CITY ATTORNEY BALKS!
Jose Smith refuses to explain a $26,741 write off
By David Arthur Walters
THE MIAMI MIRROR
August 5, 2012
MIAMI BEACH—Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith responded hastily with a personal insult and begged the question when asked to provide public records and explain why First Assistant City Attorney Steven Rothstein, Esq. overruled Special Master Babak Movahedi’s August 11, 2011 denial to mitigate a fine of $29,261.34 and release a lien on a luxury Continuum condominium (Case BV09001224). I had referred to his office’s “slipshod” procedures somewhere in the first three articles of my series ‘Getting Ahead of The Job Con, appearing in the Miami Mirror and in the SunPost.
The condominium owner, Margret Asgeirsdottir, wife to Skuli Mogensen, was cited for starting construction without a permit. The contractor involved, Jihad Doujeiji dba Sharron Lewis Design Central, who appeared from the documentation to be acting as the owner’s agent from the beginning of construction, appeared on her behalf at the August 11 hearing to argue that she had not received proper notice. I received information from a confidential informant that the argument at the hearing was specious, that the notice was not really defective. The Order did not specify findings of fact and conclusions of law other than “DENIED,” so we may assume the opposing argument was totally without merit. That Order was supposedly appealed to the Circuit Court, but I could find no record of it actually being filed with the court. A terse directive was simply issued by the City Attorney’s Office to the Special Master, citing no authority, to close the case due to defective notice. I suspected that the City Attorney’s processing of the matter was defective.
“The file I obtained from the city clerk discloses no legal reasoning whatsoever for lifting the lien and dismissing the fine,” I wrote, “except that the original notice was defective. Since the Special Master would have none of that argument, it is reasonable to question Mr. Rothstein’s motives for the decision, hopefully based on legal reasoning supported by case law if not your specific instructions as his superior. In any case, I believe your office should be accountable to persons besides the City Manager and the City Commissioners, and that the public has a right to know why the violator got away with murder in this case, figuratively speaking.”
His response was immediate: “My comment is that before you accuse anyone of wrongdoing you should know the subject you are writing about! And you call yourself a "journalist?” He said the notice was defective because it was defective, and an appeal to the circuit court was filed. He noted that I myself had said $2,520 was paid. He did not address my public record request nor say there were no other records, but simply spoke to the portion of the record I had provided.
I replied that I saw no evidence that the appeal had actually been filed or that the circuit court had ruled in the defendant’s favor. I wanted those records. Why would the defendant pay $2,500 if the notice were defective? A settlement agreement should be in the public record. Incidentally, I remarked, the defendant and her husband were extraordinarily affluent persons to whom $30,000 was small change, so I offered Mr. Smith a $30,000 chair to contemplate on.
Mr. Smith responded that the late A.C. Weinstein, a popular SunPost journalist who had given up his muckraking to become Chief of Staff to Mayor Dermer and then Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, was “spinning in his grave.” I said he was spinning because he still inhales, and that Mr. Smith’s reference was apt because A.C. had sold out—no insult intended, but I was still an independent journalist.
“All records you requested were already provided to you. Don't waste your time asking for the same thing multiple times. My office will not provide you with a tutorial on due process, service of process or constitutional law. Get your own lawyer!”
I referred the issue to Joe Centorino, Director, Miami Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust for assistance in having my request fulfilled. I copied Mr. Smith, who then contacted the SunPost to discredit me—the racy details will appear elsewhere. The SunPost had accepted the fourth article in my ‘Getting Ahead of The Job Con’ series for publication August 6 but did not run it.
Mr. Centorino wanted evidence of withheld records. I said I would submit particulars unless Mr. Smith extended me the courtesy of addressing the points I raised in support of my thesis that there must be more information than was disclosed, the absence of which might reflect badly on the procedures and prowess of his department unless some reasonable explanation were given for the lack.