Miami-Dade County

Miami takes second look at Flagstone legal defense for city staff

The marina at Flagstone Island Gardens
The marina at Flagstone Island Gardens emichot@miamiherald.com

One month after agreeing to hire an outside law firm to represent city administrators in a high-profile lawsuit against Watson Island developer Flagstone Island Gardens, Miami commissioners are experiencing some buyer’s remorse.

Not because they’re getting too little for their money. But because they’re getting too much.

This week, commissioners were surprised to learn that Becker & Poliakoff was drafting a motion to intervene on behalf of city administrators in the $122 million case brought by Flagstone against the city after commissioners declared the developer in default of its agreements.

That default declaration was made in May contrary to the opinion of city staffers, who said Flagstone had met the obligations under its many public contracts. And so, with administrators having held an opposing view from Miami’s elected officials — and the city attorney conflicted out of the case — commissioners hired private attorneys not just for themselves, but also for city staffers likely to be put on the defensive during depositions.

When they agreed to hire Becker & Poliakoff, City Attorney Victoria Méndez assured commissioners that they wouldn’t be using tax dollars to pit one half of the city against the other during the lawsuit. “It has to do with regard to testimony. It does not have to do with regard to defenses,” she said.

So, they were miffed Thursday when, during a shade meeting to discuss the lawsuit behind closed doors, it emerged that the administration might try to explicitly differentiate itself from the City Commission and actively participate in the case.

“We have a little bit of a misunderstanding, I believe, with the counsel that’s been hired to represent the administration,” Méndez said during a conversation that took place after 11 p.m. at the tail end of Thursday night’s City Commission meeting and after city administrators had gone home for the night.

In order to address that dispute, commissioners voted unexpectedly to rescind their resolution agreeing to hire Becker & Poliakoff. They replaced it with a new resolution allowing the firm to represent administrators “in their sole capacity as potential fact witnesses.”

Jon Polenberg, the attorney representing Miami’s administrators, declined to comment Friday.

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