A lawsuit challenging the $100 million resiliency bond in Key Biscayne was kept alive Tuesday by a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, who suggested dismissal was procedurally premature. A lawyer for a bond critic says he is planning to take sworn depositions in the case.
Voters approved the bond referendum in November by 57-43 margin to combat sea level rise, including projects like beach renourishment and burying electrical power lines. Property owner Gustavo Tellez filed suit before the election, arguing the ballot wording was misleading and that materials provided to voters were not legally sufficient. Among the alleged legal defects were the fact that the November ballot read “for bonds” and “against bonds” instead of “yes” and “no” as set forth in the Village Charter.
But in a 25-minute hearing, Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen turned aside arguments from the Village that the lawsuit simply didn’t state a credible basis to proceed. The judge ruled the Village will have to wait for Tellez to make his case.
“That perhaps, arguably, would be an excellent argument in a different type of motion,” Ruiz Cohen told Villlage Attorney Joseph Serota. “My problem is that we’re here on a motion to dismiss.”
Plaintiff’s attorney David Winker said one area the court will have to determine is whether village voters had the proper amount of information available before the vote. He said he is preparing to take depositions of a number of people to find out how the bond measure was placed on the ballot.
“We are going to have a real lawsuit,” Winker said. “We need to understand the genesis of some of this stuff.”
Mayor Mike Davey said the ruling was not unexpected. “It’s hard to win a motion to dismiss in state court. We will go to summary judgment and I’m confident we’ll win,” he said, calling Winker’s arguments “specious.” Davey said the ruling will have no impact on planning for resiliency projects.
“We’re moving forward,” he said.
The online court session featured a reunion of sorts of many of the bond’s opponents, including defeated council candidates Jennifer Allegra and Louisa Conway. Council Member Ignacio Segurola, another bond opponent, also attended the hearing.
Judge Ruiz Cohen ordered that a person who attempted to attend under the name “Cash Poor KB Resident” be removed from the call.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.