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The plaintiff attorney in a federal class action lawsuit against The Florida Bar is calling for a $178 special assessment on each of the Bar’s 77,000 members to reimburse victims of disbarred Miami attorney Louis Robles. In motions filed by Miami lawyer Thomas Tew, who represents about 4,000 former Robles asbestos clients, Tew claims that the Bar is being disingenuous in its arguments for refusing to come up with a $13.5 million lump sum payment to cover the clients for the money they lost to Robles. “The Florida Bar evidently believes that the price tag for administering the [Client Security Fund] legally, $178 per active member, is simply too high,” Tew wrote in a recent response to the Bar’s motion to dismiss. “As a result, the constitutional rights of over 4,000 citizens who were swindled by their [Bar-regulated] attorney� have been trampled.” Tew, a partner at Tew Cardenas in Miami, accused the Bar of “seeking to avoid constitutional scrutiny with evasive procedural challenges.” He said he’s “forcing the Bar to honestly confront its unconstitutional double standard for handling similarly situated victims of attorney malfeasance.” In March, the Bar moved to dismiss the class action suit with prejudice. Jennifer Coberly, partner at Zuckerman Spaeder in Miami who is representing the Bar, argued that the plaintiffs “rushed to the courthouse” with a premature complaint and that the Bar, as a quasi-governmental body, has sovereign immunity. She said the plaintiffs must first exhaust all other avenues for repayment, including seeking recovery against Robles’ estate in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, before turning to the Bar’s Client Security Fund. She also claimed that Tew exceeded his duties as court-appointed inventory attorney by filing the class action suit. Both sides are digging in their heels in the unusual federal case. After two South Florida federal judges recused themselves, Southern District of Florida Chief Judge William J. Zloch asked for an out-of-state federal judge within the 11th Circuit to take the case. The case is now being heard by Senior U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt in the Northern District of Georgia. In his latest motion, Tew outlined ways the Bar can find the money to reimburse the poor, elderly and sick former clients of Robles, most of whom are asbestos clients. He suggested that: • Bar dues be increased for the first time in six years so that more money can go into the Client Compensation Fund • Florida copy Louisiana, which currently is adding a financial penalty on lawyers who are hit with disciplinary action so that their victims are automatically reimbursed. • Florida follow the model of the New York Bar, which occasionally dips into its general revenue fund when losses are excessive, as occurred last year when it paid out $5 million in claims. Jumped the gun? Robles, a prominent class action and mass torts attorney with cases throughout the country, was accused of misappropriating $800,000 from client trust funds, charging asbestos clients excessive legal fees of up to 60 percent out of their settlements and giving little if any settlement money to clients. The Florida Supreme Court permanently revoked Robles’ license in 2003 after he was temporarily suspended by the Bar in early 2002. He closed his downtown Miami law firm, The Robles Law Center, in 2002 and filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Miami-Dade Chief Judge Joseph P. Farina Jr. assigned Tew as inventory attorney to catalog all his clients and determine how much he owed them. In December 2003, Tew sent a letter to the Bar asking for release of a lump sum payment of $13.5 million to compensate Robles’ former clients. Like most state bars, The Florida Bar has a client compensation fund supported by Bar dues. It is intended to reimburse clients for losses due to the dishonest conduct of attorneys. Out of Florida lawyers’ annual dues of $275, $20 is set aside for the victims’ fund. The Bar’s Clients’ Security Fund maintains about $3.5 million, said Michael Tartaglia, director of the Bar’s programs division who oversees the client fund. About 200 to 300 victims are compensated from the fund annually, he said. Under the fund’s rules, the most any individual victim can receive is $50,000. In his latest motion, Tew acknowledged that there is not enough in the Bar fund to reimburse all of Robles’s victims. Therefore, he asked the Bar to levy a special assessment on its members. Bar officials have said the Client Security Fund does not award lump sum payments to a class of wronged clients. Still, Coberly denied Tew’s assertion that the Bar “summarily rejected” his demand for a lump sum payment to Robles’ former clients. “The Florida Bar committee has not made any decision regarding plaintiff’s potential claims because Mr. Tew, on behalf of the Robles’ clients, never followed the standard procedures for seeking relief,” her motion stated. “Instead, plaintiffs failed to avail themselves of the administrative remedies provided by the Client Security Fund and rushed to suit.” In his response to the motion last week, Tew conceded that the Bar may be sheltered under sovereign immunity. But he disputed the Bar’s contention that his clients have not exhausted other avenues of recovery. He said the Bar regularly pays claimants who have not exhausted other sources of relief and the Bar knows that victims are unlikely to collect a penny by filing claims against the Robles estate in bankruptcy court. �Do the right thing’ The real reason the Bar is denying the claim for a lump sum payment, Tew’s motion stated, is that it is not properly funding the Client Security Fund. “The Bar doesn’t want to reach into its pockets to do the right thing,” Guy Giberson, co-counsel to Tew and an associate at Tew Cardenas, said in an interview. “The Bar created an entitlement program and they are required to properly fund it.” Bar president Alan Bookman was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. But Miami lawyer Dennis Kainen, the newest member of the Bar board of governors, said he is troubled by the idea of assessing Florida lawyers or dipping into the Bar’s general fund to pay victims of one lawyer. “I don’t think it’s right to go after The Florida Bar every time one of its members allegedly does something wrong,” Kainen said. “Do physicians have a victims’ fund, or architects?” Still, Kainen said it may be time to look at whether the amount of money in the client security fund should be increased. Julie Kay can be reached at [email protected]

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