Miami Lakes Councilwoman Nancy Simon claims she fights so hard for her town's taxpayers that they should pay for defending her against local and state ethics complaints. "It is a pity that I have been persecuted," she moans during a recent phone conversation. "I stand here every day taking hits. I take it like a champ."
Just don't send her the bill. Miami Lakes taxpayers have footed a $52,185 bill from 2008 through this month to Miami law firm Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza Cole & Boniske to cover Simon's legal expenses to fight a civil lawsuit against her and the town. The firm also fought allegations made to the Miami-Dade and state ethics commissions that Simon misused her position and town funds to interfere in a homeowners' association election and directed a police officer to harass the Miami Lakes resident who had made the accusations against her. His complaints were dismissed.
Weiss Serota also acts as the town's attorney, providing town officials with legal advice. Generally, elected officials facing an ethics investigation hire and pay their own attorney, but Simon took advantage of local legislation that allows council members to use town attorney Weiss Serota and bill its services to Miami Lakes. Still, she was supposed to have sought approval from the town council at a public hearing before the law firm received one cent. She never did.
For instance, in December 2008, the firm invoiced the town $2,937 for a telephone conference with Miami-Dade ethics commission executive director Robert Meyers, legal research on case law, and reviewing and analyzing the complaint against Simon, among other related work.
While Weiss Serota was working on her ethics complaints, Simon last year voted to renew the firm's contract with the town and recently voted to authorize a $600,000 payment to the law firm, an apparent conflict of interest. Simon brushed it off. " I hold myself to high standards," she says. "I do the best for this community. I defend my taxpayers."