Bring the popcorn! Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen is hosting a movie night. Of sorts.
In a move that even she called “unorthodox” Monday, Cohen will show the videos -- in the courtroom -- of the Florida Supreme Court hearing three cases related to one of the main arguments in auto dealer Norman Braman’s case against the Marlins, Miami and Miami-Dade County. Braman argues the public should vote on the financing for $3 billion worth of Miami projects, including a $515 million Marlins ballpark.
Cohen is “torn” because she said she believes the state Supreme Court’s ruling last September in Gregory Strand v. Escambia County, which challenged the county using property tax dollars to pay off bonds without a public vote, does apply in the Braman case. However, the court is re-hearing the case so the decision is not final.
Cohen said she watched the Supreme Court re-hearing Strand and two other related cases over the weekend.
“I wanted to see what was going on. It was very instructive,” Cohen said of watching the Strand arguments. “The bad news is it’s a mess. The good news is they are asking the same questions I am.”
Despite the objections of a city attorney, who said he didn’t think the videos would advance the case, Cohen said the video showing will go on after the team, city and county rest their case, expected on Tuesday. She said attorneys could watch on their own, but “I’m having a party and I’m inviting you … We have to do what I want to do,” she said. “You are going to accommodate me.”
Meanwhile, much of Monday was spent listening to the testimony of county witness Tony Villamil, president of Washington Economics Group, who had studied the potential sites for a Marlins ballpark in 2001, when John Henry owned the team. Villamil, who testified for more than six hours, studied Bicentennial Park, a site on the north side of the Miami River and a spot near Miami Arena.
Villamil testified about the amenity a ballpark provides for the community and its ability to spur economic development. He also said he believed if a new ballpark isn’t built, the Marlins will move from South Florida.
But Villamil’s credentials were called ino question by Braman attorney Bob Martinez, who wondered how Villamil could testify based on studies from 2001 and no analysis of the current stadium proposal.
“We know without a stadium we lose the Marlins,” Villamil said. “We know that.”
Even Cohen was not convinced. “We don’t know that,” she said. “…Major League Baseball controls that and it hasn’t been determined yet. It’s too early.”
Cohen and Martinez questioned how Villami could know what to expect, particularly if he hadn’t studied the most recent ballpark plan and had no idea if the Marlins will draw better in a new bllpark.
“How can they know their attendance is going to go up?” Cohen said. “How do we know that?”
Villamil said officials need to believe the Marlins – an idea that didn’t sit well with Cohen. She reminded the court that large companies, such as Bear Stearns, had suffered based on assumptions.
“I don’t mean to cross examine you,” Cohen said, “but I have a big decision to make.”