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A motion claiming that former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Philip Bloom violated judicial ethics by engaging in employment discussions with the law firm Steel Hector & Davis prior to his dismissal of a long-running inheritance lawsuit has been denied. In December, before stepping down from the state trial bench and joining Steel Hector, Bloom summarily dismissed an 11-year-old inheritance fraud lawsuit filed by Lisette and Randolph Bisson against Lisette’s mother, Miami Bacardi heiress Vilma Schueg Ramirez de Arellano and others. At stake in the case was nearly $200 million in Bacardi Ltd. stock. Bloom was criticized by the plaintiffs for dragging out a decision on the case for years. After Bloom threw out the lawsuit, the plaintiffs filed motions in December and May seeking a rehearing before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael B. Chavies, who took over the case when Bloom retired from the bench. They argued that a new hearing should be granted because Steel Hector was representing one of the defendants in the Bisson case and that the firm’s job talks with Judge Bloom compromised Bloom’s impartiality. The plaintiffs argued that Bloom violated Canon 3 of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct regarding impartiality by not disclosing that he was engaged in talks with Steel Hector while presiding over the case. But in a nine-page order issued on June 27, Judge Chavies rejected the motion, finding that Steel Hector was not representing a defendant in the case at the time of Bloom’s employment negotiations with the firm. “At the time of the negotiations between the firm and Judge Bloom, the firm was no longer involved in the case,” concluded Chavies. Chavies cited three orders by Bloom from 1996 to 1999 in which he dismissed Steel Hector’s client in the case, a Bacardi family trust called Cititrust (Bahamas) Ltd. Chavies held that Steel Hector had nothing to gain financially or in prestige if the remaining defendants succeeded because it was no longer in the case. “The simple fact that a retiring judge and a firm explore employment options does not automatically impinge on the integrity of the court,” Chavies wrote. Steel Hector has insisted that it stopped working on the case in 2000 — two years before Bloom tossed the lawsuit. Thus, it argued, there was no connection between Bloom’s dismissal of the Bisson lawsuit and his being hired at the firm, and no impropriety. There is no dispute that Steel Hector at one time was deeply involved in the Bisson case and earned hundreds of thousands in legal fees. At issue was whether Steel Hector was still involved in the case late last year when the firm engaged in employment discussions with Bloom. In arguing their case, the plaintiffs cited financial statements of Cititrust (Bahamas) Ltd., which holds the disputed millions being fought over by the Bacardi heirs. The records show that Steel Hector earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees representing the trust. Most of the fees were paid between 1995 and 2000. But $1,800 was paid to Steel Hector in late 2002. The plaintiffs also noted that the case docket shows no record of withdrawal by Steel Hector. Steel Hector chairman and managing partner Joseph P. Klock Jr. said the $1,800 in fees was for work performed in 1999 and that his firm was off the case by 2000, when attorney Jose Astigarraga left Steel Hector and took the case with him to his new firm. Bloom, 72, who joined Steel Hector as of counsel in January after 18 years as a judge in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, has denied knowing that Steel Hector ever represented a party in the case. He did not return calls for comment. Klock, who personally wooed Bloom to join his firm, welcomed Chavies’ ruling. “It was an irresponsible charge on the part of the lawyer who made it,” Klock said. “What I feel badly about is that Judge Bloom’s name was tossed around the way it was.” The Bissons and their attorney, Coral Gables solo practitioner Fulvia A. Morris, declined comment on the ruling. Randolph Bisson said he and his wife will appeal Chavies’ ruling to the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal and that he plans to file complaints about Bloom to the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Florida Bar and the U.S. attorney’s office.

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