Mayor Philip Stoddard’s apparent vendetta to strip former Chief of Police Orlando Martinez de Castro of his title and pension may have finally worked after over a year’s worth of Stoddard blog rants, ethics complaints, and his own personal departmental investigation of Martinez played out in local headlines.
However the mayor is now on the defensive end of a “defamation per se” lawsuit filed against the mayor by the former chief.
Chief Martinez de Castro was recently fired by new city manager Steve Alexander after a 24 hour noticed special city commission meeting where Stoddard, Commissioner Bob Welsh, and Commissioner Walter Harris won the majority vote for dismissal based on a contractual technicality.
Coincidentally, Stoddard’s attorney from West Palm Beach, Lyman H. Reynolds Jr., was in the Dade County Courthouse about a week later requesting Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed by attorney Paul Totten on behalf of the former chief.
“When you accuse the head cop of breaking the law, you are undermining the chief’s ability to do his job,” said Totten in an interview following the hearing. “If you look at (Stoddard’s) blog site, the two postings which I believe are dated November 14 and November 20 of 2012, accuse my client of committing crimes.”
“At the time we filed the suit and the postings were made, he was the Chief of Police of South Miami. That is why this is a defamation per se lawsuit for injury to professional reputation and not just a regular defamation lawsuit.”
The motion to dismiss was denied by Judge Cardonne Ely. She gave the plaintiff thirty days to provide more specific details under Florida Defamation Statute 770.01 and 768.28 about the allegations based on Reynolds’ request. Stoddard’s attorney declined comment after the hearing, citing pending litigation.
Totten told the judge he thought the defendant was playing semantics because the original letter of notice was sent to Stoddard eight months ago and mentioned the allegedly slanderous blog posts. He said afterwards that they are still posted on the “mayorstoddardblogpost.com.”
“The only response we got was from his homeowner’s insurance with the policy information we requested,” Totten told the judge. Punitive damages may be awarded in defamation per se lawsuits.
Mayor Stoddard attempted to combine this lawsuit with another contractual lawsuit Martinez de Castro filed against the city. The judge denied the request.
“He was trying to get it changed so he would be sued in his capacity as mayor,” said Commissioner Valerie Newman. “By doing so he would have been entitled to all legal fees or liability paid by the city.”
The defamation per se lawsuit against Mayor Stoddard filed by former Chief of Police Orlando Martinez de Castro is Case Number: 13-18247 CA 08.