FORT LAUDERDALE — A federal jury in Florida awarded $63.5 million on Thursday to a pair of businessmen who claimed a city of Miami commissioner used his office to harass them after they supported the commissioner’s political opponent.
Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo was found civilly liable in Fort Lauderdale federal court of violating the First Amendment rights of Little Havana business owners William Fuller and Martin Pinilla. The six-member jury awarded $8.6 million in compensation and $25.7 million in punitive damages to Fuller, as well as $7.3 million in compensation and $21.9 million in punitive damages to Pinilla.
Carollo’s attorney, Benedict Kuehne, said in a statement that he and his client are disappointed with the verdict and plan to appeal. The city of Miami wasn’t named in the lawsuit, but covered Carollo’s legal fees.
Attorneys for Fuller and Pinilla claimed that Carollo infringed on their free speech rights by weaponizing police and code enforcement to harass them and damage their reputations after they supported another candidate in Carollo’s city commission race in 2017.
Carollo’s attorney said the commissioner wasn’t specifically targeting Fuller and Pinilla but working for the betterment of his district. Carollo, 68, is also a former two-term mayor of Miami.