The plaintiffs were awarded more than $63 million after the jury determined that Carollo had violated their First Amendment rights
On Thursday, jurors sided with the plaintiffs who had accused Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo of waging a vengeance against them because they had backed a rival candidate for public office. They had brought the lawsuit against Carollo in federal court.
The owners of a number of enterprises along the Little Havana business corridor, including the renowned Ball & Chain nightclub, William Fuller and Martin Pinilla, were the targets of Carollo's targeting, and the jury found Carollo guilty of doing so.
In their federal lawsuit, the two men were requesting at least $2.5 million in damages. The verdict resulted in an order to pay the plaintiffs a 63 multimillion dollar judgment. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that Carollo forced code enforcement officials to visit at least two of their locations on several occasions.
Joe Carollo tried to have their permits to sell alcohol revoked, one of the businesses closed while another moved out of the neighborhood. At least 16 witnesses, including a former city manager and three former police chiefs, gave testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs, and the prosecution's attorneys said Carollo claimed that every single one of them had lied while under oath. Joe Carollo, 68, has served in elected government for many years despite this the judgement was read without him in the room.
The harassment continued beyond business
The Little Havana businessman said that Carollo’s harassment had gone beyond business and attacked his philanthropic work as well.
Fuller who has been part of the board of a nonprofit organization known as Viernes Culturales that organized and arranged a festival at Domino Park Plaza on the last Friday of every month for years was an immediate target.
He said that the nonprofit had never needed to get a permit for the event until Joe Carollo was elected commissioner. They did, however, go to get that permit and learned that the commissioner had booked every last Friday of each month until the next year for an event called “Viernes Pequeña Habana” immediately after being elected.
Evil Carollo destroyed the organization
Testifying further in the court, Fuller recalled the day he joined the board of Viernes Culturales, and after 14 years, he has become the reason the nonprofit has been destroyed. He said the nonprofit had nothing to do with code or building inspections. It was a nonprofit board!
Judge fed up with the defense
Commissioner Carollo’s attorney asked to present 17 more witnesses in addition to the list they’ve already submitted. On Friday, May 12, 2023, the judge denied this request and told the defendant to call their initial list of witnesses.
The first witness was the director of the building department Asael Marrero who talked about the building violations at Martin Pinilla and Bill Fuller’s properties. He continued his testimony on Monday, May 15, 2023.
Marrero testified that Little Havana’s businessman Bill Fuller has been trying to bring its nightclub Ball & Chains to code for many years. His other properties have been upgraded without permits. On Monday, he told the jury about the outside bar, restrooms, pineapple stage, storage, interior bar, and deck that were added to his nightclub without permits.
Plaintiff Bill Fuller’s attorney brought the text correspondence of Marrero as evidence which read: “Just had a lengthy meeting with the manager and almost the entire city attorney office plus Adele talking about Bill Fuller. The manager wants us to revise and update our policies to be more stringent when it comes to work without a permit, clearly define unsafe conditions, and shut down all structures that don’t comply.”
Defense attorneys tried to convince the jury by stating that these changes in permit acquisition aren’t targeted but an attempt to reveal the building violations that plaintiffs have committed over the years.
Contrarily, plaintiffs’ attorneys have maintained that this heightened scrutiny began after they supported Carollo’s opponent. Many laws were created after Carollo took office only to target them.