Miami Lakes

The mayor quotes the Dalai Lama. The ex-mayor says he's happy his lawsuit got dismissed.

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi
Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The saga of Miami Lakes and its former mayor Michael Pizzi didn't necessarily end when a judge dismissed Pizzi's lawsuit for attorney's fees with prejudice last week.

Pizzi's attorneys immediately appealed the decision to the Florida Third District Court of Appeal. Monday afternoon, Pizzi gave a verbal shrug to the decision as a reiteration of the 2016 dismissal of the lawsuit, which seeks reimbursement for the $3.25 million in legal fees Pizzi rolled up from 2013-2014.

"Both sides have always known that this case was going to be decided at the Third District Court of Appeal," Pizzi said. "I'm kind of happy that we're getting up to the Third District Court of Appeal so we can get a positive ruling instead of going through a whole trial at circuit court, then having to go to the court of appeal."

As a client, Pizzi, an attorney, has been on a winning streak.

His arrest on federal bribery charges in 2013 while Miami Lakes mayor was followed by an acquittal in 2014. (Florida Gov. Rick Scott suspended him as mayor when he was arrested, as per state law.)

Then, after Pizzi sued Scott to lift his suspension, the Florida Supreme Court stepped in and forced Scott to revoke the suspension.

But Pizzi wasn't reinstated immediately because the town council refused to give him his old job back. Pizzi won in court again, this time in the Third District Court of Appeal, beating the town to be reinstated as mayor.

Pizzi then sued city hall for his criminal defense legal fees — the $3.25 million. It was that suit that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Mavel Ruiz dismissed last week.

"I fully expect the appeals court to validate Michael Pizzi’s entitlement to legal fees incurred in obtaining his full and complete exoneration," said Ben Kuehne, who defended Pizzi along with Miami defense attorney Ed Shohat. "Florida common law is clear, and has been so for a long time, that public officials exonerated or acquitted of wrongdoing arising from their official positions are absolutely entitled to receive payment of their legal fees."

In 2016, Pizzi lost his bid for a third term as mayor.

Tuesday was the third dismissal of this suit, but the first with prejudice, meaning that Pizzi's lawyers cannot refile their request for legal fees with the circuit court.

“We believe the appellate court will agree with both prior judges that Mr. Pizzi does not have a viable case against the town," Miami Lakes Town Attorney Raul Gastesi said. "Unfortunately, Mr. Pizzi is causing the residents unnecessary inconvenience to incur further and needless legal fees.”

Meanwhile, Miami Lakes is relieved its long municipal nightmare is over.

“As the Dalai Lama once said, our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you can’t help them at least don’t hurt them," Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid said. "This lawsuit was hurting the institution and the brand of Miami Lakes. I pray that this ruling brings our community much needed tranquility and happiness that our residents deserve.”

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