Former police chief feels ‘vindicated’

From left to right...Christopher Martinez de Castro, Orlando Martinez de Castro, Attorney Paul Totten and Attorney Anthony Franqui offer a post verdict thumbs up.

Accentuated by a presiding moniker that reads in gold letters “We who labor here seek only truth” the ample antique Gothic style court room on the fourth floor of the downtown Miami-Dade County Courthouse was empty but for the attorneys, court reporter, city clerk, and plaintiff when Miami Dade Circuit Court Judge José M. Rodriguez announced his damages verdict. He awarded former South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro nearly a half million dollars in lost wages after a near three-year legal battle against the city.

“This is the beginning, not the end,” said the emotional former chief immediately following the verdict.

“They have de-stroyed my character, my career of over 42 years…they blemished it between the blogs, the stories, the fliers, and the lies. At the end of my career instead of being a rightful ending it’s been a dirty ending so I will pursue it to the end.” There are currently three pending defamation law suits filed by the former police chief against the City of South Miami and Mayor Philip Stoddard.

The wrongful termination lawsuit had already been won by Martinez de Castro when the judge determined that the city violated Florida Law and the Constitution by dismissing him for allegedly holding two conflicting positions simultaneously: that of chief of police and acting city manager. He had been fired in a city commission meeting August 14, 2013 by a majority vote resolution with Commissioner Walter Harris, Commissioner Bob Welsh, and Mayor Stoddard voting in favor of dismissal.

The ultimate bench trial was brought on after City Attorney Thomas Pepe made inappropriate mistrial opening remarks during the initial jury trial and all parties agreed to proceed with a bench trial. The verdict allows for 4.75 percent interest as well as approximately $300,000 thus far in legal fees.

“After listening to the testimony I believe he is entitled to the clothing and car allowance,” said Judge Rodriguez. “He is not entitled to unemployment or the loan. He also performed tasks in parking (management), allowing for a salary of $434,731.85 award.”

The final five hours of deliberation were mainly about how much Martinez de Castro would receive, with city expert witness CPA Edward Sachs and attorney for the plaintiff Paul Totten sparring on figures. The contentions were over the questioned continued oversight of the parking department, compensatory clothing and car allowance, a calendar versus fiscal year summary, as well as monies related to a surgical procedure and unemployment wages entitlement.

A brief moment of levity in the otherwise quiet and tense court room was realized when Sachs accused Martinez de Castro of “double dipping” in his request for unemployment compensation as well as lost wages. Totten told Sachs he “appreciated the double dipping Seinfeld reference” (referring to an episode of the former television comedy show) and Sachs chuckled in mutual appreciation of the comedian’s take on the term but corrected Totten that double dipping was actually accounting terminology.

“I thought the judge awarded more damages than was warranted by expert testimony” said City Attorney Pepe in a subsequent interview announcing he would recommend an appeal to the commission.

Mayor Stoddard responded to a call moments after the verdict and said the judge’s decision was full of contradictions. “We believe in the city’s case and we plan to appeal. The judge awarded him what he was not entitled to… car, uniforms… those are professional expenses not personal compensation.” Stoddard also said there were two attempts by the city manager to buy out Martinez de Castro’s contract following his dismissal which were both denied.

In terms of why Martinez de Castro will continue the fight with his ongoing lawsuits against the city, he said “it is important to show that they terminated me wrongfully. I was an honorable chief of police and they tried to destroy me morally and character wise… this is the heart of the case.”

Martinez de Castro said he has applied for over 20 jobs since his firing, five for area chief of police posts and has gotten as far as making the top 10 in three. He hopes to conclude his career in law enforcement and stay in Dade County to be near his two sons, daughter, and grandchildren. He is currently consulting through his company and preparing for future litigation.

The formal decision by the city to seek an appeal will be decided in an advertised agenda for a shade meeting, special city commission meeting, or during an imminent regular city commission meeting by majority approval. Stoddard said they will weigh out the principle along with the practical as to whether or not to continue to invest time and resources in the case but says he believes it is worth appealing.

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5 Comments on "Former police chief feels ‘vindicated’"

  1. South Miami…Can you spare an extra Million dollars?
    By Former South Miami Mayor Horace G. Feliu

    Close to three years ago, at a commission meeting, I along with several other concerned citizens spoke out against the firing of the former chief of police. The clearly politically motivated and contrived excuse was so flawed, that even a child could see it had no legal merit. Firing a chief of police over a year after he filled in for an absent city manager and declaring that he violated his five year contract was beyond malpractice. The word malfeasance comes to mind.

    Last week’s decisive loss by South Miami’s attorney, Mr. Thomas Pepe to former Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro in the long, purposely strung out lawsuit, highlighted more than the loss of a million of taxpayer dollars. The judge awarded Mr. Orlando Martinez de Castro $435,000 plus 4.75% compounded interest per year until the date of payment which also applies to his attorney fees. The city has already wasted approximately $250,000 on payments to Mr. Pepe, expert witnesses, expenses on a forensic search of the former chief’s e-mails and computer, a mistrial caused by Pepe, along with loss of employee productivity.

    In addition, there is a glaring line item in the city’s ever increasing bill. The former chief’s attorney’s fees which according to State Statute (FS448.08) can be up to three times the standard hourly rate of $350/hr. Due to Mr. Pepe’s marching orders to string the case along, a conservative estimate for Mr. Martinez de Castro’s attorney’s bill along with court fees and expert witnesses will be approximately $500,000.

    Once again, even a child can see that an ill fated appeal will result in interest on attorney’s fees plus further interest on the former chief’s contract award in addition to added attorney fees. Can South Miami taxpayers spare 2 million dollars? Thank God the City doesn’t have to pick up the bill for the slander lawsuits filed against Mayor Stoddard…. I am sure he will be quick to settle those lawsuits when the time comes.

    Stoddard, who led the charge to not only hire Orlando Martinez de Castro but also championed his unprecedented 5 year contract, abruptly changed his mind and led the charge to fire him. In order to do so he needed to fire the city manager first. What led to the former Chief’s fall from grace which forced him to sue the city? Look no further than the police report detailing the “home invasion” of Stoddard’s house. In the report you will find that the man behind the green mask was exposed (no pun intended).

    Losing lawsuits has been the norm in South Miami. Mr. Pepe, who was hired in violation of our city charter, did not have municipal experience as required by our charter. Evidence of this is visible by simply looking across the street from City Hall. The cramped and ugly “affordable” senior building, which will not pay any taxes, was the direct result of a lawsuit which, the city had to settle or lose.

    Now, the Stoddard led commission wants to “make a deal” in a developer led movement to sell city hall… can anyone guess who will lose?

    “Oh, what a tangle web we weave when we first practice to deceive.”
    -Sir Walter Scott

    • Resident in Despair | April 26, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Reply

      Former Mayor Feliu’s assessment of this situation and more is correct. We are paying a fortune to lose one lawsuit after another, and paying a fortune for legal counsel. This is an ongoing lose/lose situation for taxpayers. Now we the people will have to foot the bill for the actions of an arrogant and feckless Mayor who “led the charge” to fire the former Police Chief illegally. The two Commissioners who went along with Mayor Stoddard acted as his minions, and were not thinking straight.
      Former City Manager Hector Mirable was fired because he refused to play along and act as the patsy, to do the Mayor’s dirty work. He knew full well that the firing would be illegal. Hector Mirable kept his integrity to the very end. For that he will always have my respect. When city government gives lengthy contracts along with huge salaries and benefits packages, they expect a puppet who will dance the way they fiddle, regardless of the consequences. Our City Charter has been violated more than once with utter disregard. City Hall is permeated with a sickening miasma that has nothing to do with mold and mildew.
      The city is doomed to more consequences that will cost us dearly in terms of quality of life and financial harm under the leadership of a mayor who will continue to promote his own agendas without regard for residents. Too bad that so many voters don’t bother to watch meetings, and pay close attention to issues and voting patterns on the dais. Those who voted for Stoddard will learn the hard way, and we will all suffer for their gullibility.

  2. Pedophilia is a sickness. It has no cure and people do everything possible to hide this hideous sickness from the public. Even if it means risking everything in order to maintain this dark secret. Just saying!!.

  3. sharon mccain | April 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Reply

    Hey, Alex Butler “Special to the Miami Herald” LOL, read Ms. Garcia’s article for the South Miami Community Newspaper, and learn. Perhaps you are hired as “special” so has to sugar coat the shenanigans of Mayor Stoddard and his sice kicks, Commissioner Welsh, Commissioner Harris, and Commissioner Liebman in the city, but I guess they got what they deserved and so did the South Miami activists and kool aid drinkers who listen to this morons. Horace Feliu should have been elected, so let the residents pays, they deserve to pay. One thing that really hasn’t been stated more, there are more lawsuits, which should tell people, even a teenager that something is wrong inside the walls of city hall and around the “dirty pond” of Mayor Stoddard behind his house. Kick the bums out including the lobbyist, Mr. Alexander, known as the absentee city manager

  4. Mrs. Lucille Millbrook | April 26, 2016 at 10:07 pm | Reply

    According to our City Charter, a City Atty. is supposed to have experience in Municipal Law to be hired. Mr.Pepe did not, and was hired to further the Mayor’s personal agendas, like selling off our City Hall property, and more as described very well by Former Mayor Feliu and others. Wake up and smell the coffee, South Miami residents! You who were asleep at the wheel have been taken for suckers. Stoddard, Pepe, and Alexander have no respect for our City Charter. This is intolerable!

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