By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
He had hoped that forming a Constitutional Common Law Court in Dade County, along the lines of Ippolito's, would provide him with a forum to litigate his cases. But even other local extremists have balked at such open defiance of the system. "Apathy," he sneers. "Apathy to me is tyranny."
But Blake's war on the legal profession isn't limited to his larger crusade. He also seems determined to personally antagonize as many attorneys as possible, by hiring them, assailing their work, then firing them. In late 1995 this cycle led Blake to the door of George L. Garcia's one-man practice in a Little Havana strip mall. Garcia, then 40 years old, handled mostly small-time criminal cases.
A fellow attorney familiar with Garcia's work describes him as a "jail rat." He spends much of his time at the county jail, offering his services to the newly incarcerated. He also acts as a registered agent for some thirteen Florida corporations, according to state records. Many of these firms are run by his relatives.
At the time he agreed to represent Joe Blake in his case against Public Storage, George Garcia himself had already shot and killed a man. During a home-invasion robbery of his uncle's house in 1994, Garcia shot two intruders, killing one of them. Miami police deemed the shooting justified, and no charges were filed against Garcia.
The cranky old lawyer-hater and the attorney unafraid to defend himself with lethal force quickly found themselves at loggerheads. After a particularly frustrating court date on January 23, 1996, Blake hopped in his beat-up 1986 Cadillac Cimarron and followed Garcia back to his office. When he got there, he says, he told Garcia he was firing him and demanded that Garcia return his case file.
Garcia's office is a tiny, two-room affair, including a small reception area. Blake says he hovered over Garcia for some 40 minutes, moving between the two rooms as Garcia worked on other things without giving Blake the file. Finally, Blake says, he confronted the younger man in his office. Garcia was behind his desk, Blake in front of it. "I pounded the desk and said, 'Damn it, George, I want my goddamn file and I want it now.'"
Garcia then reached into his desk drawer and pulled out not Blake's file but the Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol for which he had a concealed-weapon permit. It was loaded. Glocks do not have a safety.
Blake claims Garcia pointed the gun at him and ordered him out of the office. "I said, 'Go ahead and shoot, George, but I'm not leaving without my file,'" Blake recalls. Garcia then put the gun back in the drawer, gathered up Blake's file, and gave it to him. Blake says he went to a nearby gas station, took a good twenty minutes to calm himself down, then called Miami police.
Two patrol officers accompanied Blake back to Garcia's office and called for a detective. According to the cops' sworn depositions in the case, Garcia admitted pulling out the gun and said he felt threatened by Blake. "No matter how nasty he can get, you can see [Blake] is a feeble old man who has a lot of health problems," patrolman Brendan Monroe stated in his deposition. "There's no way a young, vital male is going to be threatened by him."
Garcia also denied pointing the gun directly at Blake. Even so, the officers and the detective (ironically, a detective who had worked on the home-invasion homicide case in which Garcia had been cleared a year before) reached the same conclusion: It still sounded like aggravated assault. They arrested Garcia. Blake has not seen his former attorney since that day. But two months after the aggravated assault charge was filed, the case took a turn for the weird.
During those two months, Garcia's attorney worked feverishly to get the charges dropped, or at least reduced to a misdemeanor. By March 1996 it was clear that the State Attorney's Office was ready to proceed.
On March 25 Garcia called police to complain that a client of his, a homeless crack addict named Rafael Hernandez Palacios, had assaulted him in his office and was trying to extort money from him. He told police where to find Hernandez.
Hernandez told police a different story: Garcia had given him $400, telling him to hire someone to kill "the old man." In a 330-page deposition, Hernandez said the same thing, that Garcia had talked to him about the aggravated assault charge Blake had filed. "If his case was not dropped, something must be done to that man," Hernandez stated. "He began to tell me it was an elderly person, that he was about 80 years old, and that person had charged him with something, and that he did not want to lose his license [to practice law]."
Hernandez goes on to say that Garcia was hoping the assault charge would go away because of Blake's criminal record: "But if the case were not dropped, he needed my help. I asked him what kind of help. He said, 'Any kind of help. I don't care if I have to kill him, as long as I do not lose my license.'"