Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo dealt a blow to the effort to recall him after a judge determined that 1,900 signed petitions were submitted to the city clerk’s office too late.
Both sides of the legal conflict disagree about the magnitude of the decision.
Carollo and his attorney Benedict Kuehne claimed victory after a virtual court hearing Thursday in which Judge Alan S. Fine ruled that state law required the petitions to be submitted no more than 30 days after the first signature was gathered. That deadline was on a Sunday, when the city clerk’s office is closed. The recall committee submitted 1,900 petitions via email before the 30-day deadline, March 1. The committee submitted the physical petitions the next day.
Hours after receiving the bin full of petitions, the clerk rejected them on the basis that they were not submitted on time. The rejection set off a string of litigation that has moved through circuit and appeals courts over the last few months.
In July, Carollo sued to invalidate the recall effort. Thursday’s hearing was to discuss Carollo’s motion for a temporary injunction. During the hearing, Fine examined the deadline issue and stated that his opinion was that the petitions were late.
Earlier this year when the recall committee sued the city for rejecting the petitions, Fine said the deadline question was complicated because state law does not assign the authority of determining whether a recall petition is timely to any specific public official.
For Carollo’s camp, Thursday marked a victory that they described in a news release as “a ruling struck down the petitions as illegal in violation of clear Florida Law.”
“Finding that the Recall Committee delayed too long when submitting signed petitions to the City of Miami Clerk, the Judge explained that the statute was plain when it set the absolute deadline for turning in the petitions,” reads a statement from Kuehne.
The attorneys for the recall committee were confused after the hearing. They disagreed with the judge’s opinion and expressed concern over the unexpected result because their side had not even responded to Carollo’s lawsuit. The recall team also expected Fine, who has been in possession of the petitions since March, to order delivery of the signatures to the county elections department. The initial lawsuit resulted in a mandate from the Third District Court of Appeals to transmit the petitions, but attorneys for the recall said the mandate has not been enforced.
Much like the rest of this legal saga, expect an appeal.
“While we believe the ruling is incorrect on the law as it disenfranchised voters who signed petitions, there are also major procedural irregularities on the manner the hearing was handled and that the mandate of the appellate court was delayed and never enforced,” said J.C. Planas, an attorney for the committee.
Carollo’s lawsuit technically still continues in court, though Fine’s determination will now prompt the case to move up to the appellate court.
On Friday, Carollo said in a statement that the recall process was flawed from its inception, originating from “special interests intent on removing a commissioner who acted to serve the community and its citizens, and not the back room deals that only benefit the powerful.”
Planas disagreed with the characterization that the court ruled the recount was illegal.
“The judge ruled the petitions were untimely,” he said. “That’s it. We disagree.”