Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson will face an investigation by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission over her role in an insurance settlement that allegedly cheated lawyers out of their share of attorney fees.
Watson, a personal injury protection lawyer, was elected to the bench last November and has been assigned to family court.
But in 2004, her law firm was one of several personal injury protection firms that reached a secret settlement in a court case with Progressive Insurance.
In 2002, the PIP firms retained the services of Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain of Miami and two solo practitioners to work on the bad faith claims of 40 health care providers.
The bad faith lawyers obtained favorable rulings that successfully moved the case forward and began settlement talks with Progressive. Then the PIP attorneys undercut their colleagues by reaching a $14.5 million settlement that cut out the bad faith attorneys and did very little to reimburse clients.
The bad faith lawyers sued and prevailed in Palm Beach Circuit Court, winning a judgment that was upheld on appeal. Watson’s share of the judgment was $981,792.
The firm of Laura M. Watson had taken more than $3 million in the settlement. The Florida Bar found probable cause to try her but closed its case when she was elected to the bench.
The commission in a notice filed Wednesday said that if the claims were true, it would be “conduct unbecoming a member of the judiciary.”
A call to Watson’s office for comment was not returned by deadline.