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State high court rules Alex DLP not in direct contempt for defying court in divorce case

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The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Thursday that former Miami Sen. Alex Diaz de La Portilla was not in “direct criminal contempt” of the court when he failed to deliver a dog he owned with his wife and appear for court amid an ongoing divorce case.

The high court ruled in an 18-page opinion Diaz de la Portilla was guilty instead of a lesser violation known as indirect contempt when he failed to render the dog.

He and his wife owned a pair of Weimaraners, named Elvis and Priscilla. The opinion does not make it clear which dog was in question.

De le Portilla also missed a hearing on the issue, after which “the trial court held him in civil contempt for failure to comply with the order to transfer the dog to his wife,” Justice Fred Lewis wrote for the majority.

“The court ordered Diaz de la Portilla to comply with the order or be committed to jail for thirty days. However, Diaz de la Portilla still did not transfer the dog, and another motion for contempt was filed” resulting in the criminal contempt charges, read the 18-page opinion.

The court’s ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision which also ruled de le Portilla was passively, rather than actively defying the law, although using a different basis.

“Therefore, although we conclude that direct criminal contempt does not apply to this case, we approve the decision of the First District to the extent that it reversed the conviction,” the opinion reads, citing the “tipsy coachman” doctrine by which a court’s decision can be upheld even if it came to the right conclusion for the wrong reason.

Justice Charles Canady wrote a dissent in which he said the court did not have proper standing to take up the issue, as no one had been directly injured by the question at issue.

“This Court should not be in the business of issuing advisory opinions except as specifically authorized by the Florida Constitution,” Canady wrote in his solo dissent.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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