Trials & Litigation

Indian tribe, lawyer ordered to pay more than $1 million in sanctions for frivolous claim

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A Florida tribe and its lawyer have been ordered to pay more than $1 million in sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit against three Miami attorneys.

In an order Friday, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said the allegations against the three lawyers were based on “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence,” the Miami Herald and the Daily Business Review report.

Cooke ordered the Miccosukee tribe and attorney Bernardo Roman III to pay $975,750 in legal fees and costs to law partners and former federal prosecutors Guy Lewis and Michael Tein. She also ordered the tribe to pay $95,640 to lawyer and former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen.

The tribe had sued former chairman Billy Cypress in federal court in 2012, alleging that he had embezzled $26 million of the tribe’s money and spent it on gambling trips, shopping sprees, real estate investments and luxury cars. It also alleged that Lewis and Tein had billed the tribe for work never performed and faulted Lehtinen’s tax advice with respect to a $170 million IRS lien against the tribe for failing to report gambling profits.

Cooke had dismissed the suit more than a year ago, saying “the wrongful conduct is the filing of the complaints with no reasonable factual basis to support their allegations.”

A second suit filed against the lawyers in state court has also been dismissed. A third suit is still pending.

In her ruling on sanctions, Cooke said the tribe’s “internal feud” had blinded Roman “from adhering to the ethical tenets” of the legal profession. She also referred Roman to the Florida Bar, where he is already facing an ethics investigation, but declined to refer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s office for a possible criminal investigation.

Roman declined to comment to the Miami Herald. So did Paul Calli, a lawyer for Lewis and Tein. Lehtinen could not be reached for comment.

Updated Jan. 23 to correct a typographical error.

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