Lawyers Outfox Fla. Legislature—For Now
Posted Jul 19, 2007 1:21 PM CST
By Martha Neil
Persuaded by a lobbyist that Minouche Noel really needed the $8.5 million she had been awarded by a Florida jury for being paralyzed in a botched surgery, the state legislature this year enacted a rare claims bill agreeing to pay the medical malpractice award. Until then, the vibrant young woman was limited to $200,000 in damages and reportedly got nothing, because she had been treated in a government hospital, and state sovereign immunity law applied.
But now legislators are hopping mad. Under the bill, they agreed to pay $1.07 million in attorney fees and costs to Noel's lawyers at Fort Lauderdale-based Sheldon Schlesinger Law Offices. However, apparently applying a standard contingency fee agreement, the firm has collected another $546,000 in legal fees and $120,000 for lobbying expenses from money that lawmakers expected to go to her parents, reports the Miami Herald.
Two Republicans have written to Alex Sink, the state's chief financial office, asking for ''swift legal action'' to make sure the plaintiffs get all the money the state promised them, the Herald reports. ''The lawyers put their own interests ahead of that of their clients," the lawmakers' letter states, "and seek to flout both the letter and the spirit of the law."
But Bruce Rogow, a lawyer who filed a lien for Schlesinger, says the firm is entitled to enforce its fee agreement; the claims bill, HB 593, limited what the attorneys could get from Minouche Noel's award, he contends, but placed no limit on what her parents, Jean and Flora Noel, could pay the attorneys.
As a high-school student, several years before she received the award, Noel was a motivated student with lots of friends who wanted to be a nurse or a lawyer. However, she used a battered, too-small wheelchair and had scars on her hands from dragging herself into her family's bathroom, where the wheelchair didn't fit, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
An undiagnosed infection after she had surgery for spina bifida as a baby caused her paralysis.