Can you lose your home when you lose a court case? Why Miami’s Joe Carollo faces seizure

Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo may be out of legal luck if he hopes to keep his Coconut Grove residence.

Both his house and personal belongings are up for grabs as he faces the reality of paying a $63.5 million judgment won last year by two Little Havana businessmen who accused him of trying to destroy their livelihood by siccing Miami code enforcement officers on their Ball & Chain restaurant and club.

On Friday, U.S. Marshals posted a notice to seize Carollo’s Morris Lane residence, one that he did not place under homestead exemption to protect him from losing the home, property records show. Lacking that protection, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida could issue an order to have Marshals deputies prepare to seize the two-story, 5,243-square-foot residence sitting on a quarter-acre lot.

READ MORE: U.S. Marshals move to seize Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo’s house to cover $63M verdict

Here’s what to know:

Why Carollo could lose his Miami home

Joe Carollo comes out of his house to talk to reporters for the second time in front of his residence in Coconut Grove on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. US Marshals seized the property of Miami commissioner Joe Carollo after he lost a civil trial accusing him of misusing his public office.

Joe Carollo comes out of his house to talk to reporters for the second time in front of his residence in Coconut Grove on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. US Marshals seized the property of Miami commissioner Joe Carollo after he lost a civil trial accusing him of misusing his public office.

Carollo bought the house for $574,700 in 2001, but he hasn’t requested a homestead exemption for the past three years, according to property records. An application was filed for homestead exemption in 2024, but the status is pending. The homestead exemption would indicate the Grove residence is Carollo’s primary home, making it exempt from seizure.

However, an approval at this point would make little difference, said Dennis Eisinger, managing partner at Eisinger Law in Hollywood.

“To my best understanding of the law, that’s too late for him. If it wasn’t homestead and if it wasn’t homestead for 3 1/2 years prior to the judgment, then it’s not homestead,” Eisinger said.

A homeowner must live in a residence for 3 1/2 years and already have a homestead exemption for that residence to be protected under any forced sale or judgment.

Can Carollo appeal the decision?

Carollo does have the right to push back, requesting to overturn the decision.

“He has judicial means to overturn it if it were an illegal seizure,” Eisinger said. “That happens pretty frequently where you lose your property and you effectively try to stop the action by filing some type of motion or legal action, attesting to why that property should be protected.”

An attempt to overturn the decision may take several months, not unlike a foreclosure proceeding where a lender seizes a home after an owner fails to pay his mortgage. That process can take six to eight months.

What are the legal issues?

Carollo’s defense attorneys Ben Kuehne and Marc Sarnoff, have urged the federal judge who oversaw the city commissioner’s trial to quash the Southern District court clerk’s Jan. 9 writ of execution allowing the U.S. Marshals Service to seize the home.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Smith, who had authorized the garnishment of Carollo’s salary and other assets, has asked Magistrate Judge Lauren Fleischer Louis to review his lawyers’ request as U.S. Marshals prepare for the seizure of the commissioner’s residence.

In court papers, Carollo’s lawyers argue that the writ itself is “overly broad,” saying it provides for the seizure of all “the goods and chattels, lands and tenements” belonging to Carollo without any specifics or limits.

But rather than zero in on the seizure of Carollo’s home on Morris Lane, his lawyers argue that the writ should be put on hold until there is a thorough inventory of the commissioner’s personal property in the residence that could be seized by the U.S. Marshals.

“The writ of execution fails to account for marital assets existing in Mr. and Mrs. Carollo’s marital home, and therefore is overly broad,” the lawyers wrote. “An accounting of marital assets is the standard Florida practice and procedure utilized by courts when enforcing execution of judgments.”

Attorneys for plaintiffs Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla say the court clerk’s writ is “valid,” and that Carollo and his lawyers are trying to prevent the seizure of his home and other assets without any legal basis.

“Carollo is not entitled to an order imposing any other form of ‘compromise’ relief he requests from this court,” they wrote in a court filing, adding that his lawyers have failed to follow basic legal procedures.

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