Bernardo Roman III.
Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM

Embattled attorney Bernardo Roman III, who was ordered to pay $562,264 in attorney fees last week for frivolous litigation, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

The question now is whether Lewis Tein and others with judgments against Roman will be able to collect after years of bitter fighting and public allegations, or how long they’ll have to wait as the bankruptcy case plays out.

One thing likely to come under scrutiny: a trust in Roman’s name with no value attached to it in the bankruptcy petition. In his filing, Roman disclosed he was settlor and beneficiary of a revocable trust created contemporaneously with a will as part of an estate plan, but assigned it a value of $0.

Roman filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, about a week after a Miami-Dade judge ruled he and his law firm owe Lewis Tein and its name partners attorney fees for more than five years of frivolous litigation.

Roman is a former counsel to the Miccosukee Tribe, which sued Lewis Tein for malpractice in 2012.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John W. Thornton ruled on Oct. 26 that Lewis Tein’s request for nearly $3.23 million in fees was reasonable. The tribe paid the lion’s share—more than $2.66 million—leaving Roman and his firm to cover the balance.

Roman’s bankruptcy petition lists assets valued between $100,001 and $500,000, and liabilities ranging from $1 million to $10 million. He listed about $3,667 in monthly income, against monthly expenses of about $7,650, no retirement or pension accounts and no government or corporate bonds. Roman disclosed a $31,000 personal loan to an acquaintance and a $47,000 tentative tax refund for fiscal year 2014 among money owed to him. His debts are primarily business-related, according to the filing.

Among his assets: a $285,000 Miami condominium, a 2016 Mercedes-Benz GL350 SUV with about 15,000 miles, a 25-foot Chris-Craft Corsair boat worth about $80,000, a $2,000 Omega wrist watch, household goods and furnishings valued at $1,500, a $50 bicycle, $500 in electronics, $100 in cash and $87 in checking accounts at U.S. Alliance Federal Credit Union and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Court records show Lewis Tein filed a motion for garnishment Oct. 28 with Wells Fargo Bank N.A. to determine whether Roman held assets at that bank. Roman’s bankruptcy filing suggests he doesn’t, listing balances of zero in two Wells Fargo accounts.

Roman claimed state and federal exemptions protected the boat and the condo, listed as his homestead. His secured creditors include lenders who financed his boat and car.

The list of unsecured creditors includes the Miccosukee Tribe for a legal malpractice suit and former tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen, whose wife is U.S. House Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Roman listed a $199,000 debt to Lehtinen, a total of nearly $735,265 to Lewis Tein for three separate attorney fees awards, an unspecified liability to the Miccosukee Tribe and a $19,570 office lease for Bernardo Roman III P.A. He also listed about $68,700 in credit card and store-card debt.

The bankruptcy filing is the latest development in a case dating back to April 2012. At that time, Roman represented the Miccosukees and filed a 324-page legal malpractice suit against Lewis Tein, the tribe’s former lawyers. Since then, court records showed about 80 hearings and more than 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.”

Civil racketeering claims accompanied 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.

A meeting of creditors in Roman’s bankruptcy case is set for Dec. 14.