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Carl Schuster, the managing partner of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell, defended his firm and a Ruden McClosky partner in the wake of a federal judge’s order slapping both with sanctions for filing a “baseless” employment discrimination case. “She says we’re overly aggressive,” Schuster complained Friday. “[But] our clients in the case have sued us saying we were underly aggressive and didn’t get them a big enough settlement. We’re on the horns of a dilemma. Both sides say we’re wrong.” On Dec. 17, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz of the Southern District of Florida issued an order affirming Magistrate Judge Barry Garber’s recommendation Aug. 24, 2001, for sanctions in the case Doris Hudson v. Ocean Spray Cranberries. Seitz found that Ruden McClosky and partner Barry Mandelkorn “intentionally asserted baseless legal claims without adequate investigation or circumspection.” In June 1998, Mandelkorn filed a civil rights suit against Ocean Spray’s grapefruit processing plant in Vero Beach on behalf of black employees. In the complaint, which later was amended to include 34 employees, he alleged that the company for 20 years practiced racial discrimination and racial harassment and failed to promote based on race. Mandelkorn was joined on the case by lawyer Norman Ganz and paralegal Brian Neiman. The Florida Bar is investigating both Ganz and Neiman in connection with a string of racial discrimination cases they filed. In the Ocean Spray case, the company settled with the plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount. Twenty-one of those plaintiffs are now suing Mandelkorn and the firm for malpractice in Broward Circuit Court. Seitz has yet to rule on how much Ruden must pay to the opposing attorneys in legal fees. Lawyers for Ocean Spray had said they would ask the judge for $700,000 in attorney fees. But Kevin Shaughnessy, a partner in the Orlando office of Akerman Senterfitt and the lead lawyer for Ocean Spray, said Friday that he is talking with Ruden McClosky about a settlement. He noted that Seitz still could impose a fine. Ruden McClosky cannot appeal Seitz’s order until she makes a final decision on whether to assess fees against Ruden and Mandelkorn. This was the second time in 2001 that sanctions were levied against Ruden McClosky and Mandelkorn. Last February, U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks in Miami slapped Mandelkorn with $10,000 in fines and barred the veteran attorney from practicing alone in federal court for two years. The action came in another case in which Mandelkorn had teamed up with Ganz. to represent former BellSouth employees in a racial discrimination suit against the phone company. Middlebrooks found that the two attorneys agreed to take a $120,000 “consulting fee” from BellSouth out of the settlement in the case. In return, they agreed never to sue the phone company again. Ganz stopped practicing law in 1998. Last month’s Ocean Spray ruling was the latest in a series of sanctions recommended or ordered against plaintiff lawyers in employment lawsuits. Another Akerman lawyer, Jon Stage, a partner in the Fort Lauderdale office, has received a federal magistrate judge’s approval for $600,000 in sanctions against employment attorney Karen Amlong and her firm, Amlong & Amlong in Fort Lauderdale. U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard still must decide whether to approve that amount. In July, Middlebrooks, a former corporate lawyer who defended companies in employment cases, slapped Charles Whitelock, managing partner of Whitelock & Associates of Fort Lauderdale, with a Rule 11 sanction, based on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for filing a “baseless” employment discrimination and retaliation suit. Whitelock was hit with an $8,800 penalty after Middlebrooks ruled that he ignored “objective evidence casting serious [if not fatal] doubt” on his client’s allegations.

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