JANUARY 15, 2010
A criminally charged and ethically challenged Florida politician who compares herself to Martin Luther King claims the state statute that led to her removal is unconstitutional because it gives the governor “unfettered discretion” in deciding who to suspend.
Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has twice been suspended by Florida Governor Charlie Crist amid serious corruption charges that she siphoned at least $50,000 in county funds to a family business. In mid November the Miami-Dade County prosecutor’s office charged her with grand theft and the governor subsequently suspended her.
The city spent $200,000 for a special election to fill Spence-Jones’s seat this week and, incredibly, voters sent the disgraced politician back to City Hall. Spence-Jones represents Miami’s crime-infested poor black neighborhoods and is largely viewed as a sort of hero by the 63,000 residents who live in the run down inner-city area that includes Liberty City and Overtown.
A day after being reelected—albeit in the shadow of serious criminal charges—Crist ousted Spence-Jones again, correctly claiming that the state Constitution empowers him to suspend an elected official who has been criminally charged and that a separate state law gives him even broader powers to remove her.
Crist states in his executive order that Article IV, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution provides that the governor may suspend from office any elected municipal official indicted for a crime and Florida Statute section 112.51 provides that the governor may suspend from office any elected municipal official who has committed malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty or is indicted or informed against for the commission of a state felony or misdemeanor.
Spence-Jones has initiated a publicity-laden legal battle, claiming in a complaint that the statute allowing the governor to remove her is unconstitutional because it gives him “unfettered discretion” in deciding whom to suspend and allows the chief executive to freely “apply his own standard, no standard or any standard he pleases when determining if a suspension is warranted.”
“Martin Luther King fought for this very right,” the embattled commissioner told a group of rowdy supporters at her victory party this week, adding that her removal is “disrespecting” the famed civil rights leader “on the week of his birthday.”
This is hardly Spence-Jones’ first brush with the law. The animated two-term commissioner has been dodging criminal probes and ethics complaints since she was first elected in 2005. In a separate case last year the state elections commission fined her $8,000 for violating state laws, including paying $23,000 in cash to campaign workers. She paid an additional fine to the county ethics commission for failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in free legal work from a local law firm and was the target of a separate criminal probe in mid 2009.
You know a politician of color has a solidly shady record when the traditionally race-conscious and always politically correct local newspaper supports their suspension. Until her legal status is settled, Michelle Spence-Jones is unqualified to hold a public office, according to an editorial published this week.
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