Spence-Jones Arraigned, Supreme Court Lawyer Bruce Rogow Calls Indictment 'Hogwash'
Michelle Spence-Jones did not enter a plea today on the latest bribery charges brought against her. Instead, she asked the court to dismiss them for being too vague.
Two weeks ago, when she was arrested again for allegedly soliciting money from a local developer, readers responded in typically measured Miami fashion: "What a horrible woman," someone commented. "Hey [MSJ's lawyer] Mr. Keuhne, how do like them apples?" wrote P. Nis.
Commenter 'Peaches and Herbs,' penned a little poem: "There's one perfect fit and for you jail is it.
Charlies so excited 'cuz you're re-indicted, hey-hey." Hey, hey, indeed. Soon after, even Governor Charlie Crist piled on, renewing his pledge to suspend the former commissioner even if she wins her still-pending civil suit against him. 'Wrong is wrong. An indictment is an indictment," Crist told the Herald then.
But at least one constitutional scholar, Bruce Rogow, the guy who represented the Palm Beach Canvassing Board in the 2000 election, agrees with her. And he goes further: this latest indictment might have even blown prosecutors' criminal case. "There's plenty of evidence that she was indicted because she dared to challenge the governor," Rogow says.
Spence-Jones was indicted two weeks ago for soliciting a bribe from MDM Hotel Group, Inc, and local developer Armando Codina's Codina Group Inc. Prosecutors say Codina gave money to one of Spence-Jones' charities to get her help in re-naming a part of SE Second as Brickell Avenue.
In a motion filed Thursday, Peter Raben, Spence-Jones' criminal attorney, argued the indictment is too vague for him to prepare a proper defense, the Miami Herald reported. He also sought to dismiss Spence-Jones' grand theft charge from November.
Unmentioned in the motion is the wonky timing of this March indictment. Spence-Jones has been fighting Crist's suspension after her re-election win since January. Her lawyers contend that the constitution only authorizes the governor to suspend an elected official who's been indicted, which she hadn't been until two weeks ago. Up until then, the ex-commissioner had only been "informed" of her criminal charges.
Sensing that Victoria Platzer, the Miami Dade Circuit Court Judge ruling on the civil suit, had mainly bought that argument, prosecutors scrambled to band-aid their bungled case with an indictment, Rogow says. The Nova Southeastern University professor, who's also appeared before the Supreme Court 11 times, says this "latest wrinkle is amusing," a "transparent" attempt "to save the governor's removal order."
"I think watching this kabuki dance is going to work towards her benefit," he says. "The state attorney's office should have acknowledged, 'Hey, she beat us on the law and let's see what happens in the criminal case,' but now I think they've blown the criminal case." These new bribery charges are suspect, Rogow adds, because only Spence-Jones has been indicted, not the person doing the bribing. Plus, it's going to be difficult to prove that Codina had an ulterior motive in donating to MSJ's charity, Friends of MLK Trust.
For his part, Codina has told the Herald there was no expectation of a yes-vote on the SE Second renaming from his donation. "What this all proves is that the state is pulling every stop to try to undo the fact that she got elected despite her problems," Rogow says. "It was certainly a fair election. The bottom line is the people said, 'We like our rascal,' and so the people are entitled to have their rascal."
Circuit Court judge Yvone Colodny will rule on today's motions March 30.
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