Opinion: Taxpayer Dollars Funded Failed Effort to Placate Former Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli

Raul Mas

A resident of Coral Gables throughout most of his adult life,  Mas is a former banker and wealth manager turned radio host on Spanish-language Americano Media/Radio Libre 790 AM in Miami.

I am sure many Gables Insider readers will recall former Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli’s 2018 attempt to pass an “assault weapon” ban in Coral Gables.  It failed because several residents— myself included—challenged the Commission and reminded them that the State of Florida had reserved to its legislature all laws concerning firearms in Florida (the so-called “preemption statute”).  Valdes-Fauli’s proposal failed to get the necessary votes from the Coral Gables Commission. Then Commissioner Vince Lago argued eloquently against Vales-Fauli’s proposal, pointing out that the very clear language in the Florida statute made it a non-starter.

However, to placate the frustrated Valdes-Fauli, the Commission later took a second vote to join more than two dozen municipalities in a lawsuit challenging the personal financial penalties that city commissioners could incur if they voted for their own gun laws.  This second vote received little publicity or public comment.  As I recall, the entire Coral Gables Commission voted unanimously to join the lawsuit.   Mind you, this was a city-funded lawsuit designed to shield elected officials from personal financial liability for violating Florida law. 

This lawsuit has been going on for over four years now and the City has continued to pour good money after bad in a series of appeals after unfavorable court rulings. Coral Gables and other municipalities took this Quixotic lawsuit all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court has now reached a decision.  They rejected the argument that city commissioners should NOT be personally penalized for breaking state law by attempting to pass their own gun laws.  Here is a link to the Court’s 4-1 decision:

SC21-917 Opinion (flcourts.gov)

I suspect that considerable dollars have been spent by the City of Coral Gables in this lawsuit.  Coral Gables and many of the other municipalities were represented by the law firm of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, P.L.  It would be useful to see a full accounting of the all the expenses incurred by Coral Gables— and of course funded by taxpayer dollars— in this failed effort to challenge the laws of the State of Florida.

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13 thoughts on “Opinion: Taxpayer Dollars Funded Failed Effort to Placate Former Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli

  1. This is just one in a long line of frivolous, expensive lawsuits filed by the city and paid for by the taxpayers. Remember the $150,000+ that was spent on a failed lawsuit to ban styrofoam take out containers? Do the math- the City could have bought paper or cardboard containers for every restaurant in the Gables for many years. Then the problem would be solved in a constructive way, but feeding the big lawfirms and Valdes-Fauli’s ego seems to be more important.

  2. Both my Dad & Granddad, veterans & officers, felt very comfortable sleeping with their 45s close by. They weren’t so INSECURE as to have/ need a machine gun at home. Valdes-Fauli spent many thousands of our dollars to win the pickup truck ban in court. The next city administration decided to repeal it for the sake of pandering to people who pretend to be MACHO.

  3. Thank you for the reply Mr. Thompson.

    I understand the situation, the writer of the article is telling readers that it was foolish of Valdes to initiate an assault weapons ban, even when he knew he had a mountain to climb and tax-payer money needed to be spend defending the aforementioned position. But, that is how laws are challenged and, if successful, change. If laws couldn’t be challenged then we would still have red lining for example.

    It strikes me that the issue is not the money. I am sure the writer and many readers agree to spend money on lawsuits that have little to no chance of winning. Take for example the case against Obamacare. It went to the Supreme Court and it was rejected. I could be claiming that it was a waste of taxpayer money since I support (reluctantly) the that law. I am sure there are hundreds of lawsuits currently in place where me and you think its a waste of money.

    My position is the following. Valdes, which I am no big fan off incidentally, took a principled position after the Parkland shooting to ban assault weapons within the municipality. He was willing to take the risk of being sued by the State, or worse, be fined the $5000 dollars and lose his job. To me, that is admirable.

    As for the enforcement, seems pretty easy to me. If you are caught with an assault weapon in a municipality with an assault weapon ban, you are legally responsible. You wouldn’t have to get rid of it.

  4. Mr. Guzman, allow me to explain.

    Florida law allows only the legislature to regulate guns. Period. It’s called preemption. Without that you would have a patchwork of gun laws all over the state. An enforcement nightmare.

    The Commission knew full well this was illegal. Valdes-Fauli is a lawyer for goodness’ sake.

    If you don’t like state preemption on guns, then petition the legislature to repeal it instead of saying illegal kamikaze missions by a scofflaw commission are anything bit a vanity-driven waste of our money.

  5. Raul Mas thinks “It would be useful to see a full accounting of the all the expenses incurred by Coral Gables”. That’s an easy one. Ask our City through a public records request (Florida Statutes section 119) for the bills from the law firms.

  6. Skeeter33143

    I want an assault weapons ban and I will support popular movements that promote such policy, be it local, state or federal.

    Moving to NY or Chicago will do nothing (at least at the state level) since they already have them in place.

    I have not argued against citizens suing the city. The city is incurring these costs because of a lawsuit. They hold a position (questioning the law and specifically the sanctions against local officials) which they have the RIGHT to defend, even if me or you disagree with it. If it were the other way around I would be asking the city to let residents who are against assault weapons bans to be heard, and to have the RIGHT to defend their position.

    The issue also begs a few questions. Jackson Rip Holmes has one. Also, who is funding the lawsuit against the city? Where is that money coming from? Are the several residents who brought up the lawsuit funding it from their own pockets?

    If the money is such a problem (and it is), I can find a number of issues the City of Coral Gables decides to take an unpopular position on which causes Coral Gables Residents to lose money, lose their homes and livelihood, and are forced to become ex-residents. But I can’t sue, I don’t have the money, nor the contacts. But I can join my fellow Coral Gables residents in opposing such unpopular positions. In other words, doing it by democratic means, not with just the will of a few residents.

    With money and power, one person can trample on the wishes of the public.

  7. If you want an assault weapons ban move to New York City or Chicago where you can feel safe, and they already have the bans in place. We the citizens should be allowed to sue the commissioners to get our money back or the so-called 50%+ (I don’t ever recall a vote on this so I am not sure where this figure came from) that want the ban can help pay the money back.

  8. Thank you for bringing up this issue. Pissing away citizens’ $$$ for unwarranted legal expenses seems to the new MO at City Hall.

  9. Let me get this straight. The writer is concerned about city spending due to a lawsuit he participated in because city managers, elected by the people of Coral Gables, took a principled decicion (for once), which I and 50% + of the population agree on, to ban assault weapons?

    Doesnt sound to democratic to me.

    Why not campaign against those officials in the following election and reverse the decision?

    Maybe because of that 50% + who wants an assault weapons ban?

    In Florida today, if its not my way, its the highway. Again, very undemocratic.

    Not to mention the number of Federal Laws that the State insists on breaking. The State Government will not submit to the Federal Government, but the City Government will submit to State Government. Very convenient.

  10. Rip, thanks for your question. I filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act, Florida Public Records Act) request with the City and the City Attorney, fairly early on in the litigation. My recollection is the total figure at that stage was already in six figures for the cities.

    Rip, please email the Commission your FOIA request for the documents showing what the total paid by the Gables has been now that the case is over with the Supreme Court order.

    Good luck. Jack

  11. Another example of the failed leadership in City Hall. We pay for their mistakes. We should make them pay.

  12. This is great reporting. I also was hammering the Commission along with my dear friend Mr. Mas to drop this stunt which violated state law and the Florida Constitution. We were right.

    In fact I obtained the legal billing documents through my FOIA requests which proved how incredibly expensive this fool’s errand was.

    Only the state can regulate guns. Duh.

    All Commissioners and the current mayor should be jettisoned from office for this foolishness.

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