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Renowned restaurateur Cye Mandel and John Sisto have been dead for several years. But last week, their names were vindicated by a federal appeals court that ruled the men deserved $9.3 million after they were fired as managers of a hotel and casino owned by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians. In a seven-page opinion issued April 15, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a March 2001 decision by U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith of Miami. The judge ordered the Miccosukees to comply with a 1993 arbitration panel’s decision that required the tribe to reinstate Mandel and Sisto as managers, or pay them the judgment. With interest, the figure now totals more than $17 million, estimates Dean Colson of Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, Fla., who represents the men’s partnership. Though Mandel and Sisto are dead, their share of money would go into their estates, said Stephen Nuell, now president of the men’s Tamiami Partners Ltd. and a partner at Nuell Polsky & Nachwalter in Miami. Nuell expects that Mandel’s share of the money will go to the University of Miami School of Medicine, where he has already endowed a chair in gastroenterology for Dr. Jeffrey Raskin. Two dozen or so other limited partners also are entitled to some of the money. How it will be distributed is proprietary, said Nuell. “The limited partners have waited a long time for justice to prevail, but it’s tragic that Cye and John were not around to see this opinion written,” he said. Miami lawyer Dexter Lehtinen, a partner with Lehtinen Vargas & Reiner who represents the Miccosukees, said he had not yet read the opinion and couldn’t comment. He said he would have to consult with his clients to determine if they would appeal once again. Mandel, who died in May 2000, and Sisto invested $6.5 million to build what began as a bingo hall on Krome Avenue near Tamiami Trail in 1989. As part of the deal they agreed to manage the hall for 40 percent of the monthly profits. Mandel was best known for operating two premier restaurants — the Hasta in Coral Gables, which was frequented by Richard Nixon, and Cye’s Rivergate, which is now the Capital Grille, in Miami. After retiring from the restaurant business he joined with Sisto, a one-time funeral director in the Bronx, to build the bingo hall. But in 1991 the tribe ejected their partnership, Tamiami Partners Ltd., from the gambling facility and took over its operations, alleging mismanagement. They also alleged organized crime ties, which Mandel angrily denied. Attorneys for the tribe argued that they had the right to replace Tamiami under sovereign rights granted to Indian tribes by Congress. Gambling casinos and bingo halls became widespread on Indian reservations after the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which grants tribes broad powers to issue and regulate gambling licenses. In February 1992, Tamiami Partners sued the Miccosukees, asking that the court issue an injunction preventing it from interfering with Tamiami’s operation of the bingo hall. They also asked that the court compel the Miccosukees to engage in arbitration. In December 1992, an arbitration panel was convened. In October 1993, the panel ruled that the tribe had violated the agreement by terminating Tamiami’s agreement and gave the tribe a choice between reinstating Tamiami as manager of the facility or paying it $9.3 million. Years of litigation ensued with various disputes between the two sides being argued in U.S. District Court and, on four occasions, before the 11th Circuit. At stake were issues relating to sovereign rights and federal power. “This was originally an issue of jurisdiction, but the big picture really was does anybody have the power to force the Indians to keep their word. The court said ‘yes’ four times,” said Nuell. The cases eventually were consolidated before the federal appeals court, and the issues in dispute that resulted in its most recent ruling were pared down to the following six arguments: � Whether the district court lacked jurisdiction. The court found that the Miccosukees entered into an agreement that provided for arbitration and oversight of that arbitration by state or federal courts and “such agreements are enforceable.” � Whether the arbitration award was invalid. The court found that the arbitration panel’s authority came from the contract and not from the courts. The fact that the Miccosukees declined to participate in the arbitration and ignore the proceedings is “inexcusable neglect for which this court will not penalize Tamiami,” the court wrote. � Whether claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The court found there were no specific limitations for confirmation of an arbitration award. � Whether Tamiami waived its right to arbitration when it filed suit. The court found that just because Tamiami filed a lawsuit, that didn’t constitute a waiver of its right to arbitration. � Whether the district court properly awarded damages to Tamiami. The court found that “by tenaciously resisting all of Tamiami’s efforts to resume management of the gambling facility,” the Miccosukees effectively chose the damages option and that the court did not err in awarding the damages. � Whether the court properly awarded prejudgment interest and fees. The court found that since the valid award was made nine years ago, “Tamiami is entitled to interest for the time it has had to wait to collect.” “The court is saying if you enter into contracts and you consent to jurisdiction of the court of this country, you have to play by the rules and you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” Colson said.

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