The next chapter in the Miami Lakes mayoral battle will happen Wednesday as lawyers for Michael Pizzi, Wayne Slaton and the town head to the Third District Court of Appeal.
The hearing is the result of an appeal filed by lawyers representing the town and Slaton regarding Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely’s March 31 decision to allow Michael Pizzi to return to the mayoral seat, following a 30-day stay.
Ely denied a request made by the town and Slaton on Thursday to extend the stay until the appellate court makes a ruling.
Miami Lakes Attorney Raul Gastesi plans on filing a motion to extend the stay with the appellate court. He said that Ely instructed in court that it would be appropriate for the appellate court to make that call.
On Tuesday night, the town council addressed the issue of legal fees associated with this battle, voting 5-1 to approve spending an additional $111,051.19 in town funds to pay the Akerman law firm to represent Slaton.
As of March 18, the town has spent $211,051.19 in legal fees from Akerman, an amount that exceeded the $200,000 the town approved to pay the law firm last month.
Akerman has agreed to represent Slaton during the appeal for an amount not to exceed $100,000.
Tony Lama, was the sole opposing vote in this matter. He spoke at length about his struggles in making his decision, and said that although he supports Slaton he cannot justify spending more money on legal fees.
“I’ve spoken to many residents about funding this appeal and I’ve overwhelmingly been told not to go forward,” Lama said, who called Pizzi out on bringing on the lawsuit and putting the town in the position that it's in. “How much more do we pay to get clarity on this issue? Is it 25k, is it 50k is it $100,000 to take this to the district court of appeal? Like many residents I’ve had a really hard time swallowing this."
Others on the council said they understand the money concerns but that they want to go forward, for reasons such as upholding the Town Charter.
Councilman Ceasar Mestre and others on the dais said they've had residents approach them in support of the town's efforts.
“I am not happy with the money, I am not happy with the amount we’re spending,” said Councilman Frank Mingo, who then said a phrase in Spanish that translates to “we’re already riding the horse.”
“And jumping off the horse right now, I think would be a disservice to the people of Miami Lakes,” he said.
Slaton excused himself from the dais before the discussion took place.
In a phone interview with the Miami Herald, Pizzi called the council’s vote Tuesday night an “abusive waste of tax payer money.”
“It’s ridiculous that they voted to spend the $100,000,” Pizzi said. “That $100,000 is coming out of the pockets of the people of Miami Lakes who want that money to be used for parks, police and senior and children services. They are spending this money like it’s a joke.”
Pizzi also also asked the town to cover his legal fees in this case.