MIAMI — A federal judge has slammed Miami-Dade County for refusing to delay demolition of a soldier's home while he trained in California for deployment to the Middle East.
The Miami Herald reported Saturday that the house was razed in 2011 after Army Staff Sgt. Jose Jimenez didn't heed several county requests to fix building code violations. Jimenez had repeatedly asked for extensions to fix the problems while he training or on a mission. At one point, his commanding officer also weighed in, asking to officials to stay the hearing 90 days while Jimenez was conducting training on how to defuse improvised explosive devices in Iraq.
U.S. Judge Robert Scola Jr. sided last week with the father of four, scheduling a September trial to decide what the county owes Jimenez. But he urged both sides to first attempt a settlement. At issue is a World War II-era law, reinstated in 2003, that allows for the temporary suspension of legal or administrative proceedings that could affect active duty military members' civil rights.
"While it is possible that the Jimenezes employed dilatory tactics to avoid remedying the violations on their property and complying with the applicable building ordinances," Scola wrote, "their behavior does not negate the (county's) failure to stay the proceedings."
The county argued that Jimenez was in the Army Reserves when it issued the violations. But Scola ruled that since Jimenez was on active duty when he requested the stay, he should have been protected.
County officials declined to discuss the case with the Herald, citing the ongoing litigation. But in court filings, Miami-Dade representatives said they'd given Jimenez more than enough time to fix the violations between deployments.
The family rented out seven rooms in two houses without permission. Among the problems with their home that sparked the initial code enforcement citations: deteriorating porch beams and a deteriorated roof, as well as a damaged door and an uncovered electrical junction box.
Jimenez says he tried to fix the initial problems but didn't have the money to take out the necessary construction permits. Then he was sent to a Wisconsin training base and fined for not completing the work. Meanwhile, inspectors reviewed the house more closely and ordered more improvements, including covering exposed wiring and other hazards. After more failed negotiations over the home, the family's power was shut off. Eventually, Jimenez hired an engineer and an architect to make the necessary changes, but the county said the problems were so extensive it would be better to start from scratch.
Jimenez said the county targeted his family while ignoring other similar houses in the neighborhood. His attorney wants the city to drop all liens, suspend code enforcement activities and pay $395,000 in 20 days. In exchange, the family would agree to sell the property where the house was demolished, as well as two other neighboring homes they own.