Service with a Smile

The simple act of delivering a subpoena can get tricky when it involves Joe Gersten and the prosecutor who is after him

Had Joe Gersten himself been here to orchestrate events minute by minute, it's unlikely the Great Subpoena Caper could have unfolded more bizarrely. It seems clear, though, that Dade County's favorite former-commissioner-in-exile hoped for some sort of incident, some type of media mayhem that would spring from his most recent effort to publicly humiliate the State Attorney's Office. But this latest twist is probably more than he ever could have hoped for.

Gersten's history is well-known. In April 1992, he reported his car stolen from his Coral Gables home. But when the thieves were caught, they said they swiped it from Gersten while the commissioner was in a drug den off Biscayne Boulevard, smoking crack with a hooker. Since then Gersten has refused to answer prosecutors' questions about that night. Recently the Florida Bar began its own investigation to determine whether Gersten A who left South Florida more than six months ago and is facing contempt of court for not testifying about the incident A should be disciplined or even disbarred for his conduct. Gersten, together with his attorney, Carmen Calzon, hatched an idea: They would use the Bar proceedings as a way of attacking prosecutors.

Gersten wanted the two prosecutors most responsible for making his life miserable A Chief Assistant State Attorney Michael Band and Richard Gregorie, who is now an assistant U.S. attorney A subpoenaed to testify at one of the Bar hearings. Calzon would then be provided the unique opportunity to grill the prosecutors under oath, ostensibly to reveal their alleged malice toward Gersten but also perhaps to ferret out any evidence the state had gathered thus far. At the very least, Gersten and Calzon could inflict some measure of aggravation upon Band and Gregorie.

Television coverage would be nice. Place the prosecutors under the bright lights and show them on the six o'clock news being served with subpoenas, as if they were the criminals. "I talked to [Channel 7 reporter] Carmel Cafiero," Calzon explains. "She regularly calls me to see what's going on in the case." The last time Cafiero called, Calzon explained her plan to subpoena Band and Gregorie. "She asked if she could come along," Calzon adds, "and I said, 'Hey, I don't care. It's a public building.'"

So on Friday, March 4, Calzon, Cafiero, and her cameraman gathered in the lobby of the Dade State Attorney's Office. Also present was the most important actor in this staged bit of drama: the process server, Jose Lopez-Trigo, who on cue would shove the subpoenas into the hands of the hapless prosecutors.

The foursome rode the elevator to the second floor, where Michael Band's office is located. When told he was meeting with his boss, Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the pack trooped up to the fourth floor and told Rundle's secretary to send out Band so he could be served his subpoena. Band refused to leave his meeting, and the group was asked to wait downstairs in the lobby.

At one point Band's secretary came down and offered to accept the subpoena in his behalf, but Gersten's attorney was adamant: Band had to receive it himself, otherwise there would be no way to guarantee that he would see it in time for the Bar hearing, which was scheduled for Monday, March 7. The group waited more than two hours until they were finally told that Band had gone home. The day wasn't a total loss, however; the camera crew did record Gregorie receiving his subpoena.

Gersten's attorney, of course, still wanted Band to be served. "So that night," Jose Lopez-Trigo says, "I went out to Michael Band's house." But how did he obtain Band's unlisted home address? "It's my job," responds 29-year-old Lopez-Trigo, who has been a process server since 1991. Pushed for more details, Lopez-Trigo claims that in January, while serving a subpoena in a residential neighborhood of Miami Beach, he spotted Band, who he says he recognized. The prosecutor was walking up to the front door of a house, and Lopez-Trigo assumed that must be where Band lived.

After his frustrating experience at the State Attorney's Office, Lopez-Trigo says he didn't want to risk missing Band, so he waited until about 10:30 p.m. to make his move. Riding along with him was 31-year-old Ibis Hernandez, a rookie process server whose swearing-in ceremony had taken place just the day before.

With his car engine running, and Hernandez waiting nervously behind the wheel, Lopez-Trigo knocked on Band's front door. Moments later, barefoot and dressed only in a gray bathrobe, Band answered. "I said, 'I'm the process server that tried to serve you at the State Attorney's Office for two hours but you wouldn't come down, so I'm here to serve you now,'" Lopez-Trigo says, adding that he then read Band the basic contents of the subpoena A the date, place, and time when Band's presence was required.

According to Lopez-Trigo, Band screamed, "Fuck you!" and slammed the door in his face. The process server claims he then placed a copy of the subpoena in the screen door, turned around, and began walking back to his car. "At that point he's served," he explains. As Lopez-Trigo walked toward the car, Hernandez says she saw Band come flying out of his house. "I yelled, 'Watch out!'" Hernandez recalls.

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