County Attorney admonished by Supreme Court of Florida

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By Cindy Jackson
Reporter
December 6, 2019

County Attorney Mike Mullin (File Photo).

Mullin took center stage during the December 4, Nassau County Board of Commission meeting to discussion  a report issued by the Supreme Court of Florida last month. As a member of The Florida Bar, Michael Mullin, the respondent in this case, “is subject to the jurisdiction and disciplinary rules of the Supreme Court of Florida.”

Somewhat similar to complaint filed against Mr. Mullin by Rayonier/Raydient, this matter involved another of Mullin’s former clients, Mr. Joseph Amellio.

By way of background, Mullin served as Nassau County Attorney between 1982-2007, went into private practice with the law from of Rogers Towers (during which time Rayonier was a client as was Mr. Amellio), and returned to the County in March of 2015.

Mullin later took on the role of County Manager in addition to his duties as County Attorney after former county manager Shanea Jones resigned. That became official in January of 2019.

While legal proceedings are not necessarily easy to summarize, Amellio worked with Mullin to get a paving waiver for a development he was planning. That waiver was granted. However, that waiver was contingent upon the approval of plat and engineering plans. That apparently never happened. The plat and engineering plans were never approved. Hence, the waiver expired. That was many years ago. County records indicate that in or around 2011, they were notified that Mr. Amellio was not moving ahead with his plans.

Fast forward to 2016, one year after Mullin returned to be the Nassau County Attorney. Between 2011 and 2016, waiver rules changed.

Mr. Amellio contacted Mullin to inquire about the project, believing that his plat had been approved through the then County Attorney’s office. No such records could be found.

Mr. Amellio pursued another waiver under the new rules. It was denied. Mr. Amellio could appeal to the County’s Conditional Use and Variance Board. He did. Respondent, in the capacity of County Attorney, represented the Conditional Use and Variance Board. Staff recommended denial.

From there Mr. Amellio appealed the decision of The Variance Board to the Board of County Commissioners and filed a complaint with the Florida Bar.

The BOCC found there was “not competent or substantial evidence” and denied the variance.

As to the Florida Bar, citing an unblemished record as a member for 39 years, and finding “no evidence . . . that respondent willfully intended to disadvantage his client or acted with any nefarious intent,” the Honorable Dawn Pamela Fields, County Court Judge and Referee, found that a public reprimand was too harsh and inconsistent with standards and precedents. Instead, recommended was an admonishment, 10 hours of CLE (Continuing Legal Education) in conflicts and/or of advising government entities, and payment of the Bar’s costs in the case – a total of $1,305.91.

Had it gone to trial, at the core of Mr. Amellio’s case is a Rule Regulating The Florida Bar: 4-1.9. “A lawyer who has formally represented a client in a matter must not afterwards: (a) represent another person in the same or substantially related matter in which the person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent.”

County Manager/Attorney Mullin reports on IRS Audit

Mullin reported on a recent (and routine) audit conducted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The only noteworthy change, according to Mullin, was a change in guidelines regarding the manner in which contract or appointed boards are paid.

Historically, board members who receive compensation are issued 1099 forms – an official record of an individual having been given money. Now, however, those individuals will be issued W2 forms – (the all too familiar Wage and Tax Statement) with all taxes and applicable deductions taken.

Most boards and commissions in Nassau County do not receive compensation. There are just two that do – the Conditional Use & Variance Board, which meets just once per month with a monthly stipend of $75, plus mileage (at rates set by the Federal General Services Administration (currently $0.58/mile); and the Planning & Zoning Board, which meets twice per month. Its’ members receive a monthly stipend of $150, plus mileage.

Editor’s Note: Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Cindy received her BA in Political Science from Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Cindy began her career on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide and director. She later became a part of the public relations and lobbying team of the American Iron and Steel Institute and served as director of the office of state legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Cindy was involved in economic development with the state of Maryland, and served as executive director of Leadership Washington County. As a community volunteer, Cindy participates in numerous volunteer activities serving as a member of Sunrise Rotary, and as board member of Cummer Amelia Board of Directors.

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