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Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla faces arrest over dogs in divorce dispute

Former Miami state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla is now a wanted man in Florida because he failed to obey a judge's order that he turn over a Weimaraner dog to his ex-wife in a messy divorce case.

A defiant Diaz de la Portilla, reached by cellphone text message late Friday, said he wouldn't turn himself in because Leon Circuit Judge Frank E. Sheffield issued an unlawful order. "We will file an appeal immediately and Judge Sheffield's illegal decision will be reversed by the District Court of Appeal. His actions are clearly illegal," Diaz de la Portilla wrote. He wouldn't give his whereabouts and is probably out of the country, according to a friend and his ex-wife, Claudia Davant, who said he's now living large off the money he earned as a top strategist in the successful campaign last month of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

"I hear he's out of the country. ... He's clearly enjoying the fruits of the campaign work he did in Miami," Davant said.

Diaz de la Portilla was supposed to turn over one of the two dogs — named Elvis and Priscilla — by 5 p.m. Friday, according to a ruling Wednesday by Tallahassee judge Mark E. Walker. Walker said that Diaz de la Portilla would face 30 days in jail if he failed to produce one of the dogs. Dogs can be considered property under Florida law, which generally provides that assets be divided equally between people in divorce cases.

But Diaz de la Portilla didn't show up Friday. So another judge, Sheffield, issued a ruling called an Order of Contempt and Warrant for Commitment.

In his order, Sheffield said the court rejected Diaz de la Portilla's earlier argument that he could not be held in contempt over the dogs dispute because "a dog is a mere chattel" — property subject to equitable distribution between the two divorcing parties.

The order faults Diaz de la Portilla for failing to appear at recent hearings. Diaz de la Portilla, the complaint says, "was doing everything he could to delay matters, and was basically thumbing his nose at the court."

But Diaz de la Portilla said Sheffield is the one who's out of bounds.

"There isn't a single case in the country that supports Judge Sheffield's bizarre and absurd order. This Judge exceeded his authority on a whim," he wrote. "I have no doubt that his arbitrary actions and misunderstanding of the law will quickly be corrected by the District Court of Appeals."

One of Diaz de la Portilla's lawyers was his brother and successor, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who had the hearings delayed because he's a sitting legislator. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, left office last year due to term limits.

The divorce between Diaz de la Portilla and Davant took a strange turn in 2009 after a judge temporarily ordered Diaz de la Portilla to stay 500 feet away from Davant's Tallahassee lobbying firm. Davant had filed an affidavit saying she was in "eminent fear for my life" over the fallout of the couple's then-pending divorce. Diaz de la Portilla at the time called Davant's allegations — including that he stalked her — "bold-face lies."

In her affidavit, Davant claimed that Diaz de la Portilla or one of his associates tried to break into her office and had her home bugged and computer and phone hacked. She also said that she was followed by one of Diaz de la Portilla's associates.

She also said he can have an "explosive" temper. "I am very concerned that he will also cause our animals harm because of his anger towards me and he is aware I love them very much," she wrote.

Diaz de la Portilla said at the time that he loved the dogs and would ask the court to order Davant to undergo a psychiatric and medical evaluation.

"This is a work of fiction which will not succeed," he said at the time.

Diaz de la Portilla filed for divorce in Miami-Dade County on Dec. 10, 2009. His wife also filed, in Tallahassee. The couple had married Sept. 28, 2003. Davant, a registered lobbyist in Tallahassee, said she wants to move on with her life. "I just want one of the dogs," she said. "I don't care which one."

Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla faces arrest over dogs in divorce dispute 07/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 23, 2011 11:30am]
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