Kasowitz Benson Torres, the New York firm whose work for President Donald Trump has kept it in the national spotlight this year, is vowing to appeal after a Florida judge ruled that a billing fraud complaint against the firm can move forward.
Patriot National, an insurance servicing company, sued Kasowitz in late June in Florida state court, alleging the firm engaged in fraudulent billing, malpractice and other misconduct that cost the company millions of dollars of damages. For instance, Patriot said one firm biller recorded 24 hours of work for the client in a single day.
Kasowitz moved to dismiss last month, arguing New York is a more appropriate venue, as the firm had already sued Patriot for unpaid legal fees there, while Patriot’s “threadbare allegations” in its complaint were insufficient.
But Broward County Circuit Judge Carlos Rodriguez rejected Kasowitz’s arguments in late August, while asking Patriot to submit more detail from its billing statements to support its billing fraud claim.
“I don’t express any opinion whatsoever on the merits or the nonmerits or the ultimate resolution,” the judge said, “but I think the issue is teed up for further discussion, further resolution, further litigation.”
Kasowitz filed a notice of appeal last week. Kasowitz partner Kelly Luther, who is defending the firm in the malpractice suit, said in court last month that the firm would also seek to stay the case.
In a statement, a Kasowitz spokeswoman said the firm respectfully disagrees with the trial court’s decision. “We are appealing that decision and are confident we will prevail on that appeal and in any event ultimately on the merits of Patriot National’s purported claims, which are negated by documentary evidence,” the statement said.
Patriot’s lawyer in the malpractice action, William Scherer of Florida’s Conrad & Scherer, said in an interview that lawyers who replaced Kasowitz in multiple lawsuits to defend Patriot could be potential witnesses if the case goes to trial, but cautioned that privilege issues may complicate matters.
Among others, Cahill Gordon & Reindel and Greenberg Traurig took over representation of Patriot after Kasowitz left, Scherer said.
‘Clean Up the Mess’
Patriot, which provides back-office functions to insurance companies, had hired Kasowitz, with partner Kenneth David as the lead attorney, for representation in three Manhattan federal court suits against the Florida-based company over the sale of securities.
Kasowitz also represented certain defendant directors in a shareholder action in Delaware state court.
But Kasowitz pulled out of the cases in early 2017 and filed a collection lawsuit against Patriot in late May in Manhattan Supreme Court, seeking $1.097 million in legal fees.
During a court argument last month in Patriot’s malpractice case, Scherer told the judge that Cahill partner Brad Bondi (brother to Florida attorney general Pamela Bondi) “tried to help clean up the mess that was created here” when Kasowitz left the litigation and if the client felt it was necessary to call him or other attorneys as witnesses, “we would do that.”
The discussion of potential witnesses arose over which forum, New York or Florida, is best to hold the case. The judge denied without prejudice Kasowitz’s motion to dismiss the case based on inappropriate forum. “If this develops into a nightmare down the road because witnesses aren’t showing up or you can’t get ahold of them, or there’s some undue burden that’s placed on you, please bring that to my attention,” Rodriguez told the parties.
In all, Patriot is bringing four claims against Kasowitz, including billing fraud, malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.
Patriot argues it was breach of contract and malpractice when Kasowitz failed to ensure it could be approved counsel under the company’s insurance coverage.
Luther told the judge last month “there’s nothing in the contract” that required the firm to become approved counsel.
But the judge noted that Patriot is arguing that “competent representation would require you to do that. And I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s an interesting issue.”
Trump Work ‘Irrelevant’
Patriot’s complaint also cited Kasowitz’s separate representation of Trump in arguing it didn’t receive legal services commensurate with a law firm representing the president.
But the judge, on Kasowitz’s request, struck the mention of Trump from the complaint. “I don’t want to make a finding that representing President Donald Trump is scandalous. I will say it’s irrelevant,” he said.
This is just one of many cases keeping Patriot’s lawyers busy. Patriot and its executives are currently facing multiple lawsuits brought by various parties over a private investment in public equity (PIPE) deal that led to the litigation in which Kasowitz was retained.
During the court arguments last month, Scherer, Patriot’s attorney, said the PIPE transition “caused the wheels to come off of Patriot.”
“This company, and all of its employees, is on the very verge of insolvency today,” said Scherer, who is also defending a Patriot executive in a lawsuit brought by placement agent JPMorgan.
Scherer, in an interview, said the ruling in the case against Kasowitz was “a resounding victory for us” and the parties will move on to discovery.