Braman suit 'undue hardship on taxpayers,' county says
By Lou Ortiz
Miami-Dade County administrators cried foul last week when they learned that a lawsuit that threatens the proposed Florida Marlins stadium won't go away anytime soon.
The suit, filed this year by luxury car dealer Norman Braman, is challenging the mega-pact between the City of Miami and the county that includes the $525 million stadium.
The county contends Miami-Dade and the other defendants, along with Mr. Braman, had agreed to expedite the case. But now the discovery period will be extended 60 days to late June.
Discovery usually takes place before matters formally go to trial in both criminal and civil cases. Parties involved are allowed to question witnesses and request documents and other evidence before trial begins.
County officials say they have provided more than 24,000 documents to Mr. Braman's lawyers.
"Mr. Braman's request to delay a resolution of this case places a huge strain on government as we try to lay the groundwork for Miami-Dade County's future prosperity," County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said in a statement.
The mayor's statement was a below a banner headline from his media relations office that read: "Norman Braman seeks to prolong fight against public works projects."
"As far as I'm concerned, justice delayed is justice denied," Mr. Alvarez said.
"This case needs to be resolved as quickly as possible for the good of the community. Further delays will result only in increased costs and uncertainty."
Mr. Braman sued in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court to stop the so-called "global agreement" between the city and county that would spend billions on a host of projects.
The city and county approved the global pact in December. It includes the stadium, the $913 million Port of Miami tunnel, a $200 million streetcar system for Miami and paying off $484 million in construction debt for the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.
The county contends that prolonging the suit would "place undue hardship on taxpayers and deter progress in moving projects in the agreement forward," according to the mayor's office.
"We don't want to drag this thing out," Vicki Mallette, a spokeswoman for Mr. Alvarez, said about the lawsuit. "It creates more uncertainty and more attorney bills."
The suit, in part, challenges the county's diversion of Convention Development Tax revenues to help fund the proposed ballpark, a revenue stream that Miami-Dade pledged in 1997 to repay millions in special obligation bonds.
The suit contends that the county breached its contract with Mr. Braman, who purchased some of the bonds.
"These 1997 bonds create contractual rights in the bondholders, including plaintiff Braman," the suit says.
Bond counsels said it is difficult to determine whether the county is legally authorized to use the same revenue stream in other projects because it depends on the parameters under which the bonds were issued in 1997.
The suit also alleges that County Manager George Burgess violated the state's Sunshine Law when he negotiated the pact between the county and the city before the matter surfaced and was approved by elected officials on both sides.
The suit also questions the action by county commissioners to divert $50 million meant for renovations at the Orange Bowl — in a $2.9 billion General Obligation Bond program approved by voters in 2004 — to help pay for the stadium.
Before commissioners approved the switch, lawyers for the county told them it was legally permissible.
And the suit questions use of tax increment funds meant to uplift poverty districts to instead fund major public works projects elsewhere.
Mr. Braman, who once was a co-owner of the National Football League Philadelphia Eagles, operates luxury car dealerships in South Florida.