With cheers from a group of residents, Michael Pizzi approached Miami Lakes Town Hall on Friday afternoon, beaming over the decision made by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal that he is entitled to return to office as the town’s rightful mayor.
“I am deeply humbled and honored that this matter is finally over,” Pizzi said in an interview with the Miami Herald prior to the news conference.
The decision upholds one made on March 31 by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely, who ruled to allow Pizzi to return as the town’s mayor, following a 30 day stay. That stay is set to expire on Thursday.
Ely also ruled that Pizzi can receive back payments, allowances and benefits from Aug. 13, 2013, to the present.
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Lawyers for the town and Wayne Slaton appealed that decision.
The Third District Court of Appeal heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday and issued its decision on Friday afternoon.
However, the legal battle over the mayoral seat may not be over just yet, as attorneys for the town and Slaton have five days to appeal the decision.
“We respect the court’s decision and we are reviewing it now,” said Raul Gastesi, town attorney. “We will be making decisions next week.”
The town echoed Gastesi’s remarks in an emailed statement, adding: “We will move forward from these proceedings and continue to work for the residents of our great town.”
Standing in front of Town Hall, Pizzi asked the town not to appeal the decision.
“It’s time to end this amicably, we’ve wasted enough tax money on this,” Pizzi said. “I urge the council to follow the rule of law, accept the rule of law.”
Pizzi said that he is extending an olive branch to his colleagues in the town.
“I ask my colleagues in the building to end this circus once and for all,” Pizzi said. “Let’s stop the fight, let’s stop the war, respect the rule of law and let’s move forward and put this past us.”
The fight for the Miami Lakes mayoral seat began as a result of Pizzi’s suspension from office by Gov. Rick Scott after Pizzi’s August 2013 arrest on federal bribery charges. At the time, he was serving his second four-year term, slated to end in November 2016.
Slaton became mayor after winning the town’s October 2013 special election, which took place within 90 days of Pizzi’s suspension, as required by the town’s charter.
Pizzi was ultimately found to be not guilty of bribery charges in August 2014, but when he attempted to resume his former role, he was denied. Soon after, he filed suit against Scott to have his suspension lifted.
By December, Scott revoked Pizzi’s suspension following a Florida Supreme Court decision. But neither Scott nor the high court officially reinstated Pizzi to the mayoral seat, as Pizzi never specifically asked to be reinstated as mayor.
Pizzi filed a reinstatement lawsuit against the town, Slaton and town clerk Marjorie Tejeda-Castillo in January. The clerk has since been dropped from the case.