Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey threw out several key counts of a lawsuit filed by an Argentinian law firm seeking a share of attorney fees from Miami attorney Jeremy Alters in a nationwide bank overdraft class action.
The ruling Friday was a partial victory for Alters and could set a precedent for foreign law firms practicing in Florida.
“It was a very big deal, and it was a great order, and I’m ecstatic,” said Andrew Hall of Miami-based Hall Lamb and Hall, Alters’ attorney. Bailey essentially found international law firms have to follow basic rules.
Alters said he was pleased with the ruling “and humbled that justice was so strongly served.”
However, Stuart Ratzan, the Miami attorney representing Argentinian law firm Raponi & Hunter, said the lawsuit will proceed on counts of fraud, misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.
Raponi & Hunter Abogados of Argentina claimed it gave Alters, now with Morelli Alters Ratner, the idea to sue banks over their check overdraft policies, which they claimed were rigged. The firms reached a fee-sharing agreement in 2009, and Raponi had outside counsel write it, but Bailey concluded the agreement violated Florida Bar rules.
Alters later teamed up with a number of U.S. law firms to file class action suits against about 30 banks, which were consolidated in Miami federal court.
Bank of America recently settled its case for $410 million, including attorney fees of $123 million.
Raponi & Hunter, which asked for 23 percent of Alters’ fees, was one of two Argentinian law firms that sued for a portion of attorney fees. Alters settled with Campos y Asociados last year for $600,000.
In Bailey’s order, she didn’t reject the claim that Raponi & Hunter gave Alters the idea for the lawsuits. However, she admonished the firm for not following Florida Bar rules requiring foreign law firms to register with The Bar to be granted temporary admission and failing to get a special business visa.
“The plaintiffs never disclosed themselves to The Florida Bar nor did they sign any agreement giving The Florida Bar authority to supervise their conduct, nor were any steps taken to establish their status in the case until after the settlement,” the order said.
“This is far from victory for them,” said Ratzan of the Ratzan Law Group. “The battle over technical aspects of a contract is over, but the battle for justice has not been affected one bit. It continues as before.”
Herman Russomanno of Russomanno & Borrello is Ratzan’s co-counsel.