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Doral mayor won’t pursue search for new city attorney

In a city where unexpected twists and turns are commonplace at City Hall, Doral Mayor Luigi Boria has decided not to nominate any of the five lawyers who applied for the job of city attorney.

Boria, Vice Mayor Christi Fraga, and Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz had voted to solicit proposals from firms at a meeting in January where Ruiz criticized current City Attorney John Herin’s performance. She said he’d been slow and unresponsive

By the end of the solicitation period on Feb. 14, five names were in the running, including former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, retired judge Ana Maria Pando and Herin himself.

But Boria told the Miami Herald on Monday that he will not nominate a new firm because he is pleased with Herin, who works for the Gray Robinson firm and has a contract that is up in May.

“I don’t see any need” for change, Boria said, adding that Herin has addressed the issues raised by his fellow council members.

On Monday, Ruiz did not echo Boria’s assessment and did not elaborate on her opinion of Herin’s performance.

“I’m unfamiliar with the mayor’s position on it,” she said. “Per the charter, he has to the right to nominate or not nominate someone. Other than that, I have no additional comment.”

Fraga said she is currently pleased with Herin’s performance, and she called the solicitation process “a way of opening it up and giving us a chance to see what was out there.”

She said she doesn’t plan to bring the matter up again at future meetings.

The five attorneys who’d applied were:

• Former U.S. Attorney Lehtinen. He most recently represented Boria during an ethics controversy last year regarding a development deal that involved Boria’s adult children. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust ultimately found that Boria had not violated the ethics code.

Lehtinen also served as the legal counsel to the Miccosukee Tribe until May 2010. The tribe sued Lehtinen in November 2011 for alleged malpractice. A federal judge recently threw the case out of federal court. A related case is still pending in state court.

• Eve Boutsis of the law firm Figueredo and Boutsis. She previously served as assistant city attorney for the city of South Miami, and until recently was city attorney for the village of Palmetto Bay.

• Daniel Espino of Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole and Boniske, a firm that works with many South Florida municipalities, including Homestead, Pinecrest and Key Biscayne. He served on the Miami Springs City Council from 2009 to 2013.

• Ana Maria Pando of Alvarez, Carbonell, Feltman, Jimenez and Gomez. She is a former Miami-Dade County judge who handled criminal cases in the Hialeah Branch Courthouse.

Although five attorneys applied, the solicitation was actually flawed from the beginning because of the way it was written, according to Joe Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.

Doral City Manager Joe Carollo raised concerns at the February council meeting about a possible violation of the “cone of silence,” a rule that prohibits oral communication between potential vendors or contractors and City Council members or staff from the time the bid is advertised until a written recommendation is made.

Although Carollo didn’t cite specifics during that meeting, the council asked Herin to request an opinion from the Ethics Commission on the matter.

Carollo himself had gone to Centorino before that meeting to ask if the city officials were under the cone of silence. In an email from Centorino to Carollo’s office sent two days before the Feb. 19 meeting, Centorino wrote that since Doral has not chosen to opt out of a county ordinance that creates the cone of silence, the city is subject to its provisions.

“Since the City of Doral has elected to contract for its legal services and is soliciting bids from potential service providers, the solicitation for legal services falls within the ambit of the County’s Cone of Silence,” Centorino wrote.

On Monday, Centorino said he’s discussed the issue with Herin, telling him the advertisement should have included a notice of the cone of silence. Since it did not, it is unlikely any violators could be charged with unethical behavior.

“You can’t do much when people were not noticed,” he said.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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