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Did Miami City Attorney Mendez break the law in Carollo recall? Let’s find out | Editorial

Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez is under fire for forgetting whom she represents. And it’s not troublemaking Commissioner Joe Carollo, who is being dogged by a vigorous petition recall effort for abuse of power and more. She represents the commission, yes, but ultimately, the rights and concerns of the residents of Miami.

The leaders of the Carollo recall effort, attorneys J.C. Planas and David Winker — and their financial backer former Miami City Manager Joe Arriola — are rightly tired of Carollo’s increasingly voracious appetite for power at any cost.

They are locked in a legal battle with the city over whether the 1,900 signatures were turned over to the city by the deadline.

Petitions rejected

The city rejected the petitions saying they were late. The Planas group sued. Tuesday, a judge ordered the city to send the signed petitions to the county elections department, as required, for verification; Méndez is appealing the order. But the Planas group makes a credible case that the city attorney is intruding into what is a county Elections Department issue. After all, a recall entails residents casting a ballot.

Within the legal squabble over the petitions are more insidious allegations, as some of Méndez’s maneuvers look for all the world like an attempt to block the recall effort, essentially, working on behalf of the wrong “client,” Carollo. It’s no secret that Carollo is Méndez’s protector on the dais, and emails obtained by Miami blogger Elaine de Valle, who writes, reveal how Méndez and assistant city attorneys allegedly conspired to protect Carollo from the recall.

The emails show how a small cadre of attorneys under Méndez, faced with the realization that a 30-day deadline for the signatures to be turned in would fall on a weekend, agreed to enforce an earlier date as the cut-off, instead of the next business day after the weekend. The recall group turned in the petitions electronically that weekend and then in person on the Monday. They were told by the city clerk that they were late. End of recall effort? Not even close.

The recall group sued, and Planas, Winker and Arriola say Méndez has been actively trying to stop, delay and obstruct their action, as if she were Carollo’s “private law firm,” Planas said. He accuses Méndez of breaking the law and trying to silence the people of Miami. At the very least, Méndez’s actions warrant an ethics investigation. There also needs to be an independent investigation into whether she indeed did violate state law.

Mendez: It’s my job

In an email to the Editorial Board, Méndez defended her actions, calling them part of her legal work to do the research her emails revealed. She said Winker and Planas’ comments “are using the media to create a narrative that is highly inflammatory and untrue. An attorney always thinks ahead and researches upcoming issues,” Méndez wrote.

She is also at odds with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who this week said he planned to sue Méndez and the city for infringing on his mayoral veto powers. Suarez told the Editorial Board that Méndez’s emails in the Carollo petition case show she’s “out of control and should resign.” She’s supposed to represent the city of Miami and its people, the mayor said. He’s right. She should be guiding the commission in its quest to best serve constituents’ interests.

Also, on Thursday, commissioners will take up on second reading an ordinance that would limit to once a year how often commissioners can be recalled. On its face, it’s a self-interested piece of legislation that’s one more effort to silence Miamians’ voices. That’s not the case in the recall effort, where voters, again, will be asked to make a choice.

The ordinance, however, forces them to wear a muzzle.

This story was originally published March 11, 2020 5:00 AM.

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