Palmetto Bay Village Council members this week named Dexter W. Lehtinen, a former U.S. Attorney for South Florida and the husband of Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as the new village attorney.
“I’m excited because Dexter Lehtinen has a very broad, a very deep breadth of experience to share with us. And he’s a very dedicated individual with a long history of working in municipal law,” Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk said after the unanimous vote Monday night.
In a Feb. 19 presentation to the council, Lehtinen highlighted his and his partners’ decades of experience in land use litigation from zoning, environment laws, comprehensive development, to municipal bonds.
“Our experience is second to none,” he said of his new firm, Lehtinen, Schultz, Riedi, Catalano, de la Fuente.
He also cited his experience as an adjunct law professor at Florida International University and the University of Miami, teaching Florida Constitutional Law, “significant components of which [regard] the municipal versus state versus county authority conflicts of statutes and ordinances.”
Lehtinen served as both a state senator and representative in the 1980s. Then in 1988, as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, he sued the state for allegedly violating its own water-quality standards. The following year, his office charged Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega with drug trafficking.
He quit the U.S. Attorney’s office in 1992, and went on to represent the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida.
He severed his ties to the Miccosukees in May 2010 amid an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the tribe for allegedly distributing millions of dollars in unreported gambling revenue to its members.
Later the Miccosukees, under new leadership, sued Lehtinen and two other tribe-retained lawyers, former federal prosecutors Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, for legal malpractice in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The malpractice suit against Lewis and Tein was dismissed in December; the parallel malpractice case against Lehtinen faces a dismissal hearing later this month.
Separately, the tribe’s federal racketeering suit against Lehtinen and the others was thrown out by a U.S. District Court judge in October.
“That case was dismissed, and every case like that will be dismissed, including the case against me,” he told the council.
Miccosukee-related headlines returned again for Lehtinen in August when the IRS took him to federal court for access to communications between himself and the tribe, though Lehtinen says this was actually a “friendly suit.”
“The IRS had asked me for my legal opinions about the Miccosukee Tribe, and I said to the IRS, ‘You know, I’d be happy to give it to you, but there’s attorney client privilege, and these guys will sue me on a dime.’
“That’s actually what I said to the IRS. So you get a federal court order, and I’ll give it to you,” he told the Miami Herald.
Lehtinen beat out five other candidates for the job, including the village’s interim attorney John Herin Jr. of Gray Robinson.
Other candidates included Quentin E. Morgan of Brinkley Morgan; Jeff Cazeau of Lydecker Diaz, the current city attorney for Florida City; Hugo Alvarez of Alvarez & Barbara; and John C. Dellagloria, a village resident, who has served as city attorney in North Miami, Miami Beach, South Miami, and North Miami Beach. Herin, Alvarez, and Morgan were eliminated in the first round of voting, when none of the council’s five members cast a vote in their favor. Lehtinen won the second round with all five votes.
The village’s search for a permanent attorney dates back to April, when the council directed staff to solicit applications for the position following months of pressure from Vice Mayor John DuBois to replace the then-village attorney, Eve Boutsis of Figueredo & Boutsis, who had served as Palmetto Bay’s attorney since its incorporation in 2002.
Lehtinen and the village will negotiate a contract for consideration at the next general council meeting on April 7.