Feud for Thought

Mike is a DUI attorney with a nose for legal loopholes. Alan is a crusading cop with a jones for drunk drivers. Vendetta, anyone?

Miller chimed in: "This is not a simple traffic stop, Your Honor."
"I can see that," the magistrate sighed.
Catalano's harrowing account of his hellish night ultimately failed to impress Rodriguez, who declared him guilty as charged. It took Catalano two years for his case to wind its way through a lengthy appeals process before the decision was reversed. Even so, Catalano says that part of the appeals process damaged his own reputation -- not Davis's.

In March 1991 the Miami Herald quoted prosecutors from the State Attorney General's Office and the Dade State Attorney's Office as saying that two Dade County Court judges, Calvin Mapp and Harvey Baxter, had improperly interfered in Catalano's traffic-ticket case. After being found guilty of the traffic violations, Catalano had made a request for a new trial in early January 1991 to Mapp, who at the time was administrative judge of the Dade County Court Traffic Division. Mapp assigned the case to Baxter, who set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial on the grounds that the issue of the alleged Davis vendetta needed to be fully discussed. The Herald noted that Catalano had been manager of Mapp's campaign for judge the previous fall and had contributed $125 to Baxter's campaign. The article added that the State Attorney General's Office and the Dade State Attorney's Office had appealed Mapp's decision to grant Catalano a new trial.

Catalano eventually won the legal battle after the state District Court of Appeal granted a new trial before Dade County Court Judge Ann Mason Parker. On March 17, 1993, she found him innocent of all traffic charges. This time, Catalano had permission to make his case against Davis and to offer testimony about Davis's alleged vendetta. The judge also listened to tapes of police radio transmissions and Catalano's 911 call that had not been available earlier.

The entire legal process, from the first hearing to the final verdict, took over two years, generated reams of legal documents, and cost the government thousands of dollars in lawyers' and judges' time. Taxpayers thus bore some of the cost of Davis's and Catalano's feud.

That battle is hardly out of character for either of the two implacable enemies. Both are aggressive advocates of their cause, willing, when necessary, to test the boundaries of courtesy and propriety to get what they want.

At least three current prosecutors who have opposed Catalano in court say he occasionally crosses the line between strong advocacy and nasty behavior. "It got to the point where I would no longer take his phone calls," says one prosecutor who has dealt frequently with Catalano. For example, he accuses Catalano of fabricating the prosecutor's comments in letters "confirming" their phone conversations, a charge Catalano strongly denies. And according to Mark Vargo, the former DUI prosecutor, Catalano's swipes at opponents often take the form of official complaints.

"I think [Catalano] would bring charges of state misconduct faster than anyone else in the county," Vargo says, adding that he once faced a bar complaint filed by Catalano with the Florida Bar. The bar organization dismissed the complaint without action, Vargo says.

Catalano defends himself against such accusations, insisting that few of his complaints are frivolous -- and that he's only filed about four other charges besides those aimed at Davis. "I complain against people the legal way by filling out forms," he says. "I ask people like Vargo what they would suggest instead. Should we go to some alley and try to punch each other in the nose?"

Some in the legal community view Davis as vengeful, too. A Dade County Court judge, speaking on condition of anonymity, says Davis's obsession with drunk driving indicates an underlying personality problem. She calls him a "gung-ho officer" who often arrests first and asks questions later and should have been fired long ago. "I don't think he exercises a lot of discretion," she says.

Both Catalano and Davis have been willing to use any weapons available to pursue their causes -- and each other. For instance, in March of 1991, about the same time that Catalano was being stung by accusations in the Herald, he also discovered a chance for revenge against Davis. Ironically, his vehicle for retaliation turned out to be the media. Walking around the Dade County courthouse one day, he heard employees talking about Alan Davis's involvement in a controversial case. On October 31, 1990, just over two months after his encounter with Catalano on South Dixie Highway, the police officer had improperly confiscated and erased a private citizen's videotape of an arrest by Davis and another officer of a drunk-driving suspect, Nancy Frost. (See New Times stories April 24, 1991, and July 31, 1991.)

Though Catalano did not represent Frost, after learning of the incident, he took the lead in publicizing the tape erasure in late March and early April 1991. He called several news organizations and wrote letters to the Coral Gables Police Department and the Dade State Attorney's Office. Faced with bad publicity, Davis decided to resign from the task force on June 19, 1991, even before an internal affairs investigation had been completed. Davis and his boss, Coral Gables Police Chief James Butler, dispute Catalano's contention that the resignation was forced. "Officer Davis's commitment to fighting drunk driving ran him into some allegations, some of which constituted a malicious attack on him, that began to affect his work," Butler says. "He decided that it was in the best interest of the task force to move on." (Davis continued to work as a patrol officer until last August, when he requested a transfer to the juvenile division.)

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