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Bruce Matheson Loses Fight Over Miami's Beckham Soccer Referendum

Richard J. Ovelmen. Copyright 2013, Gittings

Bruce Matheson has lost his legal fight over a Miami referendum on David Beckham's planned soccer stadium, which is set to take over a public golf course.

Matheson, whose forebears helped settle Miami and donated land for public parks, sued the city  to invalidate the ballot question, claiming the language was misleading and the content was too limited.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Mavel Ruiz on Thursday sided with the city and granted its summary judgment motion. She also denied Matheson's request for summary judgment.

Both the ballot language and the charter amendment approved by voters complied with the law and disclosed pertinent information to voters, Ruiz said in her order.

"The voters were told they were authorizing the city to negotiate a lease of city property to develop a soccer stadium and the material terms of the lease were listed below, including the minimum rent to be paid, the parties to the lease, the property location and ancillary facilities," Ruiz wrote. "In addition, the ballot told the voters that bidding would be waived for this project."

Matheson's attorney, Carlton Fields shareholder Richard Ovelmen in Miami, said the order would be appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal.

"We respectfully disagree with the trial court’s decision," he said in an email Friday.

Ovelmen and fellow Miami shareholder Enrique Arana filed the two-count lawsuit last October. About two weeks later, voters approved the referendum allowing the city to negotiate a 99-year lease with Miami Freedom Park LLC for the Melreese golf course. A 25,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium and more than 1 million square feet of unrelated commercial development is planned.

The ballot language didn't tell voters a city lease normally requires competitive bidding to ensure the city gets top dollar for its land and failed to say the measure amounted to a bidding waiver and lacked lease terms, Arana wrote in a Nov. 16 summary judgment motion. The word "competitive" was missing from the ballot.

The complaint noted significant project details weren't disclosed as the ballot gave only the minimum size of the project instead of the maximum and didn't explain the $3.6 million annual rent, which opponents say is less than fair market value.

It's unreasonable and untenable to include so much information in a ballot description that by law is limited to 75 words, Ruiz decided.

"The summary explains the essential details of the proposed changes to the city's charter within the 75-word limit. It is not clearly and conclusively defective as is required to strike it under the law," she wrote.

The city's Nov. 16 summary judgment motion said the language met the requirements of state law and the city charter, and argued meeting Matheson's standard would have exceeded the 75-word threshold.

City Attorney Victoria Mendez said Friday that the city is pleased with the outcome.

This is the third stadium challenge to fail. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Reemberto Diaz last August tossed out a lawsuit against the city and top officials who were accused of skirting their own rules when they approved the referendum.

Last week, the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission cleared Beckham and some of his project partners of accusations that they lobbied the city for the project without properly registering. Miami attorney David Winker, who filed the ethics complaint, has two other lawsuits pending against the city over the soccer stadium proposal.

Related stories: 

David Beckham, Mas Brothers Cleared of Improper Lobbying Claims

Legal Challenge to David Beckham Soccer Stadium in Miami Tossed Out, Appeal Planned

Failure to Specify Location Should Kill Miami Soccer Stadium Talks, Lawsuit Says