and friends loitering around the building, and he reported the sighting to his supervisor. "Maybe pure coincidence, but they were mad because security kept talking to them for breaking the rules," wrote then-Chief of Security Jesus Mauri in his incident report, adding, "No eyewitness to the incident."
An inconsequential detail for Edgardo Defortuna, upholder of order and general manager of buildings C and D, who sent the security reports describing the evening's activities to Jose's father. He enclosed an itemized bill for $445: a $25 charge for cleaning up the eggs, a $50 fine for roller-skating, a $320 charge for breaking the floodlights, and, for "damage to property," a $50 charge. "In addition, we request you to have full control over your children and supervise them at all times," wrote Defortuna, who is also a member of the board of directors of Brickell Place Phase II Association, which manages buildings C and D.
"That was my first brush with these people," says a rueful Jose Padial, Sr., a pale and soft-spoken public accountant who moved to Brickell Place in December 1988 with his wife, daughter, and two sons. "We moved from a house in Kendall because we wanted to upgrade our living conditions and we wanted to live in a secure place where our family would be able to go outdoors. We wanted to live in a better environment."
Defortuna's bill, says Padial, was also the first he had heard of trouble involving any of his children. Padial sent the general manager a terse note, apologizing for the egg tossing, denying the other charges, and refusing to settle the bill. After Defortuna reduced the charge to $75 several days later, Padial agreed to pay up. But the levying of the fines, says Padial, marked the beginning of a conspiracy to run his family out of the condominium.
Defortuna denies that he handed out blame precipitately or unfairly. "This wasn't the first time the kids had been in trouble," he says of Jose, Jr., and his younger brother Victor, now eight years old. "The kids and their friends were really creating problems for the rest of us in the building. It's not fun to enforce the rules. Why would I make up that their kids were in trouble?"
As the condo administration scrutinized the behavior of the Padial boys, its own security staff came under scrutiny. In March, Victor told his father that one of the male security guards had fondled him. Padial reported the incident to Defortuna, who says he fired the guard three days later. But the firing didn't take place, insists Padial, until after he had hired a lawyer to write a letter about the allegation.
Brickell Place didn't waste time introducing its own attorneys to the Padials. In early May, Padial received a letter from a law firm representing Brickell Place Phase II, threatening legal action if the boys continued to misbehave.® "It came as a surprise," says Padial. "I had not been made aware of any of their complaints. The August 20 incident was the only incident I'd seen in writing." Thomas Spencer, Jr., Padial's lawyer, responded on May 14 with his own letter. "We categorically reject each and every outrageous statement of your client's alleged facts," wrote Spencer. "We hope they are prepared to prove them up in court.... We look forward to a jury resolving this."
During the next several days, Padial says the building where he lives became an Orwellian nightmare, as security officers followed his sons around the complex and lurked in the stairwell outside his apartment. Although Padial says he hadn't been told the boys were under suspicion, it seems infractions by Padial's sons had been accruing at a rapid rate since the egg-tossing incident, as Defortuna's staff of about fifteen security guards compiled a file of the boys' alleged exploits. January 6, 1991: Victor, Jose, and eight other kids were seen "playing football and making a lot of noise in the playground area." Valentine's Day: Victor was throwing beer on doors in building C. March 3: Jose and friends were knocking on doors in the condominium, running through the hallways, and pestering a valet by "trying to put their hands in the groceries" he was carrying to an apartment. March 20: Victor and two other kids were "playing in the tennis courts unsupervised." April 3: Jose and friends, "under alcoholic influence," were insulting condo residents.