North Miami taxpayers pay mayor’s legal bills

North Miami taxpayers are picking up the tab as Mayor Lucie Tondreau defends her right to remain in office against a challenger who says she did not live in the city for the required full year before the spring elections.

A judge will decide if Tondreau can stay in office in the lawsuit brought by former Mayor Kevin Burns, who ran against Tondreau in a June run-off election. Meanwhile, not everyone is happy that the city is paying Tondreau’s legal bills.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the city to represent mayor Tondreau at this time because what she was alleged to have done happened when she was citizen Tondreau. She wasn’t Mayor Tondreau,” said North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin.

But others see it differently.

“The lawsuit was filed after she became mayor of the city. I don’t think there’s any problem that the city is paying for these legal expenses,” said Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime. “Over 4,000 people went out and voted for Mayor Tondreau. We need to respect those people.”

North Miami is paying well-known local attorney Benedict Kuehne as co-counsel on the case. A contract with the city shows Kuehne will bill $250 an hour for his work, $200 an hour for work performed by other attorneys in his firm and $90 an hour for paralegals.

In addition, the city will cover the costs for out-of-pocket expenses like photo copying, long distance charges and stenography fees.

Whether or not it’s proper for North Miami to pay Tondreau’s legal fees for an allegation that occurred before she was mayor is not clear.

North Miami did not respond to e-mailed questions to clarify why the city is representing Tondreau, but a legal expert said it’s not unusual.

“When you’re a public official, it’s sometimes difficult to determine who picks up the tab and for what,” said Ryan Padgett, assistant general counsel for the Florida League of Cities. “If they do not provide representation, and whoever is being sued is successful, the city can be on the hook for reimbursing the official for his or her legal fees,” Padgett said.