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Attorney for Miami-Dade commission chairman, property appraiser contesting elections files to withdraw, citing conflict of interest

Two cases challenging last month's election results for Miami-Dade mayor and property appraiser were scheduled to be heard before a Miami-Dade judge next week. But now it appears the hearing may get delayed, because the attorney representing both plaintiffs has filed to withdraw from the case.

Stephen Cody, who represents Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia, cited an undisclosed conflict of interest in the motion he filed Tuesday.

"The conflict developed, and I need to withdraw," Cody said in an interview, declining to elaborate. "I cannot ethically stay in the case and represent the parties."

Cody is scheduled to appear on the motion before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa I. Rodriguez on Thursday. If she grants his request, it seems likely that Monday's hearing would be pushed back, to allow Martinez and Garcia to find a new lawyer to get up to speed on the case. The discovery in the case was supposed to be filed Tuesday.

Martinez and Garcia sued separately, asking the court to throw out the Aug. 14 primary election results because of concerns over absentee-ballot fraud. The court later consolidated the cases to be heard together.

Martinez lost to incumbent Mayor Carlos Gimenez; Garcia lost to state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Martinez argues that, were absentee ballots in the contest to be discarded, his race would have gone to a runoff. Garcia would have won a majority outright.

Kendall Coffey, one of Gimenez's attorneys, said Tuesday that he plans to go to Thursday's hearing regarding Cody's conflict of interest "and express why we think that pushing this case back is contrary to the public interest."

Judge Rodriguez had scheduled the case to be heard Monday -- after the deadline to make changes to the Nov. 6 general election ballot, but with plenty of time to move forward before Election Day and before Gimenez would get sworn in. (Lopez-Cantera will not be sworn in until January.)

Two other defeated candidates -- legislative candidate Paul Crespo and judicial candidate Alex Jimenez Labora -- also sued to contest the election results, again citing absentee-ballot fraud. Crespo lost to state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, whose lawyer, former state Rep. J.C. Planas, has filed to dismiss the case. Labora, who lost to Maria de Jesus Santovenia, voluntarily dismissed his complaint last week.

"We wanted to bring attention to the absentee ballot problem," said Labora, adding that he plans to run again in two years. "The objective has been met."

State Rep. John Patrick Julien, who lost by a razor-thin margin to fellow Democratic state Rep. Barbara Watson, has also sued.