After hours of intricate technical debate over public financing, Florida Supreme Court decisions, public referendums, the definition of “pledge” and whether the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency has taxing authority (really exciting stuff!), things got a little more spirited in the courtroom Monday afternoon.
When auto dealer Norman Braman -- plaintiff in the case against the financing for a Marlins ballpark and other Miami projects -- took the stand at the end of the first day of the trial in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, that’s when things got interesting.
Braman told the court he didn’t believe public tax dollars should be used to fund a private enterprise – and ballplayers’ salaries – without a vote of the public. He also raised an issue his attorneys had spent a lot of time questioning public officials about: the financial wherewithal of the Marlins. Too bad Judge Jeri Beth Cohen agreed with Marlins attorney Sandy Bohrer that the team’s finances were irrelevant to the case.
But not before Braman and his attorneys made their point about the team’s financial health.
“I’m opposed to the baseball stadium for a lot of reasons,” Braman said. “I know the Marlins do not have the financial capacity…”
But Braman was cut off by Bohrer, who repeatedly objected to questioning about the team’s finances and admitting into evidence a document Braman says he received from Marlins President David Samson in 2003. The Marlins were seeking local investors at the time and the document was said to include financial data about the team.
Braman attorney Bob Martinez said the document shows the team was $150 million in debt and had no equity. Braman later slipped in that he turned down the team’s request to invest because “I could not invest in a company that had $163 million…” but he was again cut off.
Martinez halted his questioning and team, county and city attorneys refused to cross-examine Braman.
After court ended for the day, Samson said he had "no recollection" of the document he is said to have shared with Braman. "There’s nothing to talk about. It’s not allowed in evidence. There’s just nothing to say," Samson said shaking his head over the court proceedings. "It’s just a lot of taxpayer money going to waste right now."
Other testimony during the day – shown via video -- focused on whether public officials had questioned the Marlins about their finances, ever asked to look at their books and if they knew why the Marlins need public money for a stadium.
“My understanding is they can’t afford it,” County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said, when asked why the team needed tax dollars for its proposed $515 million ballpark at the site of the Orange Bowl.
The trial resumes Tuesday morning with witnesses expected to include Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess and perhaps Samson.