Miami racketeering trial delayed as Hurricane Irma forces closures of courts

With Hurricane Irma churning toward South Florida, authorities announced Miami-Dade and Monroe courts will close Thursday and Friday – putting a major racketeering trial on hold and forcing dozens of other hearings to be rescheduled.

Suspects will still make their first appearance at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building’s bond court within a day of their arrest, but only if the weather permits. Even in good weather, defendants always appear via closed-circuit TV from the chapel of the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Facility, about eight miles west of the courthouse.

In the run up to past hurricanes, South Florida officers trying to keep the streets safe have arrested people for violating curfews, stealing and even fighting over supplies.

“This is a time for preparedness, a time to get ready and safety is our primary concern,” said Miami-Dade police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta. “We strive on high police visibility and we urge everyone to remain patient and courteous in order to avoid confrontations.”

On Tuesday, as Irma’s threat became even clearer, a judge stopped jury selection in the case of Adolfo Perez Jr., who is accused of helping run a suspected Hialeah cargo-theft ring. His father is the accused ringleader, and is also charged with the murder of a one-time employee.

Perez’s lawyers had filed for a “speedy trial.” Lawyers selected several jurors last week, but still needed a few more. But a Miami judge ruled the lawyers will have to start over at a later date because of the exceptional circumstances – a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on South Florida.

“It’s like that whole week of work might as well have never happened,” said his defense lawyer, Daniel Tibbit, saying of his client: “He is eager to have his day in court.”

Meanwhile, South Florida jails will remain staffed, although inmate visitations will most likely be canceled Thursday and Friday.

The facility most at risk: the main jail in Monroe County, located on Stock Island just outside Key West. Inmates, however, won’t be going anywhere. “Our main jail is built to withstand a category 5 storm,” said Monroe Sheriff’s spokeswoman Becky Herrin.