GAY MAN SUES HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION FOR $1 MILLION
Turner: Suit Is About Bias and Excessive Power of Condo Boards
Published by: The Express
Print date: June 16, 2003
Written By: Dan Aiello
In a case that is as much about the alleged abuse of power among unregulated condominium associations in Florida as it is about anti-gay discrimination, attorneys for Miami Beach homeowner Lee Turner have filed a $1 million lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against King Cole Condominium Association for its board members’ alleged malicious and concerted efforts to deny Turner a seat on their board.
Turner claims that the dirty tricks waged against him by the incumbent board members during the campaign made the election unfair, even by South Florida standards.
Turner, an openly gay man who has worked as a flight attendant with American Airlines for 25 years, says incumbent David Bernstein and other board members conspired to keep him and his slate of pro-change candidates from winning control of the association’s board of directors by conducting a vicious campaign filled with anti-gay rhetoric, vandalism, threats and accusations that have left Turner’s reputation in tatters and his parents fearful for their safety.
When contacted by The Express, Luisa Valasquez, who refused to disclose her position with the King Cole Association, stated before hanging up that “at this time no one with the association is willing to comment on the case.” However, on Thursday, the Miami Sun-Post quoted Steven Fein, the attorney for the King Cole association, as saying, “The association vigorously denies all of the allegations made in the lawsuit, and it fully intends to defend itself.”
In his civil suit, filed June 12, Turner claims that as soon as he announced his candidacy for president of the association’s board of directors in February, the defendants began a malicious effort to intimidate and dissuade Turner from running by attempting to destroy his reputation and ability to peacefully reside in the condominium.
“This type of behavior can affect anyone living in a condominium and should not be tolerated,” said attorney Tom Equels, whose firm, Holtzman Equels, filed the complaint for Turner. “We must remember a condominium is also a home. People have a right to a peaceful and respectful existence in their homes.”
According to Turner, the election began innocently enough. “The plan was to update the building in an affordable manner,” he said. The 1963 Miami building was designed by architect Morris Lapidus and once occupied by notable snowbird celebrities John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. But a flier put out by Turner and his slate of reform candidates “altered the mood of the campaign,” Turner said. “We called for an open investigation into the operational budget of the building, and I think this threatened the board,” Turner explained.
Various anonymous letters began to arrive addressed both to Turner and his elderly parents during the campaign. One letter stated that the author was not interested in Turner’s “flamboyant” plans to create a new condominium, referred to Turner as “a faggot” and told his parents they “must have done something very wrong with God to produce a pig” like their son. Turner said he also experienced property damage by his tormentors’ campaign tactics. Within days of entering the race, Turner’s brand-new Porsche Boxster was vandalized when someone poured fish oil into the air conditioning system.
Less than two months after Turner announced his candidacy, an anonymous mailing of Turner’s 1998 bankruptcy filing, a document Turner had provided to the association when he initially applied to lease his condominium (prior to purchasing it three months later), was delivered to all unit owners of the building, according to Turner. “The paper they distributed about my bankruptcy was a document in the sole possession of the association,” he said. “They were the only ones with a copy of it.”
Throughout the election campaign, various fliers posted throughout the building further attempted to discredit Turner by stating he “lied” to his fellow condominium owners, Turner contended. The King Cole Condo association’s newsletter, published and distributed by the board of directors, also printed damaging and false claims about Turner, according to his lawsuit.
Turner alleges that the day before the condominium board elections, Bernstein prepared and distributed a false and libelous letter that accused Turner of attacking Bernstein, who is 76 years old. Turner denies the allegation. “I was never closer than 15 feet from [Bernstein],” he said. Turner said Bernstein concocted the false allegations after Turner saw him posting some fliers with a reference to “The Gay Blade.” Other fliers inferred that Turner was “a sexual predator and a child molester,” according to Turner.
“Why would anyone fight so hard for a nonpaying board position if they didn’t have something to hide,” asked Marinell Richardson, Turner’s neighbor who is serving as publicist for his case. Richardson’s concerns extend to the election results, as well. “I was one of the people that counted ballots, and I was the only supporter of Turner’s slate of candidates present when the votes were counted. We had no hanging chads, just questionable check marks.”
Richardson said Steven Fein, the attorney who represents the association, attempted to prevent her from being present during the vote count. “I just told him, ‘I’m staying put.’ There were a number of ballots that had all of Lee’s candidates checked in one color ink, then one of the current board’s candidates checked in another color. It just didn’t look right to me,” Richardson explained. Richardson also contended that a number of ballots were counted from condo owners who lived in other countries, “though no one ever saw one of the FedEx packages they supposedly arrived in,” she said.
“They couldn’t keep me from living here just because I’m gay, but they figured out how to keep me from participating in the governance of my own home,” Turner said. “The easiest thing for me to do would have been to bow out, but I knew I was being discriminated against because I’m gay, and so I decided to fight. This is about terrorism in your own home. This is about these condo boards having too much power, power that almost seems to circumvent our constitutional rights.”