Good news of sorts coming out of the Miami fire fee scandal -- the Florida Bar has cleared Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and City Attorney Jorge Fernandez:
With the scathing 3d DCA opinion, particularly the concurrence, it is unlikely Adorno will get off as easily, not to mention the malpractice claim. I would also add that the concurrence probably gives Adorno's malpractice carrier a pretty solid fraud defense, meaning both the defense of the malpractice claim -- and any judgment or settlement -- will be coming out of Adorno's pocket.
The Florida Bar called off its investigation of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's involvement in the last year's fire-fee scandal, saying there is no probable cause to continue.
The professional body, which regulates and disciplines lawyers, also called off its investigation of City Attorney Jorge Fernandez.
The Bar's Grievance Committee opened investigations in the spring of 2006, based on media reports that the city of Miami had quietly settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of more than 80,000 taxpayers over a fee imposed to cover fire services.
Instead of refunding everyone -- at a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars -- the city agreed in a secret settlement to pay seven activists and their attorney $7 million.
The secret did not last long, though, and the biggest scandal of Diaz's six years in office ensued. A judge later threw out the settlement.
Diaz, a seasoned real-estate lawyer, said in a subsequent deposition that he didn't ask many questions about the case or the looming settlement. He said he left the matter in the hands of former City Manager Joe Arriola.
Diaz's chief of staff, Suzanna Valdez, did not return a phone call Thursday evening.
Arriola said he had no idea the money was going to just a few people. In his deposition, he said he was duped by ''a lot of double talk'' from lawyer Hank Adorno, who represented the group that became known as the ``lucky seven.''
Under the original deal's terms, Adorno's firm was to get $2 million in fees.
Fernandez has said he had ''little understanding'' of the settlement's details. He became city attorney after the deal was arranged but recommended its approval by commissioners. Fernandez also could not be reached for a comment Thursday evening.
This summer, the City Commission agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle the case -- this time to be divided among everyone who paid the disputed fire fee. That deal awaits court approval; a hearing is set for Sept. 21.
Attorney Richard Williams, who represents taxpayers in the case, said he intends to pursue a malpractice claim against Adorno's firm.
Adorno, former city attorney Alejandro Vilarello and former assistant city attorney Charles Mays are also under investigation by the Bar.
Query also whether other similar deals that Adorno masterminded with the City or county will be examined for the type of shenanigans we saw unfold publicly in this fire fee debacle.
Boy things can change fast.
Remember the heady days when Adorno's "aggressive growth strategy" to dominate the legal field was garnering national headlines?
Like sands in the hourglass......