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North Miami Beach City Attorney Hans Ottinot resigned his post ahead of a high stakes commission meeting. Friday afternoon, the outside law firm hired by Ottinot, Heise Suarez Melville, asked a judge to withdraw from the case challenging the authority of Mayor DeFillipo over questions regarding his residency.
The embattled city attorney advised three city leaders not to attend commission meetings for months, shutting down many parts of the city government, while a lawsuit challenging the mayor’s authority worked its way through the court system.
Ottinot and Heise Suarez Melville argued Mayor Anthony DeFillipo has not been living in North Miami Beach as required by the city charter and automatically vacated his seat. It is now unclear if that case will continue.
In his resignation letter obtained by NBC 6, Ottinot wrote his law firm “followed the law and City precedent in making recommendations in compliance with the City Charter,” referring to the mayor’s residency issue.
But in early March, a Miami-Dade circuit judge disagreed with Ottinot’s legal strategy and ordered all commissioners, including the three missing – Vice Mayor Michael Joseph, Commissioners McKenzie Fleurimond and Daniela Jean – to attend the next meeting on March 21.
DeFillipo and his allies in the new majority were expected to fire Ottinot in that meeting.
Attorneys for Heise Suarez Melville wrote in their motion, “it is therefore a fait accompli that at the March 21 meeting, the City Attorney would be replaced with a lawyer and/our law firm who may not be interested in pursuing DeFillipo’s residency violations.”
The governing majority changed after one of the mayor’s allies, Commissioner Jay Chernoff, won in a close runoff election. Chernoff campaigned on firing the city attorney, disagreeing with decisions about pay raises for the commission and gift cards given out during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The people of the city in the election voted to go in a different direction and a better direction,” said Michael Pizzi, the mayor’s attorney. “Instead of resigning and walking away, he (Ottinot) chose to tell multiple commissioners not to show up at city commission meetings which shut down the city.”
“He had two choices. He could resign or he could show up in front of the people and get fired on Tuesday,” Pizzi said.
Ottinot wrote it’s his “intention to work with City staff and the Commission to ensure a smooth transition for the appointment of a new city attorney,” adding, “While the end of our tenure in the City of North Miami Beach has been marred by unfair political attacks because of our adherence to the law, we nevertheless believe that our services as described below contributed to the progress in the City.”
In a recent deposition, DeFillipo said after he sold his longtime North Miami Beach home in December 2021, he moved in with his mother (in the city) for almost a year while renting his one-bedroom condo in North Miami Beach.
He had previously told the NBC 6 Investigators he had moved to the one-bedroom condo in North Miami Beach right away – which it’s the same property he registered with the city’s clerk. In the deposition, he claims his mother had health issues and he didn’t want to make her address public.
Under oath, DeFillipo said his wife and children have been living in Broward, most recently in a $1.2 million house in Davie. He cited “marital issues” and concerns over crime as the root cause of his family’s move.
“It is unfortunate that firm members have recently been subjected to vitriolic and ad hominem attacks on our educational and professional credentials by certain elected officials and certain residents alike,” Ottinot wrote in his resignation letter.
At a February meeting, public comment was taken without a commission quorum and many residents told Ottinot they were going to file complaints against his bar license. It is unclear whether the new city attorney hired by the new majority will continue the legal fight challenging the mayor’s position.
Ottinot said his recommendation involving the mayor’s residency was following the precedent, which played out in 2018 when then-commissioner Frantz Pierre was accused of vacating his seat on the dais for missing 120 days of meetings in a row. A judge later re-instated Pierre but then the commissioner was convicted of bribery charges and was removed from his position again.
“Unfortunately, the Pierre process (referring to the case precedent) was hijacked when the Mayor sued the City asking for a reduction in quorum and when he refused to attend a special meeting despite his position in Pierre,” Ottinot wrote in his resignation letter.
The governing majority in the city changed, favoring DeFillipo, after an extremely close runoff election in November. Tensions increased in the city as the mayor faced questions over his residency and eligibility to govern, prompting commissioners to boycott the meetings.
North Miami Beach has not held a full commission meeting since October, putting most of the city government on hold.
In his letter, Ottinot touts his firm’s accomplishments, saying they saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, generating revenue from developers, acquired $150,000 for the police department, and negotiated major land and development deals benefiting the city.
“It is the firm’s sincere hope that the City Commission finds common ground and healing to make the City a better place for all residents,” Ottinot wrote.
Ottinot’s resignation became effective at 5 p.m. Friday.
Heise Suarez Melville also withdrew from representing Vice Mayor Michael Joseph in a separate case by commissioner Chernoff seeking to remove him arguing he missed 120 days of commission meetings in a row. That case is ongoing.
Joseph’s attorney said he hasn’t, starting the clock at the first meeting he says he missed in December.
NBC 6 has reached out to Vice Mayor Joseph, Commissioner Daniela Jean, and Commissioner McKenzie Fleurimond for a comment and has not yet heard back. All three previously told NBC 6 they’re planning to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
NBC 6 also reached out to Ottinot for comment. We haven’t received a response.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include court developments and further details.
Read Ottinot’s resignation letter below.
North Miami Beach City Attorney Resigns, Withdraws From Case Amid Commission Drama – NBC 6 South Florida
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