Judge Alan S. Gold has had a laudable nine years on the federal bench. Since his appointment by President Bill Clinton in 1997, the former Assistant Dade County Attorney and partner at Greenberg Traurig has received accolades (such as the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's 2003 Outstanding Jurist Award) and presided over numerous high-profile cases. In the past eighteen months alone, he has been in the headlines for his rulings on cases involving Haitian detainees' rights, his rejection of Exxon-Mobil's attempt to delay a billion-dollar payment to overcharged customers, and his sentencing of three City of Miami Police officers convicted in a planted gun scandal.
But now five ex-University of Miami Police officers are asking that their case be moved from Gold's court because he failed to disclose his ties with the Coral Gables school. Though the judge, who declined comment, recused himself in two other lawsuits involving UM in the same time period, the ex-cops want to know why he never did so in their case.
The officers first sued UM and the City of Coral Gables in 1996 to gain status as Coral Gables city cops, which would have afforded them more money and benefits. Over the next three years, the lawsuit grew to include allegations involving mismanagement and corruption in the university force.
Then in 1999, UM Police Ofcr. Andrew Allocco and another officer were fired after criticizing university safety procedures and speaking with state police about problems with the UM force. The case was moved to federal district court because the plaintiffs Allocco, Abraham Fernandez, Alex Silva, Steny Garcia-Montes, and John Allen claimed infringement of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Gold threw out the case in 2002. A three-judge panel dismissed it on appeal in December 2003.
That wasn't the end of the saga, though. Allocco says he has amassed about $50,000 in legal bills and hasn't been able to find work in law enforcement since his termination. Moreover, UM and the City of Coral Gables have asked Gold to require the five ex-cops to pay $1.4 million in court costs.
On January 6, the officers fired back by filing an appeal pro se requesting Gold recuse himself. "It doesn't get much clearer than this," Allocco says. "Judge Gold was receiving income from the school for two years while he presided over our case."
According to federal financial disclosure forms and university records, Judge Gold received "noninvestment income" from the University of Miami for two years while he oversaw the suit, and worked there as a law professor for seven years prior to his appointment as a federal judge; his wife, Susan Gold, is a professor and committee chair at the university's School of Medicine; and his law clerk, Christina Ceballos-Levy, was a UM employee while she worked on the case. Ceballos-Levy is now an adjunct professor at the university.
"At the very least, he should have disclosed his affiliations," says attorney Teri Guttman Valdes, who represented the plaintiffs until they ran out of money.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.