Posted on Thursday, 08.05.10
Challenge to U.S.-Cuba flights takes a new turn
Ana Margarita Martinez wants her suit against Cuba charter companies to
be moved from a federal court to state court.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
A lawsuit by the former wife of a Havana spy against South Florida
companies that charter flights to Cuba seems to be almost on wheels,
batted back and forth between state and federal courts.
U.S. government officials and lawyers for the charter companies have
warned that Ana Margarita Martinez's bid to garnish millions of dollars
paid by the companies to Havana could ground all U.S.-Cuba flights.
Yet the flights continue even as the case remains undecided six months
after it was filed, shifted three times between state and federal courts
and facing a possible fourth change.
VENUE AT ISSUE
In the latest twist, lawyers for Martinez last week requested that the
case be moved from a federal court in Miami to the Florida state court
where it was first filed Feb. 19.
Martinez, who won a $27 million judgment against Cuba with a claim that
Havana victimized her by ordering spy Juan Pablo Roque to marry her,
issued writs of garnishment against funds that the eight charter
companies pay to Havana for landing rights and other fees.
Martinez's legal team, headed by Max Goldfarb of Miami and Thomas A.
Withrow of Indianapolis, argues that the writs are an issue for a
Florida court to decide — a Florida resident suing Florida companies.
But lawyers for the companies, and the U.S. government argue the case
should be heard in a federal court because it affects the U.S. policy of
fostering contacts between Cubans on the island and in the United States
in order to promote democratic values. They also argue that Martinez
lacks the U.S. permit needed to receive Cuban funds.
Left unsaid amid the legal wrangling is the presumption that a Florida
judge or jury would be more sympathetic to Martinez, and that a federal
court could be more friendly to Washington.
Roque returned to the island just days before Cuban warplanes shot down
two Brothers to the Rescue airplanes in 1996, killing all four men aboard.
Martinez's lawyers filed the writs of garnishment Feb. 19 before a state
court in Miami. Two weeks later, Ira Kurzban, lawyer for the charter
companies, moved the case to U.S. court in Miami, where it was assigned
to Judge Federico Moreno.
The U.S. government joined the case March 31, arguing against the
garnishments, but Moreno sent the case back to state court on April 28.
Two months later, the U.S. government moved the case back to federal
court, with Moreno again in charge.
Goldfarb and Withrow now have asked Moreno to again send the case back
to state court, and Moreno has given all the parties involved until late
August to file new arguments.
Kurzban has said that the eight charter companies stopped making
payments to Cuba as soon as the writs of garnishment were filed.
“My clients are now in breach of contract, and Cuba can stop them
landing any time,'' he told El Nuevo Herald on March 1.
The charter companies served with the writs of garnishment are Marazul,
ABC, C&T, Xael, Wilson International Service, Cuba Travel Services,
Airline Brokers and Gulfstream Air Charter.