Lorenzo Cobiella hired as full time Town Attorney
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
The Miami Lakes Town Council approved a contract with Lorenzo Cobiella to be the town’s full-time attorney where he will be assigned at town hall assisting the town manager, his staff and council members for a minimum of 40 hours per week.
Cobiella is an associate with Gastesti and Associates, which is the town’s contracted attorney, but Miami Lakes was seeking an in-house counsel to focus solely on the town’s legal and litigation matters.
The contract initially calls for the allocation of $150,000 as a retainer for legal services, $50,000 for special projects and for land-use attorney services and $400,000 for litigation reserves.
But Raul Gastesi, Cobiella’s boss at the law firm, said he would accept $175 an hour for six months and ask for a $200 increase as a compromise to appease residents’ concern over attorney fees.
After terminating the contract of the town’s land-use attorney Nancy Stroud and net savings to new Town Manager Edward Pidermann’s contract, the town applied the money to Cobiella’s contract, increasing the rate by about $5,000.
His duties include reviewing and drafting resolutions and ordinances for town council meetings and planning and zoning meetings; draft town-related agreements; review and provide legal support to the Procurement Department and all RFP and RFQ requests; work with the town manager and town staff; and attend council and mayoral briefings with the town manager; and provide legal advice for special projects.
Mayor Manny Cid, who sponsored the resolution to amend the town attorney contract, said Miami Lakes has the highest level of legal services in town history for only a $5,000 increase.
“In the past, the town paid double but we felt we didn’t get the best legal services,” Cid said during an 8:30 a.m. special call meeting. “It’s a no brainer.”
Council members gave the mayor’s contract proposal their unanimous support.
Vice Mayor Nelson Rodriguez was absent and Councilmember Luis Collazo recused himself citing a conflict of interest.
Pidermann said an in-house counsel has the greatest benefits for Miami Lakes.
“We have the ability to walk down the hall and see him there and involve him in impromptu meetings,” said Pidermann. “Having us an exclusive client allows us a lot of benefits.”
Outgoing Town Manager Alex Rey said Cobiella’s new contract is worth the time and money since the law firm was underpaid ($104 an hour) while working more than 40 hours per week.
Gastesi said his law firm never billed the town for providing legal assistance for the Town Manager Selection Committee, the town’s Charter Review Commission and the FPL contract negotiations.
“With the effort and the amount of work and time at their rate should require a compensation adjustment,” Rey said. “Now you are getting a better level of service.”
Gastesi said Miami Lakes is fighting several lawsuits and 100 foreclosure cases.
Miami Lakes hired the law firm of Lydecker Diaz to fight former mayor Michael Pizzi’s lawsuit, which is under an appeal following a lower court’s decision the town is not responsible for his attorney fees for his criminal trial.
Miami Lakes reportedly has already spent more than $1 million to fight Pizzi’s lawsuit, which has been dragging on for five years.
Also during the special meeting, Miami Lakes approved a resolution to proceed with a lawsuit against Miami-Dade should the county resume plans to place an I-75 interchange at N.W. 154 Street.
At issue is a legal binding agreement between Miami Lakes and Hialeah to keep N.W. 154 Street closed when the latter city annexed a large section of land west of the town in 2003.
Miami Lakes reached out to the county over residents’ concerns of more traffic gridlock if 154 Street is opened up, and conducted its own traffic study which determined the impact would be detrimental without major traffic improvements to N.W. 87 Avenue, N.W. 82 Avenue and the Palmetto Expressway.
Gasetsi said Miami Lakes was seeking a dialogue with county officials about the proposed projects and was told they would place the issue on the agenda during a county commission meeting to debate.
However, the county bypassed the issue and contacted FDOT indicating Miami-Dade is ready to proceed with the interchanges, Gastesi said.