Jeremy W. Alters (Aixa Montero)
High-profile Miami plaintiffs attorney Jeremy Alters is asking a Florida Bar referee to dismiss a disciplinary case against him, arguing the Bar committed prosecutorial misconduct, violated confidentiality rules and concealed evidence in a case against him.
Alters’ attorney, Andrew Berman, will make the argument at a May 28 hearing on the motion to dismiss The Bar’s complaint before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marcia Caballero, who is serving as the Bar referee in the ethics case.
This is a continuation of a 2-year-old case against Alters for alleged trust account violations. The Bar accused Alters of using $2 million in trust account funds to cover firm operating expenses at his former Miami law firm, Alters Boldt Brown Rash & Culmo.
Alters, one of the most high-profile plaintiffs attorneys in Miami, is now a name partner at Morelli Alters Ratner with offices in Miami and New York.
He strongly denies the charges, saying he was ill and not running the firm when the discrepancies were alleged and he immediately replenished the trust accounts when he learned of the issue. He placed the blame on his former partner, Kimberly Boldt, who was temporarily in charge.
The Bar has a similar complaint pending against Boldt, now with the Boldt Law Firm in Boca Raton. She is also fighting the charge and is represented by former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville.
In the dismissal motion filed in February, Berman argued the Bar violated its own rules of confidentiality by telling the Daily Business Review that it was investigating Alters for alleged trust account irregularities. Bar rules allow the Bar to confirm only basic information such as whether proceedings are open, closed or pending, Berman said.
“The nature of the investigation, i.e. trust account irregularities, goes way beyond an acknowledgement of status,” he said.
Berman cited a Florida Supreme Court ruling 36 years ago in a case against famed Miami attorney Ellis Rubin, in which the court held that a Bar news release about Rubin’s charges “exceeds any reasonable interpretation of the terms ‘pendency or status.’ ”
As a result of the Bar’s actions against Alters, he felt forced to withdraw from the plaintiffs executive committee overseeing a $410 million bank overdraft case, losing more than $30 million in fees in the process, Berman asserted.
He also alleged the Bar obtained an emergency license suspension against Alters—later reversed by the Supreme Court—by providing a “false and misleading affidavit of its auditor” and by concealing evidence.
That evidence, Berman alleges, was that the Bar auditor claimed to have personal knowledge that Alters authorized improper account transfers when the Bar had evidence Alters was not running his firm.
“Without the auditor’s false testimony and concealment of exculpatory evidence, Alters never would have been suspended,” Berman stated. “The Bar’s election to proceed, therefore, was malicious and in bad faith.”
Additionally, he argued the Bar can’t bring the same charges against Alters twice.
“The Bar is not entitled to a do-over just for sport,” Berman stated. “Alters has suffered enough.”
Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker declined comment. She said the Bar’s written response will be provided to the referee before the hearing.
At the same time he is fighting the Bar, Alters and his law firm are fighting a lawsuit by its malpractice insurance carrier, Markel Insurance Co. The Virginia-based company sued Alters in Miami federal court March 31, claiming Alters’ $5 million policy should be canceled because he made “material misrepresentations” when he applied for the policy.
Markel asserts Alters failed to disclose he knew a client, Alfredo Villoldo, had problems with Alters’ handling of his $1.4 billion case. In 2008, Alters sued the Cuban government and Fidel Castro on behalf of Villoldo, whose family owned car dealerships in Cuba before Castro took power. He obtained a $1.4 billion judgment against Cuba in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in 2009.
Villoldo has been unable to collect the judgment and has sent a letter of intent to sue Alters, according to the suit. He blames Alters’ handling of the case for his inability to collect and the fact that two other cases against Cuba have moved ahead in priority over his case.
“Before completing the application, Alters knew that Villoldo had previously asserted that Alters’ legal work was of no value and that Villoldo contended that the judgment obtained by Alters against the nation of Cuba and others was not valid and that Villoldo claimed damages because other parties had made a recovery but Villoldo could not,” the suit stated.
Alters also misrepresented on his application whether he had ever filed suit for collection of fees, Markel maintained. In September 2011, Alters filed a charging lien against Villoldo seeking legal fees.
Berman denied the allegations against Alters, calling the federal case “a garden variety insurance coverage dispute.”
“Markel seeks to cancel the policy after it collected a handsome premium just because a claim was made,” he said. “Recognizing its position is far from clear, it has so far provided the firm a lawyer to defend the claim. The firm had no motive to withhold any information about the claim from Markel when it applied for insurance and didn’t as it had a policy in place for identical coverage. If the firm had any hint of a potential claim, it would have referred it to Markel’s predecessor.”
Markel is represented by Jeffrey Michael Cohen of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Miami, who had no comment.
Alters, a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama who hosted a fundraiser for him at his Golden Beach mansion, has faced a host of legal problems in recent years. He was sued by several ex-partners who claimed he owed them money as well as other lawyers who claimed they originated the idea for the massive bank overdraft litigation and deserved a cut of the settlements.
Alters also has said he was the victim of a smear campaign by his ex-nanny, who reported him to the Bar.