Former Miccosukee tribal attorney Bernardo Roman III and his law firm owe Lewis Tein and its name partners $562,264 in attorney fees for more than five years of frivolous litigation, a judge ruled.
The decision follows an evidentiary hearing on the amount owed and came despite objections from Roman and his Miami law firm, Roman P.A., according to a final judgment by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John W. Thornton. It follows his Oct. 26 determination that Lewis Tein’s request for nearly $3.23 million in fees was reasonable after years of aggressive litigation.
The court found Roman, his firm and the tribe liable for attorney fees in 2015 but didn’t set the lawyer’s portion of the sanction until last week.
Roman’s client paid the lion’s share of the sanctions, according to a notice of satisfaction filed in May 2016 showing the tribe paid more than $2.66 million.
It was an ironic twist in a case that began with Roman and his client trying to put Lewis Tein on the hook for millions of dollars.
The parties have been fighting since April 2, 2012, when Roman, on behalf of the small tribe in the Everglades west of Miami, filed a 324-page legal malpractice suit. Since then, court records show 79 hearings and 1,048 docket entries in the case.
The tribe alleged Lewis Tein and its partners, former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Tein, billed the tribe for millions in “fictitious, excessive, exorbitant and unsubstantiated legal fees.”
Exhibits included descriptions of Lewis’ luxury car collection, art and multimillion-dollar real estate holdings to suggest the defendants acquired wealth by bilking the tribe.
Civil racketeering claims were accompanied by allegations the firm and attorneys conspired to implement a “sophisticated scheme to defraud the tribe” after falsely promising unique results and access to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Miccosukees further alleged an unethical conflict as Lewis Tein represented the tribe as well as individual members with opposing interests.
The parties exchanged lawsuits, and Lewis Tein fired back, accusing the tribe of maliciously destroying the law firm.
The spat led to ethics charges against three plaintiff lawyers, including Roman, who faces disbarment in an ongoing disciplinary proceeding.
In June, the referee in Roman’s case, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dava Tunis, recommended the Florida Supreme Court find him guilty of 55 counts of violating 14 rules regulating the Florida Bar as he pursued charges against Lewis Tein.
That same referee recommended the high court also find Roman’s colleague, Miami attorney Jose Maria “Pepe” Herrera, guilty of violating six rules during the litigation.
In January, the Florida Bar brought ethics charges against a third attorney, Miami lawyer Ramon Manuel Rodriguez, accused of knowingly filing and prosecuting the frivolous perjury case. Rodriguez spent years pursuing his claims that Tein and Lewis committed fraud against the court during a wrongful death suit against defendants from the Miccosukee Tribe, according to the bar complaint.
Roman did not respond to a request for comment. The tribe cut ties with him last year.