MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Barbara Areces denied a motion from suspended Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito to stop two Miami commissioners from voting on whether he should keep his job or be fired.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Exposito claimed Commissioners Francis Suarez and Wilfredo Gort would not be impartial because they are biased and have already expressed their opinions saying the chief should go.
Exposito’s 12-page complaint said “neither commissioners Gort nor Suarez should be permitted to consider the aforementioned charges against Chief Exposito insofar as it appears that they are unable to sit as objective and impartial triers of the allegations in question.”
Thursday morning, Judge Barbara Areces dismissed Exposito’s injunction petition, saying there is no legal precedent to force elected officials to sit out a vote because they have expressed an opinion.
Exposito’s attorney Ruben Chavez argued before the court, “They have already predetermined the issues before them without even listening to the evidence that is going to be put before them tomorrow.”
The city argued commissioners are entitled to their opinions.
“The only way they are precluded from voting is if they have a conflict of interest,” argued back Scott Cole, an attorney who represented the City of Miami.
In the end, the judge agreed bias is not a conflict of interest.
“I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m just saying according to the charter, it’s what I have to follow. I don’t see that I can grant the injunction,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Barbara Areces.
After the hearing, Exposito told reporters outside the courthouse that he can’t talk about the legal battle for his job.
“I cannot comment without prior permission from the City Manager, so I’m sorry but that’s the rule or else I’d be insubordinate,” stated Exposito. He then left the courthouse with police protection.
The full commission will convene as scheduled Friday to decide Exposito’s future.
Exposito was suspended Tuesday by City Manager Johnny Martinez who named 31-year police force veteran Maj. Manuel Orosa acting chief.
“I have taken this action because you have failed to obey my orders and have taken other actions that indicate just and reasonable cause to demonstrate that you cannot properly perform your duties as the Chief of Police,” stated a memo sent from Martinez to Exposito.
The City Manager cited two specific actions for the suspension. The first involved an issue that took place last month when Martinez refused to give Exposito permission to demote three high-ranking police staffers. Martinez asked for more information before signing off on the move. Exposito nevertheless stripped the officers of their authority by reassigning them to desk jobs.
The second had to deal with overtime
“You have continued to disregard my request about reducing overtime expenses by organizational restructuring,” stated Martinez in the memo.
Miami commissioners will meet at 9:00 a.m. Friday to hear the city manager’s case and Exposito’s defense, before it ultimately decides the suspended chief’s fate. If commissioners don’t override Martinez’ decision, Exposito will be terminated.
During Thursday’s hearing, Exposito’s attorney tipped his hand on what their defense will be before the commission.
“We will show that the officers at issue were not demoted or otherwise stripped of their positions. Their salaries and rank remained the same,” stated Chavez. Chavez claimed Exposito rearranged the way information was processed through the department.
As to not fixing overtime issues, the suspended chief plans to argue he was never ordered to do so.
“It was not a directive but a suggestion,” said Chavez.
Outside the courthouse, Chavez pledged to bring a strong case to Friday’s commission meeting.
Michelle Spence Jones, who was recently restored to her commission seat after grand theft charges against her were dismissed, is considered to be the swing vote.
“I think it’s really important that we shouldn’t rush to judgment,” she told CBS4’s Jawan Strader. “I think that you have to look at both sides. You know listen to the city manager’s side and listen to the chief’s side and you make a decision from there. For me, someone who has actually gone through the process, I understand the importance of weighing both sides
Spence Jones said commission needs to focus more attention on the city’s most pressing issue – dealing with a $61 million budget shortfall.
Two other commissioners also expressed opinions on Martinez’s decision to suspend the chief Tuesday, though they refrained from saying how they would vote on Exposito’s termination. Commissioners Frank Carollo and Marc Sarnoff said it was bad timing to suspend Exposito before two important budget hearings in September. Sarnoff also praised Exposito’s tenure.
Neither commissioner was mentioned in Exposito’s lawsuit.
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