The legal battle for the Miami Lakes mayoral seat is officially over.
With members of the town council and staff standing behind him, Mayor Wayne Slaton announced on Monday that he would not appeal the Florida Third District Court of Appeal’s decision that gives Michael Pizzi the green light to return office as the town’s mayor.
“I am instructing my attorney to issue the appropriate document to the Third District Court of Appeal, informing them that I will not be appealing their ruling,” Slaton said during a press conference held in Town Hall.
The town of Miami Lakes, which was also named on Pizzi’s reinstatement suit, has also said it will not be appealing the decision.
Slaton went on to thank his attorneys, family and friends for their support.
“It has been an honor, once again, to lead this town as your mayor,” Slaton said. “Thank you all for your continued support.”
Pizzi is expected return to office on Wednesday to finish his second four-year term, slated to end in November 2016.
“I’m happy that at the end of the day, after all the ugliness, that both sides are showing class and we’re trying to move forward productively,” Pizzi said in an interview after the announcement. “I think starting on Wednesday the focus is going to be where it should be, on parks, and police, and infrastructure and town beautification.”
Slaton’s announcement comes on the heels of Friday’s decision by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal to uphold Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely’s March 31 ruling to allow Pizzi to return as the town’s mayor.
In addition to getting his seat back as mayor, Ely also ruled that Pizzi can receive back payments, allowances and benefits from Aug. 13, 2013, to the present. The mayor’s position earns $18,000 annually, but that doesn’t include the cost of benefits.
Pizzi predicts that he will get somewhere between $70,000 to $80,000 in back payments from the town, which will include his salary and benefits.
The fight for the Miami Lakes mayoral seat began as a result of Pizzi’s suspension from office by Gov. Rick Scott after Pizzi’s August 2013 arrest on federal bribery charges. At the time, he was serving his second four-year term.
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 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 after 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. The clerk has since been dropped from the case.
Slaton went over the case’s history during the press conference, and said that there are “many that want the Supreme Court to hear this case.”
“However, getting an appeal to the Supreme Court is not an easy or a quick process,” Slaton said. “It is not inconceivable that the process could take a year or more.”
Pizzi said he is glad the legal battle has ended.
“I finally have closure and can sleep well tonight,” Pizzi said. “There are no more battles. So I am really, really happy now.”
With the legal battle over, focus now shifts onto the legal fees associated with the litigation in this case.
Pizzi has requested that his legal fees be covered, but has yet to release how much those fees are.
“I am going to let my lawyers deal with the legal fees,” Pizzi said, before jokingly adding, “I think it’s probably a little over 100 bucks.”
Meanwhile, the town has spent $378,805.22 in legal fees since the legal battle began.
This breaks down to:
▪ $121,109.41 paid to Gastesi & Associates, the law firm that represents the town.
▪ $233,020.81 to Akerman, the firm representing Slaton.
▪ $24,675 to Gelber Schachter & Greenberg to represent Tejeda-Castillo.
The next Miami Lakes election will take place in November 2016, and both Pizzi and Slaton are eligible to run.
When asked if he’s planning to run Slaton said, “I am not going anywhere.”
As for Pizzi he has extended an olive branch to Slaton, saying he has “respect for him,” and would welcome him to take part in town meetings and projects.
He went on to say that he’s not concerned about bad blood from others on the council.
“I think everyone wants to work together and do the right thing,” Pizzi said.