Marcia Cooke (Melanie Bell)
An exasperated federal judge said Monday that she will hold an evidentiary hearing on whether the Miccosukee tribe had any real evidence against its former lawyers when it sued them two years ago, alleging racketeering and fraud.
“This ends now,” said U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in setting a June 5 hearing on Rule 11 sanctions against the tribe and its attorney, Bernardo Roman III.
The sanctions are sought by former tribal attorneys Guy Lewis and Michael Tein of the Lewis Tein firm in Miami and Dexter Lehtinen of Lehtinen Schultz Riedi Catalano de la Fuente in Miami.
Lewis and Lehtinen are former U.S. attorneys in Miami, and Tein is a former federal prosecutor.
“I think they will be selling tickets to this one,” said attorney Claudio Riedi, a partner in Lehtinen’s firm representing him.
Cooke in September dismissed with prejudice the federal suit against the attorneys and other defendants, calling it an intra-tribal dispute. A Miami-Dade circuit court judge also dismissed a malpractice lawsuit making similar allegations against Lewis Tein.
Attorneys present at the hearing said she was especially critical of Roman, saying he was re-litigating issues already decided upon and costing his client millions of dollars in legal fees.
“You are dancing on the heads of pins that don’t exist,” Cooke said.
Roman did not return a phone call or email for comment by deadline.
Much of the hearing was centered on Lehtinen’s request of the tribe to produce all audio tapes of council or business meetings where he allegedly advised the tribe not to pay their taxes or that there was no fund set aside to pay taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service has said the tribe owes $170 million in back taxes.
The dismissed lawsuit also claimed Lewis Tein engaged in a kickback scheme with former chairman Billy Cypress.
Cooke, in a written order setting the hearing, denied the tribe’s motion to reconsider her dismissal and ordered it to turn over all audio tapes or documents to Lehtinen or his counsel.
“If any of these recordings are not in plaintiff’s possession or do not exist, plaintiff shall provide a detailed statement explaining whether the audio recording(s) ever existed, why it no longer exists, and the date and means by which it was destroyed or no longer in plaintiff’s possession,” the order stated.
Carlton Fields Jorden Burt attorney Paul Calli told Cooke he would need a whole day to introduce evidence that the tribe intentionally lied in its 2012 lawsuit centered on accusations that Cypress embezzled $26 million with his lawyers’ help.
Calli also told the judge the tribe and its lawyers “have done violence to the rule of law” and knowingly advanced false claims against Lewis Tein.
Calli did not have a comment on the proceedings after the hearing.
Rule 11 sanctions are sought by a party that says it has been subject to bad faith claims in a federal civil action. It usually involves the recovery of legal fees but can also result in a referral to the Florida Bar by the judge.
“For a lawyer, you start trembling when a Rule 11 is mentioned,” Riedi said.