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Joe Carollo defends the city's research on the men now suing him for harassment

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo took the stand Monday, at the start of the fourth week of his civil trial. Carollo is being sued for damages by two Little Havana businessmen who claim the commissioner used city resources to try and harm their business interests after they sided with a political opponent of Carollo’s in an election six years ago.
Jose A. Iglesias
El Nuevo Herald
Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo took the stand at the start of the fourth week of his civil trial.

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo did not engage with attempts to diffuse the dispute that led to his harassment lawsuit because he is a "phone guy" and the invites came by email, a federal court heard Tuesday.

He also said his city team's extensive research on the two businessmen now suing him was part of preparation for another lawsuit, and not evidence that he was unfairly targeting them.

At their first opportunity to question their client on the stand, attorneys for Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo cast doubt on the politician's ability to use a computer.

"Are you a phone guy?" attorney Benedict Kuehne asked Carollo. The commissioner responded that he prefers to use the phone because people of his generation are more used to it, and he is not "savvy" with the internet.

The evidence came on Carollo's second day on the stand in federal court in Miami. William Fuller and Martin Pinilla have sued the commissioner for allegedly retaliating against them for supporting his political opponent in a 2017 election. They are seeking $2.5 million in damages to their businesses. Carollo denies any improper conduct.

Earlier in Tuesday's testimony, the plaintiffs' attorney Jeffrey Gutchess showed jurors three separate 2018 emails to Carollo from Fuller and his colleagues on the board of the Little Havana nonprofit Viernes Culturales.

In the emails, Fuller and his board members invited the commissioner, who had been recently elected at the time, to attend their board meetings and discuss how they could work together on a shared vision for Little Havana.

Gutchess asked Carollo if he ever answered any of these emails or attended any of the board meetings, to which Carollo responded that he did not.

The defense followed this by framing questions to show that Carollo does not respond to most emails he receives because he prefers to use his phone. Carollo also testified that he receives calls and messages from scores of constituents and does not have time to respond to all of them.

Carollo was also asked about evidence that his commission office employees prepared extensive research on Fuller, his properties and his businesses. He said that his employees were helping his attorneys prepare a legal defense in a lawsuit he was involved in.

"That was being put together by my staff as questions that could be asked in discovery," he told the court.

In one email chain showed to jurors, an employee of the Miami City Attorney's office was shown conducting research on Viernes Culturales and whether or not they needed to take out permits for their events. That employee sent an email to City Attorney Victoria Mendez with the information, and the message was forwarded to Carollo.

Carollo's attorneys are expected to continue questioning their client Tuesday afternoon.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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