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Judge in Michelle Spence-Jones Case Steps Aside for Not Revealing Conflict

Michelle-Spence-Jones-April-11.jpg
Michelle Spence-Jones
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge E. Cueto should have known better. On Tuesday, he angrily removed himself from a civil case challenging Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones' third run for office. After ruling in favor of her opponent, Rev. Richard Dunn, that she could not run again, local media outlets reported that in 2007 -- a year before he was elected to the bench -- Cueto was a state prosecutor who worked on a criminal investigation into Spence-Jones allegedly selling her vote. Cueto did not disclose that fact prior to hearing Dunn's lawsuit against his longtime nemesis.

As Cueto tersely read his ruling removing himself from the case, he blasted the media and Spence-Jones' attorneys for making his undisclosed conflict of interest an issue, according to the Miami Herald. He also took issue with Spence-Jones' lawyer Bruce Rogow leaking to the Herald a motion demanding he recuse himself.

"After reading and hearing allegations in the media impugning this court's judicial ethics without any party having the courtesy to serve any paper or motion on the court prior to one and one-half hours ago, this court moved... this morning to disqualify itself from any further action in this case, to avoid any taint of impropriety in the process," Cueto wrote.

Spence-Jones' legal team is arguing she deserves to run a third time because she spent 21 months of her second term out of office while fighting two public corruption cases against her. She beat both. Dunn -- who has never beaten Spence-Jones at the polls -- argued that she could not run again because the city had given her back pay and other benefits she missed out on while she was suspended from her post.

Though Cueto removed himself from the case, he did not vacate his decision last week. Courts spokesperson Eunice Sigler told the Herald that another judge will be randomly assigned to the case by computer in a day or two. The new judge will have to decide whether to leave the ruling intact, modify it, or hold a new hearing.

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

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