By Rafael Olmeda, Sun Sentinel
8:14 p.m. EDT, May 21, 2014
The unlawful compensation trial of former Deerfield Beach Mayor Al Capellini was thrown into confusion Wednesday, leading the judge presiding over the case to openly question when – or whether – it will come to an end.
Jurors came to court expecting to hear closing arguments, but instead spent most of the afternoon holed up in the jury room as prosecutor Catherine Maus, defense lawyer David Bogenschutz and Broward Circuit Judge Marc Gold grappled with a new piece of evidence that could spell trouble for the defendant.
Capellini, 66, is accused of casting a vote in favor of the Deerfield Park construction project in 2003 without disclosing to his fellow commissioners that he was a paid consultant on the project. Under state law, a public official must, under such circumstances, refrain from voting and explain why he was doing so.
When he took the stand Tuesday, Capellini told jurors he made an honest mistake – the project was part of the commission’s “consent agenda,” a list of non-controversial items bundled together and voted on simultaneously without discussion. He said he didn’t read the full agenda for the June 2003 meeting and didn’t realize the project was on it.
After hearing Capellini’s testimony, Maus told the judge that she contacted the Deerfield Beach city government and obtained a copy of the agenda summary that would have been in front of Capellini during the meeting. That document, she said, singled out the Deerfield Park project in a way that would have been difficult for anyone reading it to miss.
Maus tried to use the document while questioning another former Deerfield Beach mayor, Peggy Noland, who was called by the defense as a character witness for Capellini. But the discussion about the document brought the trial to an abrupt halt.
Bogenschutz, Capellini’s lawyer, said the late arrival of the document amounted to a discovery violation – prosecutors are required by law to turn over all evidence in a case to the defense. Discovery allows defense lawyers to adequately prepare for trial.
It was not clear why the document had not been obtained, shared or introduced at trial earlier. Maus declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Gold must now hold a hearing to determine whether to allow prosecutors to use the document as evidence. It is scheduled for Friday.
But other scheduling problems are plaguing the case, which took more than five years to bring to trial, started last week and was expected to wrap up no later than Tuesday. One juror told the judge he plans to be out of town all next week. Bogenschutz, meanwhile, expects to be out of the country the following week.
Gold said if the trial does not wrap up by Friday, he will have to wait weeks to bring the jury back to finish – unless the defense asks for a mistrial.
Capellini served as mayor of Deerfield Beach from 1993 to 2009. As an engineer, he was paid $10,000 for consulting work on the Deerfield Park project, located at Natura Avenue and Natura Boulevard. The June 2003 vote was early in the approval process and only indicated that the site could handle to project. Further plans were still subject to future votes by the commission.
Capellini testified Tuesday that he went to City Attorney Andy Maroudis two weeks after the vote had taken place to find out whether he could do anything to correct what he called the mistake he made in casting his vote, but was told there was no remedy.
After his arrest in 2008, Capellini was suspended from office by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. He ran for re-election anyway and lost. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison