Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi made a reference to the movie Groundhog Day, during yet another discussion at the town’s monthly council meeting turned heated on Tuesday night. This time, it was over his legal fees.
And just like it has in past meetings, the result was palpable tension on the dais.
For just under an hour, the town council discussed Pizzi’s lawsuits against the town for roughly $3.2 million to cover his legal fees associated with his federal criminal case and ultimate reinstatement.
This marked the first time legal fees were formally addressed in a public forum.
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While the town has already paid the $487,768 bill to cover the costs of parties on their side of the battle through money the town recovered from an audit, Pizzi’s fees are still up for negotiation. There is a question as to how much of that will be covered by Miami Lakes’ insurance company Brown & Brown.
Neither Pizzi nor the town want the Miami Lakes taxpayers to foot any part of the legal bills —but that hasn’t stopped town officials from preparing just in case.
During the town’s first budget hearing Wednesday night, Town Manager Alex Rey recommended that the council set aside roughly $400,000 of surplus money in case it is needed to pay off legal bills.
The town has already reserved $250,000 in its upcoming budget to pay legal fees.
Town officials believe that they aren’t the only ones responsible for paying legal fees, as some of the allegations against Pizzi stemmed from his work as the town attorney in Medley.
“Because of the bad judgment of somebody, now our taxpayers are facing a real possibly of having a significant impact on their budget, which will adversely affect their services,” said Councilman Ceasar Mestre on Tuesday night.
Mestre went on to say that he doesn’t believe the fee amount is reasonable, and others on the dais shared his plea to Pizzi to not take taxpayer money to pay his legal fees, if it comes to that.
“The goal has been to get the money from the insurance policy,” Pizzi said, adding that the lawsuit was a procedural measure. “That would be great to get it resolved immediately, through the insurance claim, with no litigation, no more publicity, no more going to war and resolving it amicably.”
Soon after, in what’s become the new norm in Miami Lakes, things became heated.
“We’ve had two years of listening to the attorney and saying we’re not going to resolve this let’s just fight, let’s just go to war, and the result has not been the best for taxpayers,” Pizzi said. “So it’s my hope this gets resolved in a manner that is quick and reasonable.”
He then asked what he labeled rhetorical questions, which were if Wayne Slaton would be paying back for the fees paid in his legal defense, and if Town Attorney Raul Gastesi would return money collected in attorney fees.
Gastesi then shot back.
“First of all, I will not sit here and have my judgment questioned by the person whose poor judgment caused this,” Gastesi said.
“That’s not true,” Pizzi said.
“Number two, had you been sitting in my seat, as the attorney, which at one point you were in Medley, sitting as the attorney for this town, seen the charter that you voted on and you helped enact, had you been here, that charter said what it says.…”
“I would have been competent,” Pizzi interrupted.
The pair went back and forth throughout the duration of the meeting, along with exchanges with other members of the dais.
The town is planning to hold an executive session to discuss this topic further.