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A federal judge in Miami has short-circuited claims by two Hialeah police officers that Mayor Raul Martinez refused to promote them last year because they supported his opponent in the 1997 mayoral election. U.S. District Judge Donald L. Graham concluded that Martinez has promoted a number of police officers who opposed him politically and that the two plaintiffs had not presented adequate evidence of political retaliation. So he granted the city of Hialeah’s motion for summary judgment for the defense. “It appears that plaintiffs are unable to present any evidence of the alleged violations and therefore rely on their own personal conclusions and beliefs regarding the mayor’s motivations,” wrote Graham in a 21-page ruling issued last week. The Hialeah police officers, Luis Albert Diaz and Hector Ruben Diaz, alleged that Martinez passed them over in February 2002 because they supported former councilman and Miami ad executive Herman Echevarria in the bitterly fought 1997 election campaign. They claimed that Martinez’s decision not to promote them violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the First Amendment. “The First Amendment protects political activity and yet, because of their activity in 1997, the two officers have been told it is the end of their careers,” said Fort Lauderdale lawyer William R. Amlong, who represented both police officers, when the suit was filed last year. “Luis is the No. 1 ranked officer on the captain list and Hector is now No. 2 on the lieutenant list, yet each person’s career is going nowhere.” Amlong, a partner at Amlong & Amlong in Fort Lauderdale, could not be reached for comment. The case was filed in March 2002 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. It was removed to U.S. District Court in April because the lawsuit claimed violations of federal law. The city was represented by William Radford, a partner at Ford & Harrison in Miami. “Every person whose name appears on the promotion list is qualified. These are difficult choices for the mayor,” Radford said. “Naturally, those who are not selected are disappointed. But because there are comparable qualifications, it is very difficult for anyone to stand up and say, ‘I should be promoted above and beyond everyone else on the list.’ “ Radford said other qualifications factor into promotions, including leadership, commitment to service, types of positions previously held, among others. “They have to get a life,” Martinez said last year after the suit was filed. “I don’t think about the 1997 election anymore.” Hialeah city government operates under the strong-mayor system, with the elected mayor also serving as chief executive of the city. Municipal policy gives the mayor and his police chief wide latitude in promoting officers from among those who perform best on city exams. It is precisely such power and latitude, the plaintiffs alleged, that Martinez used to punish supporters of his political adversaries. According to the complaint, Hector Diaz ranked third in the lieutenant’s test given to eligible police officers in 1999, yet he was passed over in favor of candidates who ranked fourth, fifth and sixth. Amlong said last year that Hector Diaz had retaken the test and then was ranked No. 2. Similarly, Luis Diaz ranked first in late 1999 among officers who took the captain’s exam, but twice was passed over — first in May 2000, when the No. 2 candidate was promoted, then in February 2002, when the third, fourth and sixth ranking officers were all promoted ahead of him. On Feb. 22, 2002, according to the complaint, when the two officers asked for an explanation why they weren’t being promoted, Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolanos responded in writing that “no specific reason existed for the pass-over in promotions recently completed Feb. 17, 2002.” In their complaint, the two officers cited several anecdotes that they claimed demonstrated that their efforts on behalf of mayoral candidate Echevarria had put their careers at a standstill. For instance, they alleged that Chief Bolanos had told another officer, “Look at [Luis Diaz]. He would have been a captain in this department, but he got involved in politics.” But the city of Hialeah succeeded in convincing Judge Graham that politics had little to do with the two men being passed over. In his ruling, Judge Graham cited several police officers who campaigned for Echevarria in 1997 yet were promoted. He also pointed to promotions in the city Fire Department. “Officers in the firefighters union were promoted and that union aggressively campaigned against the mayor,” Graham wrote. Perhaps most damaging to the plaintiffs’ case was the fact that they were unable to present hard evidence that their non-promotions were due to political retribution. According to Graham’s ruling, Hector Diaz testified that he was not promoted “for no obvious reasons … [that he] can think of, other than politics,” and that the mayor had articulated legitimate reasons for the promotion selections but he “disagreed” with the reasons. In the judge’s view, the officers needed more evidence to sustain their claim. Graham wrote: “These personal opinions are clearly insufficient since plaintiffs must present significantly probative evidence … in the form of specific facts.” “While they may disagree with the mayor’s selections, plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that the mayor’s legitimate reasons are a pretext for discrimination and their subjective, conclusory allegations are insufficient to avoid summary judgment,” Graham continued.

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