Miami’s legal landscape is facing turbulence as the city attorney’s office is contending with a series of resignations. This happened amidst mounting controversies surrounding City Attorney Victoria Méndez. The recent departures of the critical legal staff members reflect a period of upheaval within the municipal legal apparatus as Méndez becomes the epicenter of scrutiny. 

In a candid email obtained by the New Times that was addressed to the Florida Bar, Méndez disclosed the departure of three staff lawyers in recent months. Two of them have tendered resignations. The departure coincides with the heightened tension surrounding Méndez, particularly regarding allegations of impropriety linked to her family’s involvement in real estate transactions associated with the Guardianship Program of Dade County. 

Méndez acknowledged the staffing challenges and outlined the current situation, citing reasons like maternity leave, resignations, retirements, and familial emergencies behind the absence of many members of her legal team. The vacancies present significant hurdles for the office’s operational efficiency, aggravating a demanding workload. 

Amidst this, filmmaker Billy Corben, known for his vocal criticism of Miami’s political establishment, lodged a new complaint with the Bar against Méndez. In his grievance, he accused Méndez of breaching rules of professional conduct during a contentious city commission meeting. According to the complaint, she allegedly engaged in verbal sparring with Corben, disparaging him from the dais. Méndez’s request for an extension to address the complaint reflects the intensifying pressure she faces from multiple quarters. 

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Miami’s director of communications, Kenia Fallat, confirmed the departure of three attorneys in November 2023 and provided insights into the personnel changes. Assistant city attorneys Brandon Fernandez and Lauren Kain Whaley have resigned from their positions, and assistant city attorney William Juliachs opted for retirement. The circumstances surrounding their exits still need clarification, with several unanswered queries about the former staffers’ LinkedIn profiles. So far, no official statements have come from the city. 

Notably, Fernandez, a longstanding member of Méndez’s team, transitioned to a similar role in the City of West Palm Beach. This hints at potential discontent within the Miami city attorney’s office. Kain Whaley’s departure in November 2023 after almost three years of service and Juliachs’ retirement after a seventeen-year tenure further intensified the upheaval within the legal department. 

The controversy surrounding Méndez is no longer limited to personnel matters, with legal battles and ethical questions casting a shadow over her tenure. Last year, allegations surfaced regarding her involvement in real estate transactions that allegedly exploited vulnerable individuals under the auspices of the Guardianship Program of Dade County. These allegations and ongoing investigations by the Florida Bar portray the complex legal and ethical challenges confronting Méndez and her administration. 

The city attorney’s office faced additional setbacks as a protracted legal dispute over budgetary matters threatened to destabilize municipal finances. Méndez’s alleged misinterpretation of legal advice regarding budgetary procedures has led to a fiscal impasse. The situation prompted sharp criticism from elected officials, exacerbating tensions within the city administration. 

Amidst these mounting challenges, calls for Méndez’s resignation have grown louder, with some commissioners expressing dissatisfaction with her handling of critical legal matters. Despite these pressures, the city commission’s decision to extend Méndez’s contract until June mirrors the complexities of navigating Miami’s tumultuous political landscape. 

As the turmoil within the Miami city attorney’s office continues, the city struggles with profound questions regarding governance, accountability, and ethical stewardship. The outcome of ongoing investigations and resolving internal conflicts is expected to profoundly impact Miami’s legal landscape in the coming months.