Bernardo Roman III (J. Albert Diaz)
An embattled lawyer for the Miccosukee Indian tribe was accused repeatedly Tuesday of lying to a federal judge at a sanctions hearing examining what evidence he had to justify filing a $26 million racketeering and fraud lawsuit against the tribe’s former attorneys.
The allegation against Miami attorney Bernardo Roman III came in court and in a pleading by an attorney for Miami law partners Guy Lewis and Michael Tein.
Lewis, Tein and Dexter Lehtinen were sued by Roman on behalf of the tribe in 2012. The three attorneys were accused of conspiring with former tribal chairman and co-defendant Billy Cypress to bilk the tribe out of $26 million.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami dismissed the lawsuit last September, calling it an intratribal squabble with little evidence to support it. A state judge dismissed a legal malpractice claim making similar allegations in December.
The tribe’s former attorneys are seeking sanctions against the tribe, Roman and two associates for knowingly filing a false federal lawsuit to smear the defendants professionally.
Lewis, Tein and Lehtinen are asking for reimbursement of attorney fees and costs and want Roman to be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office for an obstruction of justice investigation.
Lewis and Tein are partners in Lewis Tein. Lehtinen is a partner in Lehtinen Schultz Riedi Catalano de la Fuente. Lehtinen and Lewis are former U.S. attorneys.
Lewis Tein’s attorney, Paul Calli, a partner at Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, spent much of the hearing cross-examining Roman.
When he tried to explain his testimony that Lewis Tein didn’t hand over files when it was fired by the tribe in 2010, Calli retorted: “This is another instance of you perjuring yourself in front of Judge Cooke. You know Lewis Tein provided those files.”
Calli then provided documentation showing Lewis Tein turned over files.
Scope Of Work
Roman defended himself against accusations of lying on his direct testimony about Lewis Tein’s fees and performance in cases it took on for tribal members.
At one point, Roman’s voice cracked under questioning, prompting Calli to ask him if he needed a glass of water.
At times, Roman’s attorney, William Hill of Gunster in Miami, objected to Calli’s accusations of perjury, but Cooke often allowed them, saying at one point it was “appropriate.”
Roman testified Lewis Tein handled only simple matters for the tribe and wasn’t experienced in some cases it took on.
“Why did you purposefully omit facts?” Calli asked Roman at another point.
Roman testified he wasn’t sure exactly how many cases the law firm handled for the tribe, was unaware of at least one significant federal court hearing handled by Lewis Tein and had no direct evidence of kickbacks to the law firm from Cypress as alleged in the dismissed complaint.
Roman said he obtained no affidavit from people he testified told him Lewis Tein billed for work that wasn’t performed and received kickbacks.
Roman justified his $250,000 monthly fee from the tribe, saying it was approved by Miccosukee business leaders even though he has no written engagement agreement. He said Lewis Tein’s fees did not receive such approval.
Calli noted the RICO complaint filed by Roman stated Lewis’ home had a wall of 50 antique clocks and a chair reportedly from the “Gone with the Wind” movie set. The items were listed to show sudden unexplained wealth since Lewis started representing the tribe around 2006.
Calli asked if Roman did any investigation about the clocks, which Calli said were bequeathed to Lewis in his uncle’s will, and the chair was purchased in Tennessee for about $1,100. Roman said he did not know that, but the items needed to be taken in the context of the complaint.
Lewis Tein broadened its false claims sanctions request last week against Roman, his legal associates and the tribe in a supplemental memorandum. The firm asked Cooke to also consider levying sanctions under a separate federal statute for Roman expanding the litigation with frivolous motions after the complaint is filed.
“The tribe and its lawyers hid critical documents, provided misleading information to various courts, attempted to suborn perjury, and retaliated against a witness who provided truthful testimony backed by the tribe’s own records,” Calli’s July 25 pleading said.