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Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado to be deposed in alleged sunshine-law violation case

Attorneys representing Miami’s Fraternal Order of Police will begin a set of depositions Tuesday to try to bolster their argument that city leaders met in private, in violation of the state’s sunshine laws, before unilaterally setting the terms of new union contracts in the summer of 2010.

The FOP filed a lawsuit in 2010, shortly after Miami City Manager Carlos Migoya invoked a rarely-used state law used during financial emergencies. The law allowed the city’s five commissioners to set the terms of union contracts during financial emergencies.

Though Florida’s government-in-the-sunshine laws ban private meetings by members of the same public body such as city commissions, the law does allow private meetings of elected leaders and administrators in so-called executive sessions if the discussion is strictly about negotiating with unions.

The FOP is arguing that those who attended the meeting the afternoon of Aug. 31, 2010 — which was immediately followed by a city commission vote setting new contract terms — discussed the city’s budget and financial urgency, which should have been discussed in the open.

In its lawsuit, the FOP is demanding any salaries and benefits cut that day be returned to their prior status, and that the more than $20 million the measures cost union members be returned to the city’s police force.

“If we prevail, everything they imposed will be deemed illegal, and they will have to return the money,” said FOP President Armando Aguilar. A tentative trial date has been set for Jan. 30.

On Tuesday, Mayor Tomás Regalado is scheduled to be deposed. He’s expected to be followed by Migoya, the former city manager; Larry Spring, the city’s former chief financial officer, and Michael Mattimore, the city’s lead union contract negotiator. The FOP originally planned to depose city commissioners, but a judge agreed with a request from the city to exclude their testimony.

Regalado said the lawsuit has no merit. He said even though what was said behind closed doors affected the city’s budget, “it had more to do with the strategy for dealing with the unions.”

Migoya invoked the financial-urgency law in May 2010, and commissioners set new terms to save the city more than $80 million by the end of that August. At the time Miami, like most major cities nationwide, was struggling with a large budget deficit caused in part by slumping real estate prices.