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Miami forensic accountant Lewis B. Freeman likens his latest project to unraveling a bowl of spaghetti, one strand at a time. The assignment: create an orderly inventory of the 7,000-plus asbestos case files left behind by Miami lawyer Louis Robles, who agreed last week to surrender his law license as part of a settlement with the Florida Bar of disciplinary charges that he overcharged clients. Robles has not admitted any wrongdoing. The good news, court-appointed inventory attorney Freeman said Tuesday, is that Robles has been “cooperative and very helpful.” He said that the Robles Law Center computers, where the firm stored case information, are up and running. Robles’ former employees are helping to sort through them, under Freeman’s supervision. The bad news, Freeman said, is that the case files themselves are in disarray, having been moved “in a rapid manner, without much planning,” from the law firm’s former offices in the Wachovia Financial Center in downtown Miami to a warehouse in western Miami-Dade. After a four-year investigation, the Bar accused the prominent plaintiff attorney of nine counts of overcharging clients costs and contingency fees. The Bar had recently expanded its investigation to include the alleged theft of $800,000 from client trust accounts. Robles practiced in Miami for more than two decades. He gained a national reputation for handling thousands of asbestos cases around the country. In the 1990s, Robles also filed suits against residential developer Lennar, alleging that shoddy construction left homes vulnerable to destruction by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Freeman said it’s too early to make sense of all that has transpired or the status of the asbestos cases. His understanding is that most of the cases are completed except for the collection process. That makes life easier than having cases that are only 25 percent complete. But in this instance, collections represent a challenge because many of the defendant asbestos producers are bankrupt, Freeman said. The inventory includes roughly 50 cases, involving a total of 7,000 to 8,000 plaintiffs who were represented by Robles. The procedure for unraveling the mess is still being worked out, Freeman said. Freeman, a forensic accountant, consultant and nonpracticing lawyer, is no stranger to controversy and sorting out complicated financial arrangements. He worked on the Unique Gems International case in 1997, in which 15,000 Miami-area investors were duped in a money laundering Ponzi scheme. He also handled the Professional Resource Systems International case in 2000, which embroiled 48,000 victims in one of the largest Internet Ponzi schemes. Among the issues he’ll explore in asbestos cases are the status of complaints, how much is owed to whom, which lawyers are due referral fees and what co-counsel fees must be paid. “When you come into these situations, the first thing you see is the crisis, then you figure out all the ripple effects,” Freeman said. In this case, there are financial issues, administrative issues “and the unknown,” he said. As a clearer picture emerges, Freeman said, he’ll assess the situation and report back to Chief Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina, the Florida Bar and to Robles’ clients.

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