Another Victory for North Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Joseph

Michael Joseph, North Miami Beach Commissioner (North Miami Beach)

A circuit court judge has ordered the city of North Miami Beach to absorb Commissioner Michael Joseph’s nearly $50,000 in legal fees defending a lawsuit filed by Commissioner Jay Chernoff last year to unseat him.

“Justice prevailed. The court agreed that my protest was justified,” said Joseph. “I was sued to pressure me to turn a blind eye and stop my protest over a cover-up of illegal activities in the city. This cover-up was a fraud on taxpayers and caused a lot of division in our community.”

Chernoff’s lawsuit came after the city’s former mayor, Anthony DeFillipo, faced accusations of living outside city limits, an allegation the charter says would disqualify him from the mayoral position. The embattled DeFillipo was arrested in May 2023 and charged with three felony counts of voting in North Miami Beach though he had relocated to a new residence in Davie, according to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Concerns over the mayor’s residency prompted an ongoing absence of at least two commissioners Joseph and McKenzie Fleurimond  ultimately breaking quorum and gaining backlash from city residents who demanded the city’s business move forward despite the allegations against DeFillipo, who maintained he was innocent.

Then Chernoff, as acting mayor, sought a court order for Joseph to vacate his seat for allegedly missing more than 120 meetings, an absence threshold the charter states would automatically result in the forfeiture of a commission seat.

Judge Peter Lopez reinstated Joseph in June, stating he had not violated the 120-day rule, after the commission voted 3 -1 to have Joseph removed.

The commission unanimously approved Joseph’s reimbursement for legal fees at a city commission meeting last week, one day after the court ruling.

“The Court finds that Defendant Commissioner Michael Joseph’s litigation of this matter arose out of or in connection with the performance of his official duties and served a public purpose,” read the ruling, indicating that Joseph is expected to receive the funds no later than March 31.

“Do I feel vindicated? Yes,” Joseph told The Miami Times. “Do I feel it was the right thing to do? Yes. Is it worth it? Time will tell, but I hope it was. This has been a difficult road for me and my family. My reputation as well as my health suffered under the constant harassment by supporters of the former mayor.”

Joseph reportedly suffered a heart attack last year.

He said the city can now move forward after the string of lawsuits and countersuits but not without acknowledging the hefty legal bill taxpayers will assume.

According to information obtained through a Miami Times public records request, between court battles over DeFillipo’s residency and mayoral status and Joseph and Fleurimond’s commission meeting absences, the city incurred legal fees in excess of $236,600.

“It’s time to turn the page, but it should be done in full transparency, and the taxpayers have to be compensated,” said Joseph, explaining that DeFillipo and his supporters on the commission should be made responsible for repaying the city and its taxpayers.

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