January 19, 2010

Brandon Hensler, Director of Communications, (786) 363-2737 or

MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today moved to intervene in Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ lawsuit against Governor Crist. The ACLU is seeking to enter the lawsuit on behalf of five voters in District 5 who voted for her in the recent special election, held on January 12.

Governor Crist suspended Spence-Jones from her post as City Commissioner on November 13, 2009, after she was charged with improperly directing government funds to family businesses. Spence-Jones emerged as the clear winner over eight other challengers in a January 12, 2010 special election, for which she was qualified to be a candidate.

The five Commission District 5 voters, through their ACLU attorneys, maintain that she is eligible to remain in office since the voters elected her with the knowledge of the pending criminal charges. Spence-Jones has not been tried or convicted; however the Governor suspended her again on January 14, 2010.

“Governor Crist has no authority to strip the voters of District 5 of their chosen representative,” stated Muslima Lewis, Director of the ACLU of Florida’s Voting Rights Project. “The Governor is trampling on the rights of voters who elected Spence-Jones back into office with full knowledge of the charges against her. She is innocent until proven guilty.

“This is a first-of-its kind abuse of power by a Florida governor. No other public official who was returned to office by voters following a suspension due to a criminal charge has been removed from office a second time while the charges are still pending.”

In Florida, the Governor has the right to suspend a public official for only specified acts of misfeasance or neglect of duty. However, if that official is then re-elected, and the voters were fully aware of the pending charges, they are entitled to take office absent new misconduct specified by Florida law.

“There is a real sense of urgency to resolve this matter in a swift and just manner,” said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director. “If the voters’ choice is not honored, the Miami City Commission may appoint someone else to fill her seat. The people in District 5 are entitled to representation by the candidate they elected.”

"This litigation is vitally important for every resident of the City of Miami, because it seeks to protect the fundamental right of the voters to choose their elected representatives," said Benedict Kuehne, ACLU cooperating attorney. "When the people speak, government must listen. The people have spoken, so we ask the Governor to listen."

The ACLU legal team representing the Commission District 5 voters includes lead counsel Benedict P. Kuehne, ACLU cooperating attorney; ACLU of Florida Voting Rights project Director Muslima Lewis; and Maria Kayanan and Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Florida.

Download a PDF of the ACLU’s papers filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court today here:  

About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at:

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2010 Press Releases