By Michael E. Miller
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Also in early May, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle personally received several phone calls about the Timor case from other prominent Miamians. Among the callers was Benedict Kuehne, an influential attorney and Democratic fundraiser. Kuehne (pronounced cue-knee) telephoned Rundle at her office on May 2 A one of at least three calls he made to her that month, according to phone records maintained by the State Attorney's Office. Rundle, however, says she can't recall what they spoke about. "There have been a number of conversations about a variety of different issues involving this case," she hedges. (Kuehne did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this story.)
Rundle also heard from Miami attorney and prominent Democratic fundraiser Sylvan "Sonny" Holtzman. Phone records at the State Attorney's Office indicate that Holtzman, who is widely considered one of Gov. Lawton Chiles's most powerful allies in South Florida, called Rundle on May 16 regarding the Timor case. Both Holtzman and Rundle remember speaking with one another. But again, when it comes to the details, the participants' memories are extremely hazy. Holtzman says he can't remember who asked him to call Rundle, why he called, or even whether he called about the Timor investigation. "I do remember calling to ask a question," he offers. "I don't recall what the question was about."
Rundle's recollection is a little less fuzzy, but not much. "I vaguely remember speaking to Sonny Holtzman and telling him that the office's comment was going to be a 'no comment,'" she ventures. Was he calling about New Times's inquiries, a la Richard Ovelmen? "I think [so]," Rundle says. "That's my best recollection."
Susanna Timor also tried to intercede in the publication of a story about her case. On May 16 she faxed a handwritten five-page letter to New Times, threatening possible legal action if the paper were to proceed with an article that used prematurely disclosed information from a criminal investigation. "As a result of what you are doing, you will be personally liable for defamation and liable for destroying my name, reputation, and most of my life," she wrote, citing specific federal and state case law.
New Times's story, titled "Coffey Grind," was published two days later and was the first public mention of the Timor investigation.
In the weeks after the article's publication, Timor's friends, as well as former and current colleagues, deluged the State Attorney's Office with sympathetic letters on her behalf. At least 23 letters were sent between May 23 and June 23; most referred to the newspaper story. Among the authors: four assistant U.S. attorneys, two former assistant U.S. attorneys, one soon-to-be assistant U.S. attorney, and a former assistant U.S. attorney who recently rejoined the office.
Many of the writers described Timor as a woman of integrity, dignity, and pride who had suffered a life of hardship. Even Coffey's wife, Joni Armstrong Coffey, composed an eloquent five-page letter describing her "long friendship" with, and respect for, Timor and her family.
Susanna Timor had immigrated to the U.S. with her mother and two sisters at the age of six, and married when she was seventeen. She had her first daughter the following year, but within a few years had divorced, remarried, and given birth to a second daughter, who was born with mental and physical handicaps.
"At this point, Susanna was 24 years old, working outside the home, taking care of a house, two children, a husband, and going to school to obtain a paralegal degree," one friend, Michelle Alvarez, wrote to Assistant State Attorney Mary Cagle. "Once again, her marriage would end up in divorce." Alvarez, now an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote the letter before joining Coffey's office. Her two-page letter ends with this appeal, typical of the correspondence: "Susanna lives a life full of struggle, constantly fighting for her disabled child's education and welfare. . . . I tell you this not because Susanna needs pity but because, as a friend I know that she can sometimes come across as not trusting, insensitive, and abrasive. I know that she is not; she is a product, a result, of the cards her life has dealt. . . . I ask you, humbly, to take this into consideration and not charge her."
Not all the correspondence shared this gentle tone. On June 3 Rundle discovered an anonymous letter among her mail at home. The typewritten note, which was signed "Your supporters," alleged that "a great injustice involving your department is about to take place." While it didn't mention Timor by name, the letter described a case involving the insurance-fraud prosecution of "a single mother of a handicapped child," continuing, "We sincerely believe that she is going to be charged only because she works for an important public figure and the prosecutor from your office feels that she can get some mileage out of this case."
They knew a dirty secret, the letter's authors declared, and alleged that Rundle and her husband had improperly secured a home mortgage: "At the time of your loan application, your husband had recently resigned his position with the Public Defender's Office and since he had not been at his new practice for more than a year, you were informed that his income could not be used for qualification purposes. Since your new salary was not sufficient to make you qualify, some creativity was required to make you secure that mortgage. . . .