Real Estate broker Edie Laquer (J. Albert Diaz)
Attorneys for Miami Worldcenter developers Arthur Falcone and Marc Roberts say they plan to use damning findings by an arbitrator against their bitter rival, commercial broker Edie Laquer, in litigation over the long-delayed project.
But Laquer and her attorneys say the arbitrator’s final award against her can’t be used in a pending lawsuit against the developers over her claimed stake in the project slated for Miami’s blighted Park West neighborhood. She said the arbitration case amounts to nothing more than a distraction because she chose not to participate in the final hearing.
Laquer, a power broker who played a key role in the deals that developed Miami’s Brickell financial district, said she decided not to participate in the arbitration to avoid undermining her legal position in the lawsuit before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick.
Either way, the arbitration award made final last Wednesday throws gasoline on an already raging fire.
“This further complicates Laquer’s efforts to be considered a partner of any of the Miami Worldcenter projects,” said attorney Richard J. Burton of the Burton Firm in Aventura, who represents Roberts.
Falcone’s attorney, Mitchell Berger, a partner at Berger Singerman in Miami, compared Laquer’s refusal to participate in the arbitration to Major League Baseball’s Alex Rodriguez walking out of the arbitration on his steroid use.
“Like in baseball, there is no crying in arbitration,” he said.
Berger said Laquer can’t hide from the findings issued by arbitrator Thomas G. Schultz of the American Arbitration Association, and they absolutely can be used in the pending state litigation.
“The arbitrator determined in all respects that Mr. Falcone and his companies did not break any agreements, did not breach any duties toward Ms. Laquer and did not self deal,” he said.
Schultz determined April 10 that Falcone and his companies did not break any agreements and did not breach any duties to Laquer who said he had duty to defend foreclosures on the parcels. Falcone allowed the lender to take over the underwater properties and bought them back through other business entities.
“There was no fiduciary or confidential relationship between Falcone and Laquer,” Schultz ruled.
While Laquer sat out the hearing, Falcone introduced 15 witnesses and 107 exhibits.
Schultz said Laquer failed to appear at the final hearing despite being subpoenaed. He found Laquer improperly held herself out to a be a real estate broker to the developers.
Laquer “never has been a licensed real estate broker and therefore was not authorized to receive commissions or compensations directly or indirectly in exchange for real estate services or to receive a right to invest in properties,” Schultz wrote.
The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation states Laquer has a sales associate license.
Laquer said her company, Laquer Corporate Realty Group Inc., was the brokerage of record and she is the sole owner.
“Their assertion is absolutely false. It’s simply a desperate move on their part,” Laquer said. “They are attempting to disparage me in hopes of taking advantage in the upcoming trial.”
Shultz also found, “Falcone was not introduced to the Miami Worldcenter concept by Laquer nor was he enamored with ‘Laquer’s concept.’ Rather, the Falcone entities acquired parcels in Park West area before Falcone met Laquer.”
Laquer dismissed the findings, saying she saw the potential of the area back in 1999 when one needed a bulletproof vest to walk around the neighborhood.
Today the 750,000-square-foot mixed-use project is touted as the prime example of the revitalization of downtown Miami. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have announced plans to open stores in the outsized project, and the city has agreed to close and turn over parts of three streets to developers.
Laquer made her name in the Brickell financial district. Following the real estate market’s collapse, though, she has as much of a reputation as a litigant, successfully suing a number of developers, including Hank Sopher and Michael Samuel.
She sued Falcone and five of his limited liability companies in a crossclaim alleging he failed to defend her interests when the economy took a dive and parcels in Park West lost up to 80 percent of their value.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley agreed with Falcone that clauses in the LLC contracts stipulated all disagreements would be resolved by arbitration.
Laquer withdrew her crossclaim and focused on a more comprehensive state lawsuit against Falcone and Roberts. Falcone argued he was entitled to arbitration since he was the one who requested it before Bagley.
Laquer didn’t participate in the arbitration and considers the findings basically meaningless.
Her attorney, Jared Lopez of Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf, said the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled the arbitration finding is a sliver of the joint-venture lawsuit before Dresnick.
“The joint-venture lawsuit is a much larger case that includes claims, parties and alleged agreements that are not governed by written dispute resolution provisions,” Judge Vance E. Salter wrote for the three-judge panel.
Lopez said the state lawsuit involves breach of oral partnerships and overarching agreements with Roberts and Falcone.
“Ms. Laquer since 2008 always asserted her desire to have her legal case decided by a jury,” Lopez said. “We have been consistent with that since the filing of the lawsuit.”
Laquer maintains Falcone and Roberts invited her to become a 10 percent partner in the Worldcenter project after she had been involved with other developers interested in the area. Falcone and Roberts then decided to cut her out, Laquer said.
As far as the developers are concerned, the arbitrator’s findings are binding and put a pin in her lawsuit.
Burton, Roberts’ attorney, said invoking the arbitration precludes a party from asserting a contrary position in another court of law.
“The findings and fact of law in the arbitration award will be binding where the same issues are presented in the case in front of Judge Dresnick,” Burton said. “This will be important where there has been determination of her rights to collect real estate commissions and whether or not their was a duty to defend her in the foreclosure suits.”
The results of the arbitration can be added to the heap of contentious issues landing in Dresnick’s lap.
Roberts insists he hired criminal defense attorney Roy Black while going through bankruptcy following the real estate bust. The developer said Black’s firm, Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf, is using information he conveyed against him in the state lawsuit before Dresnick and another federal suit against Falcone.
Lopez is expected to challenge whether Bagley properly confirmed the arbitrator’s findings.
“The arbitrator had no jurisdiction,” he said. “The trial court improperly confirmed the arbitration. It will be appealed immediately.”
Berger disagrees. He also said Falcone will be seeking $900,000 in legal fees from Laquer.
“The law affords that people do not have to do things twice,” he said. “I’m sure this is something Judge Dresnick will have to address.”