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CNN Today

Critics Look to Previous Employment of Gonzalez Spokesman by Florida Judge as Conflict of Interest

Aired January 12, 2000 - 1:04 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: In addition to the debate over whether Elian Gonzalez should go back to Cuba, there's a controversy over the Florida judge issued a ruling in the case on Monday. Judge Rosa Rodriguez said Elian should be allowed to remain in the United States until March, but critics say she had a conflict of interest.

Michael Putney of CNN affiliate WPLG has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDGE ROSA RODRIGUEZ, MIAMI-DADE CIRCUIT COURT: Elian is a six- year-old child...

MICHAEL PUTNEY, WPLG REPORTER (voice-over): Judge Rosa Rodriguez was elected to the bench for the first time 16 months ago with the help of this man: Armando Gutierrez.

ARMANDO GUTIERREZ, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Let the kid have some room, here. It's not -- everybody's going to get out of this place.

PUTNEY: For the last six weeks, Gutierrez has been the chief spokesman, media adviser and political strategist for the family of Lazaro Gonzalez, and there was this tearful embrace in Judge Rodriguez's courtroom between Gutierrez and Gonzalez after judge Rodriguez awarded Gonzalez temporary custody of Elian. What Judge Rodriguez never told anyone was that she hired Gutierrez to help her get elected.

(on camera): Armando Gutierrez and his wife, Maritza, run two separate companies out of the same suite of offices in this Miami office building. In 1998, in her election campaign, Rosa Rodriguez paid the Gutierrezes a total of more than $63,000.

(voice-over): Rodriguez paid more than $53,000 to Creative Ideas, the agency run by Maritza Gutierrez, and she paid Gutierrez and Associates, Armando's consulting firm, $10,000.

GUTIERREZ: I'm not a relative of Elian, I'm not a party to the lawsuit, I mentioned to the attorney, I mentioned to some people here in the media before, so, you know, I mean, this is just another person trying to get some big story in the news and maybe hurt this little boy. PUTNEY: Gutierrez says he told Gonzalez' family attorney, Spencer Eig, another political client, of his campaign work for the judge, and Eig reportedly said it was no big deal. But a legal ethics professor says it is.

PROFESSOR ANTHONY ALFIERI, UNIV. OF MIAMI LAW SCHOOL: And here, the facts seem to imply the possibility of bias or prejudice, and under these circumstances and given the high-profile nature of the case, indeed, it's an international episode, reason, right reason, would have recommended that she disqualify herself.

PUTNEY: When INS initially said Elian's case should be decided by a Florida family court judge, Fidel Castro said south Florida judges are corrupt and would side with the family here. Even Rodriguez supporters say it taints her decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Judge Rodriguez has issued a statement saying she had no ethical obligation to disclose her past association with Gutierrez.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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