Stephen Cody’s first ethics complaint against South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard ended with a whimper instead of a bang.
Cody had complained to the Ethics Commission when Stoddard wouldn’t let him speak at a January 2018 meeting about how the Stoddard-led effort to fire Police Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro cost the City about $1.5 million between attorneys’ fees on all sides and a big wad of cash to Martinez.
Stoddard was in the midst of his final reelection campaign and didn’t want an outsider raising embarrassing questions about is “leadership”. In July 2018, the Ethics Commission voted to find probable cause, rejecting the defense of Stoddard and his attorney, Benedict Kuehne, that Phil could rely on the opinion of City Attorney Thomas Pepe, regardless of how inept or inane it was.
Fast forward to July 2019 and the Ethics Commission granted a motion to dismiss Cody’s complaint with prejudice, now finding that Phil was entitled to rely on Pepe’s opinion, regardless of how inept or inane it was.
Having fallen backwards over the goal line, Phil and Kuehne are now doing a victory dance in the end zone. Kuehne sent out a press release accusing Cody of committing every major crime since the explosion of the Hindenburg. And Kuehne announced that Stoddard was going after Cody for Phil’s attorneys’ fees.
Stoddard and Kuehne need to be reminded that, like the Hindenburg, gasbags have a tendency to unexpectedly explode.
There are a few obstacles in the way of Stoddard pulling even a penny from Cody’s pocket. First, Stoddard may have a right to be reimbursed by the City for what he spent out for attorneys’ fees. Some of that may have been covered by the City’s insurance policy or even a policy that Phil has kept at the ready to cover his other shortcomings. If Phil’s been reimbursed, he can’t sue. That right belongs to the insurance carrier. I’m sure someone can explain “subrogation” to Ben Kuehne.
The insurance company, if it wants to, can hire a lawyer to go after Cody, but it can’t collect attorneys’ fees for trying to collect attorneys’ fees. They might end up doubling down on dumb, wasting more money trying to collect.
Plus, the Ethics Commission’s initial finding of probable cause means the case was never frivolous. Add to that the failure of the Ethics Commission to find that the matter was frivolous, means that any attorneys’ fee claim will be rejected.
Second, if Phil didn’t make a claim on an insurance policy, it begs the question of who has been paying Kuehne’s bills up to now. Both Cody and this newspaper have been demanding that the City turn over copies of Kuehne’s bills, only to be met by the sound of crickets.
If Kuehne never billed Stoddard, then Stoddard may have received an illegal gift which was never reported. If Kuehne did bill the City and it has hidden the invoices, then those responsible in the City may have broken the law by hiding public records. Municipal officials have gone to jail for far less.
I’m looking forward to the lawsuit against Cody, regardless of who files it. When he was a young lawyer, Cody filed the Voting Rights Act lawsuits that changed the County Commission and School Board to single member districts. With practically no financial support, Cody took apart two governments on his own and ended a lot of political careers, including Steve Clark’s, Bev Philips’, Clara Oesterle’s, and Jim Redford’s.
Cody doesn’t practice law anymore for a number of reasons, including a loss of a significant portion of his vision. But he remembers how to do it all.
Cody recently lost Rita, his wife of almost 39 years, who died from complications following open-heart surgery. She was his anchor, the one who kept him focused. She encouraged him to pursue the case against Stoddard. There’s nothing to hold Cody back now.
If the City or Stoddard is dumb enough to sue, I’ll be attending every deposition that Cody schedules. He’ll no doubt put Stoddard under oath. I can see him noticing the depos of City Manager Steve Alexander, Pepe, and the City Commissioners: Walter Harris, Josh Liebman, and Bob Welsh. Since the case revolves around Ben Kuehne’s bills, I’m sure Cody will be taking Ben’s depo, too.
If Stoddard files a lawsuit, the questioning of Cody will be severely limited if permitted at all, while Cody will be free to examine all of the skeleton’s in Ben’s closet (and the stuff hiding in Phil’s closet, too). And because Kuehne and his bills will be front and center in a new case, Ben can’t be Stoddard’s attorney.
In response to one of my columns, Stoddard wrote that I was missing the real story, the story of who was secretly paying Cody to pursue the Ethics Commission complaint against him. Cody did this all on his own and he answered that Phil was no more important than “a pimple on the ass of flea.”
The late Murray Greenberg, the former County Attorney who faced off against Cody in the Miami-Dade Voting Rights Act lawsuit, was famous for publicly pondering about how dangerous Cody could be. After all, Greenberg reasoned, Cody typed his own pleadings.
Cody turned out to be very dangerous, indeed. He had nothing to lose then. Newly widowed, he has nothing to lose now.
Go ahead, Phil, Kuehne, Pepe, and you South Miami Commissioners. File a lawsuit against Cody. I beg you. I’ll bring the marshmallows because you’re the ones who are going to get roasted.