Reporting Gary Nelson
Legislative Session Coverage
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The intrigue surrounding whether Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones can seek a third term took another turn Friday when CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald discovered the judge who ruled against her this week once investigated her in a public corruption case.
According to the Herald, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge E. Cueto’s lack of disclosure about his past could affect the outcome of his ruling issued Tuesday that said Spence-Jones couldn’t seek a third-term in office.
The Herald reported that Spence-Jones’ lawyer knew Cueto had worked as a prosecutor but only found out on Wednesday that the judge had once investigated Spence-Jones for allegedly shaking down a developer seeking approval for a condo-tower project.
“I was shocked, I was stunned,” Spence-Jones told CBS4’s Gary Nelson Friday. “We got this anonymous tip that, hey, you need to check the judge.”
Cueto ruled earlier this week that Spence-Jones couldn’t run for a third term in November, despite Spence-Jones being suspended for office for roughly two years while she fought felony charges in other corruption cases.
Cueto said the city charter limited Spence-Jones to two terms because she “was elected and qualified for two consecutive full terms.”
What Cueto did not reveal was that he was a member of a public corruption unit that targeted Spence-Jones in multiple investigations, none of them successful. A Miami-Dade jury all but laughed the most serious case against Spence-Jones out of court, finding her not guilty on all counts in a matter of minutes.
Spence-Jones said she was incredulous to learn that Cueto, who shot down her political hopes this week, once had her in his cross hairs as a prosecutor. She said it’s inconceivable that he would fail to reveal so huge a conflict:
“’I was a prosecutor and I was actually involved in a case against Miss Jones,’ and if he had said that, ‘does anybody have a an issue with that?’ I would have been the first one to raise my hand saying ‘Yes, I have an issue with that, Judge,’” Spence-Jones said.
“He should have disclosed, he should have recused himself from it. I was blown away,” Spence-Jones said in the interview at her home in Liberty City.
Spence-Jones has filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, alleging she was the target of a series of baseless, politically motivated prosecutions.
In learning that the Judge who ruled against her political aspirations this week previously worked to nail her in a criminal case, Spence-Jones stopped just short of wondering how deep the alleged conspiracy against her might run.
“To be hit with this, you know, it’s like, wow. It’s almost like, in a sense, reliving everything I have been through,” she said.
Judge Cueto, through a court spokesperson, declined to comment for this report, noting the case is on going.
Spence-Jones hopes to be back in front of the Judge – who once sought to put her away – and persuade him to step away, allowing a less entangled jurist to hear her case.
Her attorney, Bruce Rogow, is preparing motions seeking Cueto’s removal from the case.