As the city of Miami battles Flagstone Island Gardens in Miami-Dade Circuit Court over the developer’s ouster from a megayacht marina and resort project on Watson Island, the city commission and Mayor Tomas Regalado are in tense disagreement over legal strategy.
Shortly after Flagstone Property Group — led by Turkish businessman Mehmet Bayraktar — sued the city in June for roughly $122 million in damages because it was kicked out of Watson Island, Miami commissioners authorized the hiring of Becker & Poliakoff to represent city administrators that dealt with the development company.
But in late July, Commissioner Ken Russell sought to curtail the firm’s legal work on the case because Becker & Poliakoff attorney Jon Polenberg drafted a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Miami staffers who had advised city commissioners two months prior against finding Flagstone in default of its contract. The commission voted unanimously to cut ties with the developer after a long series of delays and other problems, such as operating a restaurant on Watson Island without permits.
The motion would have pitted the city administration against the city commission in the Flagstone lawsuit, giving the developer leverage to win its case, according to Russell. “That attorney acted completely out of the work scope,” Russell said. “It was absolutely necessary to get our ducks in a row in regards to the city’s representation.”
A Becker & Poliakoff spokesman declined comment.
Russell convinced his colleagues to approve a resolution that limited Becker & Poliakoff’s services to only provide advice to staff during to staff during depositions and testimony. However, Regalado — who has rarely exercised his power to veto commission decisions — struck down the resolution by claiming it interfered with the administration’s right to having attorney-client privilege.
In his veto memo, Regalado wrote that “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.”
On Tuesday morning, city commissioners voted unanimously to override Regalado’s veto.
“It was the right thing to do,” said Commissioner Ken Russell, who championed the fight to oust Flagstone. “It is very rare that we have a full consensus on the city commission, but in this case we were unanimous. The city has to hold the line and we have to act as one if we are going to win.”