Dexter W. Lehtinen, partner at Tew Cardenas LLP. (J. Albert Diaz)
The latest salvo in a nasty attorney-client split has Miami attorney Dexter Lehtinen asking a federal judge to find his one-time client, the Miccosukee Indian tribe, in contempt of court.
In the motion filed Tuesday, Lehtinen said he wants the tribe to explain missing audio tapes of tribal council and business meetings that supposedly supported claims he purposely gave members bad advice on federal tax matters.
The Internal Revenue Service last year filed a $170 million tax lien against the tribe and its members.
The contempt motion stems from sanctions being sought by attorneys Lehtinen, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein after they were sued by the tribe in a 2012 racketeering lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami dismissed the lawsuit last September, saying the litigation amounted to an intratribal squabble at best. The attorneys want the tribe to pay attorney fees, accusing the tribe under the leadership of chairman Colley Billie of filing the suit knowing the allegations were false.
Lehtinen represented the Miccosukees in federal lawsuits aimed at protecting their homeland in the Everglades from agricultural pollution.
Lewis and Tein previously claimed unethical behavior by the tribe and its attorney, Bernardo Roman III.
At a May 12 hearing, Cooke told Roman to turn over all audio tapes of general counsel and business meetings from 2004 to 2010 or explain why they had been destroyed.
Cooke has set a June 5 hearing on the sanctions motion and likely will take up Lehtinen’s motion for contempt as well.
Attorney Claudio Riedi of Lehtinen’s firm, Lehtinen Schultz Riedi Catalano De La Fuente in Miami, is representing him and filed the motion for contempt.
“The tapes and their disappearance is no trivial matter,” Riedi wrote. “The tapes would conclusively prove whether plaintiff made the necessary inquiry into the facts of the case before making the specific allegations against Lehtinen.”
Riedi said the tape also “would let Lehtinen clear his name, and they would expose plaintiff to Rule 11 sanctions for making false allegations.”
Riedi declined comment on the motion. Roman’s office sent an email saying he had no comment.
The tribe and Roman are on the defensive after the dismissal of the federal suit and a state malpractice claim against Lewis Tein.
Cooke was explicit about the missing audio tapes, accusing Roman of not being forthright.
“You are dancing on the head of legal pins that don’t exist, and the time has come for it to stop,” Cooke told Roman at the May 12 hearing.
Roman is facing a Florida Bar investigation into his conduct while litigating against the Lewis Tein firm.
Roman’s law firm filed a notice with the court Friday saying the tribe complied with Cooke’s order to turn over 13 audio tapes. The tapes were missing from the general counsel meetings from 2006 to 2009, the time period when Lehtinen allegedly gave his bad tax advice to the tribe.
In exhibits attached to Lehtinen’s contempt motion, he cited a crucial moment on a Aug. 3, 2006, meeting transcript. Right after the notation, “Tribe presents sovereign tax issues to IRS,” are the words, “Microphone malfunctioned at this time.”
The contempt motion said Lehtinen suspects that portion of the tape was destroyed. At no other time did the microphone malfunction, and Lehtinen’s voice can be heard on all the other tapes provided, Riedi stated in the motion.
“The tribe’s destruction of the tapes deprive defendant Lehtinen of his opportunity to prove, cleanly and conclusively, that he never lied or misrepresented facts as alleged,” the motion reads.