Miami Lakes

Judge delays decision on who will be mayor of Miami Lakes

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely hears arguments before making the decision between Miami Lakes Mayor Wayne Slaton and former Mayor Michael Pizzi on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely hears arguments before making the decision between Miami Lakes Mayor Wayne Slaton and former Mayor Michael Pizzi on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The residents of Miami Lakes will have to wait at least one more week to find out whether Wayne Slaton or Michael Pizzi will sit in the mayor’s seat.

Attorneys for both sides made their final pleas to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely in a hearing on Wednesday that lasted just over an hour.

Before they got their chance to present their arguments, she informed them that she would not be ruling immediately. She also said she would “stay” the effect of her ruling, so that if there is an appeal to a higher court the current mayor would remain in office until it is resolved.

The victor of this case will serve as the town’s mayor until November 2016, provided that the ruling doesn’t get overthrown by an appeals court.

Throughout the hearing Ely questioned the attorneys from both sides about their interpretation of state law, the town’s charter and the Michelle Spence-Jones case in Miami, which has some notable similarities to this case.

Miami Commissioner Spence-Jones was suspended by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009 after she was charged with corruption, and someone else was elected to her seat during the suspension. After Spence-Jones was cleared, Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 issued an executive order ending her suspension and restoring her to office.

Pizzi has been vying to return to the mayoral seat since he was acquitted on federal bribery charges in August. He filed a reinstatement lawsuit against the town and Slaton in January.

Benedict Kuehne, one of Pizzi’s attorneys, made the case that Pizzi’s suspension from office did not equate to a removal. He went on to question the town’s execution of the charter and said that Slaton was never supposed to be Pizzi’s permanent replacement.

“The law, common sense and public policy are all intertwined,” he said. “He was suspended by operation of law, but not removed.”

Attorneys representing Slaton and the town focused their arguments on the legal language used in documents from the high court where Slaton was referred to as the town’s permanent mayor, along with their interpretations of the town charter and state law.

“Without the word temporary on the ballot, the voters elected Mayor Slaton,” said Juan-Carlos Planas. “And that election cannot be undone.”

The fight for the Miami Lakes mayoral seat began as a result of Pizzi’s suspension from office by Scott due to 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. In addition to his seat, Pizzi is also asking for back pay for his time away from office, and compensation for legal fees.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the counts against the clerk — along with a couple of other counts attached to the suit — were dismissed.

This article has been updated to reflect that if Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely’s decision is appealed, her ruling would be put on hold pending the outcome.