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THE FERNANDEZ LEGACY
In the mid 1980's Fernandez handled the defense of Pedro Jose Leal, an international drug smuggler who was also prosecuted for his refusal to testify about top local and state officials suspected of public corruption. He has represented several sitting circuit judges, including the former Chief Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, the Honorable F. Dennis Alvarez. He handled the complex grand jury investigation and impeachment defense of the Honorable Robert Bonanno, another circuit judge. He has successfully represented the Deputy Chief of Police in Tampa, now a practicing attorney, John Cuesta, and also, Santo Jose Trafficante, a reputed mobster, in a racketeering prosecution. He has been lead counsel in complex litigation cases. One such case dealt with a large acid spill into the Alafia River that precipitated litigation in Guthrie v. Gardinier Phosphate, in the Middle District of Florida. He directed the representation of investors in litigation involving the sunken ship Titanic. His client, Michael Harris, filed suit against Titanic Ventures and several other defendants. That complex process resulted in settlements for the Harris group in the now famous discovery and salvage of the Titanic.
The firm has prosecuted a number of wrongful death and serious injury cases where inclement weather or fog have combined with smoke to create extremely hazardous conditions on major highways. Fernandez prosecuted a plaintiff’s case resulting from weather events that resulted in catastrophic collision and deaths where telephone poles were launched as practical missiles after impact in a central Florida venue. Fernandez is prosecuting a unique wrongful death claim in the Tenth Judicial Circuit in and for the State of Florida. In the tragedy, the decedent was involved in the largest collision in Florida in twenty-two years. Shifting winds, extraordinary fog and smoke from a controlled burn that escaped its perimeter created a hazardous condition which many drivers chose to enter and some attempted to drive through while encountering restricted visibility. Over a dozen tractor trailers and box trucks completely burned in a raging fire. The decedent died as the result of inhalation of products of combustion due to the elliptical nature of the surrounding vehicular fires and the toxic smoke and super heated soot that was generated by the combustion of a variety of flammable materials. Wind shift and a natural air flow added to the lethal environment. Because of the complexity of the reconstruction and fire events the Fernandez engineering background has been instrumental in the presentation of complex expert reports.
The advent of the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law has promoted high profile prosecutions where the defense has been used. Fernandez has handled several of these successfully including State of Florida v. Sergio Collazo and State of Florida v. Fidel Egido, both within the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. In the Collazo case the defendant was charged with a shooting in his front yard when two men drove up onto a residence at high speed, exited the vehicle and approached the defendant in threatening fashion. After an extensive hearing spanning a week a finding was made by the trial court granting immunity pursuant to the statute. In the Egido case a deputy sheriff came to the Egido residence to serve a warrant on another. Under the most questionable of grounds the deputy barged into the house and later claimed that he was battered. The trial court agreed with the defense and found that the deputy first became a trespasser removing the official layer of protection and then granted the request for immunity in a case of clear first impression. The decision was upheld by the Second District Court of Appeal. See State of Florida v. Fidel Egido, 2D09-5073. Given the date of the decision and the pendency of the George Zimmerman prosecution involving the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, Fernandez declined to comment on “Stand Your Ground” issues when called by media outlets.
Fernandez has also devoted a substantial amount of his practice to the defense of Cuban freedom fighters and defectors. In 1988 he represented Rolando Nieves Machado in a firearms prosecution in the Southern District of Florida. Nieves was acquitted. He later represented a former commander of Castro’s army, Higinio “Nino” Diaz, charged with federal violations in the Southern District of Florida. He represented Roberto Pizano Castillo in a prosecution by the Federal Communications Commission. He also represented Francisco Rodriguez for his First Amendment activities in opposition of the Cuban government when arrested and charged by the State of Florida. He was lead counsel in the successful defense of the California trio of Rene Cruz, Sr., Rene Cruz, Jr., and Rafael Garcia, in their Neutrality Act prosecution in the Central District of California. He has represented internationally acclaimed Cuban ex-political prisoners Eugenio Llamera and Eusebio Penalver in federal matters and then later in an international investigation related to an attempt on the life of Hugo Chavez, then president of the Republic of Venezuela.
In 1997 Fernandez assumed the representation of three alleged Cuban skyjackers, Adel Regalado, Jose Bello Puente and Leonardo Reyes, on the night before testimony began in United States District Court after a jury had already been selected by other counsel. At the conclusion of trial the three defendants were acquitted of air piracy. Immediately the Immigration Service proceeded with detention and removal proceedings. In a highly publicized case in 1998 the Immigration Court ruled in favor of the three men granting them political asylum and withholding of removal. The government appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeal. A massive appellate process was undertaken. In October of 2002 the BIA affirmed the decision of the lower court. The trio was freed at last.
Fernandez also assumed the representation of Jose Dionisio Suarez Esquival, implicated by the United States in the assassination of former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier, in Washington D.C. in 1976. During the process Suarez became entangled in the extradition proceedings of General Augusto Pinochet by the Kingdom of Spain and the ancillary investigation by the Republic of Chile. In August 15, 2001, Suarez was freed after nearly a decade of detention.
Fernandez has also represented Jose Basulto and Brothers to the Rescue and has provided substantial information to the United States promoting the indictment of Fidel Castro for his role in the conspiracy to commit the murder of four members of Brothers to the Rescue who were shot down on February 24, 1996. Fernandez represented Pavel Puig, a Cuban defector who crashed at sea in a stolen plane, and who was admitted into the United States in September of 2000. Fernandez has represented all of the aforementioned cases pro bono.
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