The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court judgment favoring a Hollywood law firm accused of malpractice over a failed $3.8 million condo loan.
A private lender who lost $3.8 million on a failed condominium development lost his appeal challenging a jury verdict in his legal malpractice lawsuit.
The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the verdict favoring the Hollywood law firm of Eisinger, Brown, Lewis, Frankel & Chaiet.
Allen R. Greenwald, who lent the money to developer Juan Puig before the spectacular collapse of his condo conversion companies, claimed the loan was lost because of mistakes by Gary Brown, a real estate partner at the firm.
Brown and the law firm were accused of failing to properly document the 2006 commercial loan used to develop property owned by Village Creek LLC, which failed during the real estate collapse. Greenwald was on the committee of unsecured creditors in Puig’s bankruptcy.
The loan document was “essentially worthless” because it was rife with errors that made it unenforceable, plaintiffs attorney Peter Valori said in an appellate brief. “Also, it did not contain a legal description and was not recorded in the public records.”
When the Miami condominiums were sold, Greenwald was not repaid. He took his law firm to court but lost at trial.
On appeal, he argued Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley erred by preventing Greenwald’s expert witness from testifying that Brown violated several Florida Bar rules relating to the attorney’s duty to uphold a certain standard of care.
The Third District opinion, written by Judge Kevin Emas, said Greenwald’s attorneys failed to preserve the issue for appeal. Third District Judges Angel Cortinas and Alan Schwartz concurred.
A review of the record showed Bagley reserved a ruling on the admissibility of the testimony during a pretrial hearing. When plaintiffs counsel got to issue of Bar rules during trial, the defense objected. Bagley sustained the objection and denied a request by Brown’s attorney, Edward Polk of Cole Scott Kissane, for a sidebar.
Emas noted Bagley still had not made a ruling on the motion in limine, and the plaintiffs attorney failed to press the issue.
“The fact the trial court sustained an objection to the question and denied a request for a sidebar did not obviate the need for a proffer in this case, nor did it suffice to preserve the claimed error,” Emas wrote.
“Plaintiffs could have sought a definitive ruling from the court at some point prior to commencing the examination of their expert,” he continued. “At the very least, given the sustained objection and denied sidebar, counsel should have requested an opportunity to make a proffer of the specific rules and testimony at the conclusion of its direct examination.”
In a footnote, Emas indicated Polk’s inability to question his own witness on The Bar rules would not have swayed the jury. He noted a defense expert was cross-examined on “virtually every duty and standard of care referenced by the plaintiffs,” so the jury still heard the issues the plaintiff wanted to get before them.
In response to Wednesday’s decision, Valori said, “I am extremely disappointed with the outcome of the case. I truly feel that there has been an unjust result, and I am saddened by what is in my opinion a miscarriage of justice.”
Polk did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Puig Inc., controlled by condo converter Juan Puig, was a major player during the real estate boom. At its height, his company was orchestrating 23 projects with 400 employees. He was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2007.
During the real estate boom, Puig and his wife, Diana, collected posh trophy homes, exotic sports cars and Latin American paintings worth millions of dollars. Their personal wealth ended up on the auction block.