Michael Tein and Guy Lewis (AM Holt)
In a strategy of quid pro quo, the Miccosukee tribe tried again over the weekend to disqualify the firm representing its former attorneys, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein.
And once again, the tribe and its current lawyer earned the wrath of U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.
Lewis, Tein and attorney Dexter Lehtinen are seeking monetary and profession sanctions against the tribe and its current counsel for bringing an unsuccessful $26 million racketeering lawsuit against them.
The attorneys say the lawsuit was brought in bad faith because the Miccosukees knew the allegations of fraud and kickbacks were not supported by evidence. Cooke dismissed the lawsuit in September, calling it an intratribal squabble.
The former attorneys drew first blood in the sanctions hearing on June 6 when U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke disqualified Gunster attorney Angel Cortiñas because he once worked for Lehtinen’s law firm in the mid-1990s. Cortiñas is also a former Third District Court of Appeals judge.
“This smacks of gamesmanship,” she said of the renewed motion.
The Miccosukees on June 6 initially approached Cooke with disqualifying Carlton Fields Jorden Burt from representing Lewis and Tein.
Cooke called the idea “absolutely ludicrous.” She noted the firms merged in October, long after the racketeering case was filed.
“We are going and moving beyond tit for tat. Enough already,” Cooke said.
Gunster attorney Edward A. Marod, representing the tribe, said Cooke “misapprehended or failed to consider a matter of law or fact material to a decision,” in a motion filed Sunday to reconsider the disqualification of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt.
Jorden Burt attorney James Jorden and Sonia O’Donnell worked on a tax matter that is substantially elated to the claims in the case in front of Cooke, Marod argued.
On Monday morning, Cooke said she was anxious to get to testimony relevant to her making a decision on sanctions and delayed ruling on the renewed motion. But at the end of the day, she let the tribe’s attorney Bernardo Roman III denied it and said she was incredulous that Roman would press the issue.
Cooke said told Roman he knew about this merger last year yet never brought up any objection of Lewis and Tein being represented by Carlton Fields Jorden Burt. Cooke wondered aloud in court if Roman had ever “read the rules the ethics.”
Lewis, Tein and Lehtinen are seeking Rule 11 sanctions, which include attorney fees and costs defending the racketeering lawsuit. The sanctions request focuses on the actions of the tribe’s current attorney, Bernardo Roman III in bringing the lawsuit
Roman also took the stand on Monday as the tribe started to put on is defense to the sanctions accusation on Monday. Cooke admonished him at one point, reminding Roman he was under oath and to think very carefully before answering questions.
The tribe’s former attorneys are asking Cooke to refer Roman and two associates, Yesenia Lara and Yinet Pino, to the Florida Bar for an ethics investigation, as well as to order them to pay for all fees and costs associated with the case.
They also want Cooke to refer the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office for an obstruction of justice investigation.
Lehtinen, in addition, is asking for her to hold the tribe and its attorneys in contempt for failing to provide all recorded tribal meetings in which he supposedly gave bad tax advice.
On Monday, he told Cooke that he was informed Monday morning that Roman had “stumbled” upon some other recordings over the weekend. Lehtinen has accused the tribe of purposefully erasing pertinent parts of the tapes.
Lehtinen is a partner at Lehtinen Schultz Riedi Catalano de la Fuente in Miami. Lehtinen and Lewis are former U.S. attorneys. Lewis and Tein are partners at Lewis Tein in Miami.