Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo has sued to stop the recall petition against him, an unsurprising maneuver in the legal saga that has for months stymied the effort to oust the politician.
Carollo’s attorney, Benedict Kuehne, filed suit Thursday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. Carollo seeks to derail the recall by preventing the delivery of 1,900 signed petitions to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections and arguing the several aspects of the recall campaign are invalid.
In his complaint, Carollo requests an immediate injunction to block the petitions from being taken to the county elections headquarters while the court determines the validity of the recall process. The lawsuit names the chairman of the recall group, Robert Piper, Supervisor of Elections Christina White and Miami City Clerk Todd Hannon as defendants.
It is the second suit filed since the recall committee, Take Back Our City, submitted the petitions to the clerk at Miami City Hall on March 2. Hannon rejected those petitions, saying they were submitted too late. The recall organizers sued to compel the city to turn the petitions over to the elections department. Judge Alan S. Fine ruled that the city must submit the petitions, and the city later lost appeals.
Fine only ruled on whether the petitions should be handed over to the elections department, not on whether the petitions were submitted on time. The state law is unclear on who has authority to determine a petition’s timeliness, Fine said.
The issue was expected to form at least part of the basis of a lawsuit from Carollo. Kuehne argues that the petitions were submitted late, the justification for the recall does not pass legal muster and the committee illegally used paid signature collectors.
“Commissioner Carollo and the voters of City of Miami Commission District 3 have suffered and will suffer irreparable harm through the further pursuit of the illegal recall process,” reads the lawsuit. “Allowing the illegal recall to continue will improperly permit the Clerk and the Supervisor of Elections to pursue an illegal recall.”
The recall campaign has pointed to controversies that have marked Carollo’s return to politics since his election to the City Commission in November 2017 after a 16-year absence. Carollo’s been accused of using his position to push the city’s code enforcement officers to target properties owned by Ball and Chain co-owner and Little Havana businessman Bill Fuller.
Carollo’s called the charges against him “lies,” pointing out that Fuller’s properties have had proven code violations like other place in his district. The commissioner is fighting a separate legal battle on that matter in federal court after Fuller sued in 2018. The city has paid Kuehne nearly $200,000 to defend Carollo in that lawsuit through April 2020, according to records.
An attorney for the recall committee, J.C. Planas, said the lawsuit “was always expected,” but the fact that he’s suing in his official capacity as a Miami commissioner indicates Carollo wants taxpayers to pay his legal bills.
“We look forward to showing the residents of Miami just how low this man can actually go,” Planas said.
City Attorney Victoria Méndez told the Miami Herald the city has not paid Kuehne to represent Carollo so far on the recall issue, but she cited Florida Supreme Court case law that states elected officials should not have to incur personal expenses to ensure a recall committee follows the proper procedures.
“If he wins city would have to pay for his fees,” she said.
Planas and another attorney for the recall group, David Winker, criticized Méndez after revealing that she and other city attorneys began researching legal questions about recall elections before the petition drive officially began. The recall committee accused Méndez of improperly expending city resources to prepare for a taxpayer-funded legal defense of Carollo’s interests.
Read the full complaint below: