Two Key Biscayne Residents entered not guilty pleas to charges arising out of their alleged refusal to wear face masks at a heavily-attended meeting about the Rickenbacker Causeway last month.
The two residents, Nina Wallin and Alex Serrano, are being represented by a nationally-known criminal defense attorney, Benedict Kuehne. At Wallin’s arraignment Monday, Kuehne told Circuit Court Judge Fred Seraphin that the cases could be heard by the same judge, and Seraphin tentatively agreed. An initial trial date of March 7 was mentioned, but trial dates are very frequently delayed.
Key Biscayne police arrested Wallin and Serrano Sept. 22 after they allegedly refused to comply with orders to put on a mask or vacate the Community Center. Wallin faces charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence; Serrano faces charges of disorderly conduct and trespass after warning. All of the charges are misdemeanors.
Kuehne, a past president of the Dade County Bar Association, declined to say whether his involvement signals a broader move to challenge Key Biscayne’s mask policy, saying only that his clients are innocent of the charges and that they have pleaded not guilty.
But Wallin and Serrano had reached out to Village officials long before the events at the town hall, including discussions with the Village Manager and police chief, asking about enforcement of the Village’s mask policy, officials said.
“They have an agenda,” said Jason Younes, who was interim police chief. “We tried to be as polite as possible and I think our demeanor shows that.”
Wallin and Serrano’s criticism of Village policies goes back months, with both making comments at Village Council meetings.
Serrano wrote to Manager Steve Williamson Sept. 6, identifying himself as the executive director of the Miami-Dade chapter of County Citizens Defending Freedom, a group that has opposed mask policies elsewhere in the state. Serrano appeared in one of the group’s videos on Facebook, as members of the group posed with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump.
Kuehne said he and his firm are only representing their clients. “No other person, entity, or organizations. Just these two individuals,” he said.
Williamson set the mask policy in August. It requires that masks be worn indoors at all Village facilities, similar to rules in place in Miami-Dade County and other South Florida governments.
The Village police department, like other agencies, has had its own struggles with COVID-19. In September, two officers contracted coronavirus, causing a slight strain as the department was in the process of filling vacancies, officials said.
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.