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Doral hires lawyers from Weiss, Serota for city attorney in a contentious move

Gilberto Pastoriza, left, and Daniel Espino, right, take their place on the dais at Doral City Hall on Wednesday. The City Council voted to approve the two attorneys from law firm Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole and Boniske, to represent the city.
Gilberto Pastoriza, left, and Daniel Espino, right, take their place on the dais at Doral City Hall on Wednesday. The City Council voted to approve the two attorneys from law firm Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole and Boniske, to represent the city.
Joey Flechas / The Miami Herald

The latest chapter in Doral’s ongoing political drama continued Wednesday as the City Council approved a new law firm to represent the city two days after a resident requested an injunction to stop it.

Jose Garcia, a Doral businessman who worked on civic committees during the founding of the city more than 10 years ago, filed suit Monday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleging the city did not follow its own laws during last week's City Council meeting. That’s when Mayor Luigi Boria unexpectedly moved to fire then-city attorney John Herin, of the law firm Gray Robinson.

Afterward, Boria nominated Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole and Boniske to represent the city. In a 4-1 vote Wednesday, where Councilwoman Bettina Rodríguez-Aguilera opposed, the City Council welcomed attorneys Gilberto Pastoriza and Daniel Espino to the dais.

Weiss Serota represents several municipalities in South Florida, including Homestead, Aventura and Miramar.

Boria proposed Herin’s firing during his monthly report at the March 12 meeting, which Garcia maintains violated protocol because a majority of the council has to approve any additions to the agenda before they take up the business of the meeting, according to city code. The suit also alleges the city did not hold a proper solicitation for new firms before Boria’s nomination.

“I’m not questioning the authority of the mayor,” Garcia said. “I’m questioning the way things are being done. I think we need a little bit more transparency.”

On Wednesday, Rodríguez-Aguilera told the council she didn’t want to confirm the new firm because of the lawsuit and asked Boria to reconsider his nomination, echoing Garcia’s claim that the charter was violated.

“I don’t think that we should take a vote on something that is pending litigation,” she said.

Before voting in support of Weiss Serota, Councilwoman Ana María Rodríguez said she wished the city had issued a new solicitation.

“I think that in order to promote transparency in our city, I think that the request for proposal process should be put back in place,” she said.

Vice Mayor Christi Fraga said she believed that good practices were followed during the solicitation and supported the mayor’s choice.

“I’m happy to move forward,” she said. “I understand sometimes the processes are not everything we desire them to be, but I think that something like the city attorney’s office is something that is very important for us to move forward in.”

Boria insisted he has followed the rules.

“I want to clarify for the record that I followed all the procedures from the beginning,” he said.

Garcia’s attorney Lorenzo Palomares said Tuesday that Garcia feels the solicitation was rendered invalid once Boria canceled it.

“That solicitation that existed was canceled, and all applications should have been thrown out,” Palomares said. “You cannot revive a proposal that has already been thrown out.”

The city’s search for a new city attorney has been mired in controversy and confusion since Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz first proposed to fire Herin in January citing issues with his performance. After a vote to seek proposals from other firms while trying to iron out issues with Herin, the city issued a solicitation that did not include a notice of a “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.

Two weeks ago, Boria canceled the solicitation and told the Miami Herald he no longer had any issues with Herin and saw no need to seek a new attorney.

In a switch that left some of his fellow council members shocked last week, Boria proposed ousting Herin. He said the flawed solicitation was Herin’s fault due to bad legal advice. Herin denied that allegation, saying he stayed out of the process to avoid a conflict of interest because his firm had applied.

Ruiz and Fraga voted alongside Boria to remove Herin. Rodríguez and Rodríguez-Aguilera voted against.

Gray Robinson’s contract with Doral was set to expire in May.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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