Miami-Dade County

Miami mayor vetoes measure limiting administrators’ defense in Flagstone case

An overhead view of the property Flagstone Island Gardens intended to develop, including a mega-yacht marina.
An overhead view of the property Flagstone Island Gardens intended to develop, including a mega-yacht marina. Emily Michot

Mayor Tomás Regalado on Wednesday blocked an attempt by Miami commissioners to rein in a private law firm hired to defend administrators in the city’s lawsuit against jilted Watson Island developer Flagstone Island Gardens.

In the latest sign that the case has divided the city into factions, Regalado vetoed a resolution passed last week that sought to limit Becker & Poliakoff’s defense of administrators in the case to giving advice during depositions and testimony. Commissioners said the firm had misinterpreted their hiring of the firm as conflict counsel as having granted attorneys the authority to intervene in the case on behalf of city staffers who had disagreed with the decision to declare Flagstone in default of its contracts.

Regalado, who in nearly eight years has vetoed only one other measure — a minor piece of legislation related to the membership of city boards — wrote in his veto memo that the commission “has sought to insert itself” into the administration’s attorney-client privilege.

“That I cannot agree with,” wrote Regalado. “To allow this resolution to proceed unchecked would set a poor precedent about the authority the City of Miami may exercise over the professional judgment and advice outside conflict counsel may provide the client.”

Commissioners agreed in June to hire conflict counsel for administrators and a separate firm to represent the city government. City attorney Victoria Méndez recommended that separate conflict counsel be tapped due to the difference in opinion between commissioners and administrators but said attorneys for city staff wouldn’t become actively involved in the case.

Then, last week, Méndez said it appeared that Becker & Poliakoff attorney Jon Polenberg had taken a different interpretation after she learned the firm had drafted a motion to intervene. That led Commissioner Ken Russell to push his colleagues to unanimously rescind their initial vote to hire the firm and replace it with a new resolution restricting its representation of administrators to their capacity as “potential fact witnesses.”

“The commission is not interfering with third-party counsel for the administration,” said Russell. “Quite the opposite: Their counsel is interfering with our ability to be clearly represented with one position as a city. We were very clear that the scope of their hiring would not include taking a position averse to that of the commission and the city. This resolution simply restated and clarified that intent.”

Commissioners can override a mayoral veto with four votes. But barring a special meeting, such a decision wouldn’t be voted on until Sept. 14, when commissioners are next scheduled to meet following an August recess.

In the meantime, Flagstone’s $122 million lawsuit against the city will progress.