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Activist files ethics complaint against Doral council member

 

jflechas@MiamiHerald.com

A longtime Doral activist has filed an ethics complaint against Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz accusing her of having a conflict of interest in a lawsuit in which a political supporter is suing the city.

Felipe Madrigal, head of Doral’s Rotary Club and an active figure in the city’s founding a decade ago, filed a complaint Tuesday afternoon with the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. In it he accuses Ruiz of using her position to pressure the city attorney to settle a lawsuit with Tony Rodriguez, a former Doral police officer and one of her political supporters.

Although the city attorney is the council’s legal advisor, settlement agreements normally require the council’s approval.

In the suit he filed against the city in February 2012, Rodriguez claims he was fired for his political association with Ruiz.

The ethics complaint alleges Ruiz gave a “deposition in support” of Rodriguez and has used her position to pressure the city attorney to settle with Rodriguez during “in-the-shade” meetings, which are closed-door council meetings to discuss litigation.

“She continues to insist on being involved in “in the shade” meetings despite the fact that she not only is a material witness for the plaintiff against the city but she seeks an economic benefit for Mr. Rodriguez at the city’s expense,” Madrigal wrote.

Bob Jarvis, a law professor at the Law Center at Nova Southeastern University, said the concept of Ruiz giving statements under oath that support Rodriguez’s case doesn’t carry much weight. But he said the basis of Rodriguez’s case — his firing due to his political support for Ruiz — may be enough to give Ruiz a conflict of interest when it comes to discussing the litigation in a closed meeting.

“In her capacity as a city official, I don’t think she can now be objective,” he said. “I don’t think she should be participating.”

Tony Alfieri, director of the University of Miami law school’s Center for Ethics and Public Service, agreed.

“Even if the councilwoman is acting in good faith in what she perceives to be the best interest of the city of Doral, she has a duty of full disclosure regarding possible conflicts of interest because of her role in the litigation,” he said. “And that may very well warrant her voluntarily recusing herself from the deliberations of the City Council in resolving the litigation.”

Before Wednesday morning’s council meeting, Ruiz said she could not comment on the details of the complaint because it involves pending litigation, but she was not surprised by the person it’s coming from.

“He has always been on the opposite side of me politically,” she said.

It isn’t the first time Madrigal has gone to the ethics commission with a complaint against Ruiz. A 2009 complaint, claiming she failed to disclose conflicts of interest, was dismissed.

Madrigal also accuses Ruiz of moving to fire Doral’s city attorney, John Herin, after she could not force him to settle the case.

For his part, Herin told the Miami Herald that he is not actually handling that case. He said that through the city’s insurance, another law firm is representing Doral and he just coordinates communication between the council and the firm.

“I essentially act as liaison,” he said, adding that this is standard practice among city attorneys in similar situations.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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