The Marlins caught a break today when the new judge in the lawsuit filed by luxury auto dealer Norman Braman agreed to begin the trial next Wednesday, July 9.
The trial was supposed to begin today, but had to be postponed when Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Pedro Echarte Jr. recused himself Thursday and Judge Jeri Beth Cohen was assigned the case instead.
Cohen told the court Friday she might not be able to hear the case until September. The delay dismayed the defendants – the Marlins, Miami-Dade County and city of Miami – who are hoping to break ground for a new ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl in November.
But Cohen said today she’d read through most of the case over the weekend, rearranged her schedule and agreed to hold the trial in July. She also will allow Braman’s attorneys to re-argue some of the motions Echarte denied.
After overseeing the case for months and ruling on several motions – for both the plaintiffs and defendants – Echarte recused himself last week at the request of Braman attorney Bob Martinez, who said in court papers that he discovered last week a distant familial relationship between him and Echarte.
The defendants called the timing of the recusal suspicious. Some believe Braman’s intent is to delay the project so long that it will drive up the project’s cost too much to build.
So the defendants were pleased the trial will begin next week.
“We want to go forward as quickly as we can and get these issues resolved,” said Scott Ponce, an attorney representing the Marlins. “There’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done as far as architects doing their thing, stadiumd designers are doing their thing. And that process needs to keep getting funded and keep going forward while we’re waiting for this.”
Among issues discussed today were the number of witnesses both sides expect to call and how long the trial could take. Cohen called the list, which includes both the county and city mayors, the county manager, two city commissioners, city and county finance directors, and Marlins President David Samson, a “who’s who.”
Cohen said she expects the trial to “take July.” She urged the attorneys to “cancel your vacations.”
County attorney David Hope said he already had. “No Belize for me,” he said.