MIAMI – Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Miami-Dade County criminal courts first used Zoom, a popular remote conferencing service, on April 2 during a hearing in the case of Tom Privett. The retired teacher is accused of having sex with a student in Kendall. But the judge and the defense attorney were in the courtroom.
With the courthouse closed, all of the parties involved held Miami-Dade’s second virtual criminal court hearing Wednesday. It was in the case of Xandi Garcia, who is facing charges for stealing about $2 million in bling from Eric the Jeweler in South Beach during the Super Bowl.
Garcia is also accused of leading similar heists with a techie crew that included a voluptuous Instagram model, and of running marijuana grow houses in Miami-Dade. He was arrested Feb. 4. His defense attorney, Roberto “Bob” Pardo, wants him released during the pandemic.
“I have to be very careful because I fall into the category of special concern that I may get COVID-19. I can’t go to Metro West," Pardo said about the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
During the virtual proceeding, Pardo also said he was impressed Chief of Legal of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Christine Zahralban had jumped in on Wednesday morning to consider his motion for a modified bond. He was not so impressed after Zahralban said Garcia’s release would be in violation of Florida statutes.
Zahralban was not involved in the case when Circuit Judge Alberto Milian granted Garcia a $75,000 bond and ordered house arrest. But when she learned of Milian’s decision, she sent an e-mail to him and Miami-Dade Circuit Chief Judge Nushin G. Sayfie asking for a rehearing.
“I was prepared to appeal the decision, but we didn’t want to stress the limited resources of the Third District Court of Appeal unless it was absolutely necessary,” Zahralban said from her office, which is steps away from Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Prosecutors consider Garcia a habitual offender who fits the Florida legislature’s definition of a Violent Felony Offender of Special Concern. Garcia is accused of being involved in a burglary that included stealing a rifle from a home in December.
Zahralban argued that the court failed to consider the statutes that govern probation violations and alleged violent felons of special concern. She told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Christina DiRaimondo that public safety is paramount, even during a pandemic.
Pardo is among the many defense attorneys who want their clients to be released from jails where COVID-19 could be spreading. In the case of Garcia, DiRaimondo agreed with Zahralban and denied the motion for a modified bond.
“I know Judge Sayfie has been working with the jails to find out different ways you can interact with your client confidentially," DiRaimondo told Pardo about his concern of not being able to meet with his client in person at the detention center.
Garcia will be spending his 31st birthday on Thursday at the Metro West Detention Center near Doral.
Miami-Dade Circuit Chief Judge Bertila Soto issues emergency procedures for remote courtrooms: