A Miami-Dade circuit judge allowed a legal malpractice lawsuit filed by the Surf Club Inc. to go forward even as a plaintiffs attorney said the judge was setting the litigation up for "ultimate doom."
Judge Jennifer Bailey refused to dismiss the lawsuit against Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod and Stanley Price, chair of its government relations and land development practice.
She said the issue of whether the malpractice lawsuit was illegally assigned by current club members to previous members could be decided on a motion for summary judgment instead. Bailey limited discovery to that issue only.
Members of the Surfside club claimed in an amended lawsuit filed in June that they lost $50 million by following bad legal advice on how to reduce the club's property taxes.
The club, which once hosted Winston Churchill, was sold in December for $108 million to a group of investors led by the Turkish conglomerate Koc Group.
Members initially sued three law firms: Bilzin Sumberg, White & Case and GrayRobinson. White & Case entered a confidential settlement, and GrayRobinson was dropped for "strategic purposes," according to Miami attorney Robert Zarco, who represents the Surf Club.
Zarco of Zarco Einhorn Salkowski & Brito called Bailey's decision at an Aug. 23 hearing "a nice green light."
"They understand the merits are not good for them, and they are trying to get out of this case on a legal technically," Zarco said.
But he told Bailey he felt the court seemed to be leaning toward the defense.
"I'm a little concerned about the track that the court at the behest of counsel is setting this up in a way for ultimate doom," Zarco said.
Attorney Harley Tropin, who represents Bilzin Sumberg, said he was pleased with Bailey's decision and expects the lawsuit to be dismissed on summary judgment.
"We don't believe Bilzin ever did anything wrong," said Tropin, a partner at Kozyak, Tropin & Throckmorton in Coral Gables. "We are pleased with the results of the hearing where the judge asks to take the discovery on the illegal assignment issue."
Zarco told Bailey that if the lawsuit eventually gets dismissed on the assignment issue, he was prepared to go another route.
"I'm not letting this go. I'm sure you know that. You know me well enough," he said. "If I have to go ahead and name 122 people or those that want to participate and do it as a third-party intended beneficiary of the case, which is the standard as well, that I could do. You know what I'm saying?"
Tropin told Bailey she should just dismiss the suit and allow the plaintiffs to take their chances in the Third District Court of Appeal.
"I wonder what more facts we're going to find that we need to develop this issue further than we have," he said. "We have the facts under Florida law that makes this illegal."