By: Jennifer Saba & Jay DeFoore
Former Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede was overjoyed Friday after learning he would not face criminal charges for secretly taping a conversation with a former city official.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office announced Friday that it would not press charges against DeFede, ending more than a month of uncertainty for the journalist. The state attorney’s office had been investigating whether or not DeFede violated state law when he taped a conversation with Arthur Teele Jr., also a personal friend, who later committed suicide in the Herald’s lobby.
“The truth is this has been an incredibly emotionally time,” DeFede said Friday, speaking at a press conference in Miami that was made available to journalists through a conference call. “I know some of you are getting tired of hearing this, but I love The Miami Herald … I spent 14 years in this town.”
DeFede’s attorney, Dan Gelber, said the state attorney’s decision should only bolster his argument that executives at the Herald made a hasty decision when they decided to fire DeFede on July 27.
“[The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office] findings should give the Herald ample reason to reconsider,” Gelber said. “Clearly the Herald made their decision to fire Jim DeFede at the worst possible time. They didn’t know anything at all other than what they heard in an eight-minute conference call that Jim DeFede participated in. This is not the way to conduct business.”
DeFede, who is asking for his job back, said he had no intentions of suing the Herald. “I’m not a lawsuit kind of guy,” he said. “People who file lawsuits don’t get their job back. I’m not interested in suing. I’m interested in getting my job back.
“Now it’s up to the Miami Herald to find out what kind of institution they are. I wouldn’t ask for my job back if I didn’t think there were honorable people there,” he added.
Calls placed to Executive Editor Tom Fiedler and Managing Editor Judy Miller were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
The investigation was touched off by DeFede’s own admission to Herald officials that he taped a conversation he had with a distraught Teele.
“You all know about this tape because I came forward,” DeFede noted.
Teele, who was facing 26 federal charges of fraud and money laundering, had called DeFede at his home to talk about a scathing article that had just appeared in the Miami New Times.
During their conversation, DeFede became concerned with Teele’s state of mind and decided to record the call without Teele’s knowledge.
Later that evening, Teele phoned DeFede from the lobby of the Herald explaining that he had documents — which are now in possession of Teele’s wife — for a potentially explosive story the two men had discussed earlier.
Shortly after their conversation, Teele shot himself to death in the Herald lobby.
Upon hearing of the incident, DeFede told Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz Jr. and Robert Beatty, the paper’s legal counsel, that he had taped a conversation with Teele during an eight-minute conference call. Fiedler was in San Jose, Calif. at the time. After DeFede hung up, Diaz and Beatty called Fiedler.
That evening, the Herald fired DeFede. It is against Florida law to tape a telephone conversation without consent from both parties.
DeFede has received a wave of support from journalism groups and fellow reporters since his dismissal. An online petition urging the newspaper’s executives to reinstate DeFede received over 500 signatures.
“Look, we all could have done better that night,” Defede said of the evening when he was let go by the newspaper. “It was an incredibly stressful night. The Herald is the only one that could go back and make it right.”