Legal Ethics

Irked Judge Asks 3 Lawyers to Explain Alleged Secret Fee-Sharing Agreement

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By voluntarily withdrawing from 77 personal injury cases against a Florida-based cruise line after his law firm was accused of bribing an employee for inside information, attorney Jay Wingate was essentially forfeiting his legal fees in the cases, too.

But now, according to an irate Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, it appears that Wingate may have tried a back-door approach to recouping more than the legal costs he was allowed, with judicial approval, under a January 2008 court order in the case. Judge Herbert Stettin has ordered Wingate, an attorney who formerly worked with him and a lawyer who is now handling the cases for the plaintiffs to show cause why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for secretly agreeing to share fees in violation of the January 2008 order, reports the Daily Business Review.

Brett Rivkind, of Rivkind Pedraza & Margulies in Miami, had no idea there was any court-ordered fee restriction when he agreed to share 40 percent of the fees generated by the 77 cases against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines with Wingate and his former colleague, Peter Sotolongo, says Rivkind’s counsel, Herman Russomanno of Miami.

“Rivkind said the agreement was presented to him by Wingate and Sotolongo as a ‘cleared’ agreement that was known to all the parties, including Royal Caribbean, from its inception,” recounts the Daily Business Review.

Wingate’s lawyer deferred comment until he could reach his client, who has moved to South Africa, and Sotolongo did not immediately return the publication’s phone calls. Wingate has previously denied that he was responsible for paying any bribes to Royal Caribbean workers.

Earlier coverage:

Cruise Line’s Suit Says Lawyer Should Give Up $1M in Fees

Miami Lawyer Withdraws from Cruise Cases, But Denies Paying for Info

Defendant Claims Miami Law Firm Paid for Settlement Info

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