By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"Do you think his partners at Bierman Shohat love that he's in politics?" she asks exasperatedly. "[All those] pro bono cases? I don't think so. Michael is an excellent litigator but instead of making money, he's out there giving away advice or taking pro bono cases. And if it's not that, he's doing council stuff, talking to newspaper reporters, meeting with the rock miners or Peerless!"
Driving, Pizzi had acknowledged his problems. "It's been a strain on my law practice," Pizzi concedes. "My partners have expressed their concerns about the amount of time I spend on [free] cases when I could be making money. It's also unfair to my family ..."
But Pizzi can't explain himself further, other than acknowledging a deep-rooted desire to help people. "I guess I don't want to let the bad guys like Mestre win," he reasons. "I guess sometimes I have more balls than brains."
Shohat, however, downplayed the consequences of Mike's extracurricular activities. "We understand that criminal law is not his entire life," he demurs diplomatically. "But we do have priorities that have to be established."
There is also the issue of Pizzi's outspokenness against unethical and corrupt politicians. "People have criticized me for making comments about Miriam Alonso," Pizzi says. "They tell me that as a criminal defense attorney, I should be the last person weighing in on a person's guilt. But when you have a compelling case against someone like Alonso, it's pretty hard not to."
Has it cost his law firm customers? "I don't know if we've lost out on potential clients because of Mike," Shohat shrugs. "His outspokenness may have prevented someone from picking up the phone and calling us. I can certainly tell you that Alonso never gave a thought to calling us."
Pizzi is leaning on the hood of his Toyota in front of Barbara Goldman High School in Miami Lakes. He is sucking down a Powerade after a long day of picking up garbage with some neighborhood teenagers. The former parole officer is waxing poetic on the endemic corruption that runs rampant through the county. "Everything is about who you know and who you owe a favor to," Pizzi says. "We have a political process where you can only get elected by raising gobs of money and putting your hands in the pockets of special interests. Do you know how many times people have asked me to back off? To play a little ball, mend a few fences, agree to certain things in exchange for $50,000, even $100,000, for a run at countywide or statewide office? My enemies would like it if I would shut the hell up and go home."
Pizzi alleges Lowell Dunn tried to get him to play ball once. Mike says he met Dunn on a sultry July day in 1999 on the corner of NW 89th Avenue and 154th Street at the dead end. "He was bragging that he could easily raise $100,000 for me if I ever decided to run for a countywide office," Pizzi says. "All he wanted was for me to be a little more cooperative, a little more reasonable to his plans. To me, that meant cutting a deal that compromises everything I believe in. I told him to take a hike."
"You're the second coming of William Moses Kunstler, Michael," I crack, the soft monotone of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love" emanating from the Camry's tape deck.
"I'll admit I like being a belligerent asshole," Pizzi shoots back. Kunstler is the famous 1960s radical lawyer who got regularly blasted for his politics and choice of clients (these included the Black Panthers, the Chicago Seven, leaders of the American Indian Movement, and John Gotti in the government's last show trial). Kunstler, with his glasses perpetually pushed up above his long flowing locks, was also persistently attacked for self-promotion and flamboyance.
"Actually," Pizzi reconsiders, "I kind of identify more with Erin Brockovich." The single mother and inexperienced legal assistant in 1993 discovered that Pacific Gas & Electric was involved in contaminating the drinking water in Hinkley, California, which caused devastating illnesses among its residents.
"Somehow, I doubt push-up bras, tight skirts, and fishnet stockings are your style," I suggest.
Pizzi tilts his head back and laughs heartily. "Can you imagine if I showed up to a county commission meeting dressed like Erin Brockovich?" Pizzi snorts. "Now that would be something."
Then he gets serious again. His intense blue eyes gaze into the Northwest Miami-Dade horizon, bathed in pink and purple as the sun sets just past the Everglades. "Could you imagine if I had the subpoena power of the state prosecutor?" Pizzi says slowly, with relish. "I don't think people like Dunn, Robaina, and Mestre would be able to sleepat night!"