Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Veronica Diaz
Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Veronica Diaz ()

In one of the most hotly contested judicial races this season, former Miami-Dade school board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla is facing off against Miami Assistant City Attorney Veronica Diaz for an open circuit seat.

The seat became open when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sandy Karlan announced his retirement.

Veronica Diaz switched out of a county court race against incumbent Judge William Altfield to take on Diaz de la Portilla, who also moved groups.

There is no love lost between these two candidates in Group 70.

Diaz de la Portilla is hammering his opponent on a recent ethics investigation into whether Veronica Diaz funneled legal business to her fiance, attorney Benjamin Raul Alvarez. He also says his opponent is the focus of an investigation into whether she received VIP tickets to the Ultra Music Festival even though she negotiated the contract for the event.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust found Diaz did not violate the city’s nepotism policy because she is not married to Alvarez and has stated that there is no clear cut guidelines on accepting event tickets.

Former City Attorney Julie Bru has said publicly it was her decision to hire Alvarez’s firm, Alvarez, Carbonell, Feltman & DaSilva—a firm founded by Veronica Diaz’s fiance, Benjamin Raul Alvarez.

Veronica Diaz’s campaign has said accepting events tickets were “common practice” and that she needed a ticket to properly monitor the event. An internal investigation by the Miami City Attorney concluded employees who received tickets did nothing wrong.

“That is just the tip of the iceberg,” Diaz de la Portilla said of the ethics probes. “Integrity is of utmost importance for the bench and I think the voters have a clear choice here.”

Diaz de la Portilla did two stints as an elected school board member — from 1996–1998, when he was voted out of office after proposing a bible studies class, and from 2006–2012. He also served one term, 2000-2002, in the state House of Representatives, winning a district representing the west side of the county.

Veronica Diaz has taken her hits on the legal and Miami-centric blogs due to the ethics probes, but her opponent and his brothers were featured in a not so flattering piece in Miami New Times in July entitled the “Dubious Diaz de La Portilla Dynasty.”

They are described as Miami’s second most prominent family after the Diaz-Balarts.

The siblings are children of Cuban refugees who made good in Miami. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is a state senator and Alex Diaz de la Portilla served in the state House and Senate, becoming president pro tempore and senate leader.

Renier de la Portilla may cast aspersions toward his opponent on the ethics front, but he was a subject of inquiry by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office on whether he used taxpayer funds to help his brother, Miguel, in his re-election campaign, according to New Times. No charges were filed.

“Judges should not be politicians,” said the Colombian-born Diaz. “You can’t be a good judge and you can’t be a good lawyer if you barely practice law.”

Diaz de la Portilla has made his living as a lawyer,mostly in the mediation area.

Veronica Diaz says she is the one with the legal chops, negotiating contracts and handling cases for the city of Miami.

“Just because you have a name doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t mean you will represent the community in the manner it deserves,” she said.

Renier Diaz de la Portilla

Born: Miami, 1971

Spouse: Xaviera

Children: David

Education: Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad Law Center, J.D., 2004; Cornel University, B.S., 1999

Experience: Attorney, Florida Mediation Group, 2012-present; Solo practitioner, 2010-2012; Board member, Miami-Dade School Board, 2006-2012; 1996–1998, 2006–2012; Attorney, Collins Center for Public Policy, 2009–2010; Of counsel, GrayRobinson, 2006–2009; State representative, District 1115, 2000–2002

Endorsements: Dade County Police Benevolent Association; United Faculty of Miami-Dade College; Florida State Fraternal Order of Police; South Florida Council of Firefighters