Legal Ethics

'Shocked' by $3M legal fee in fatal car-crash case, judge tells lawyers to pay plaintiff lawyer $50K

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Grappling with hard-fought litigation over the claimed inability of two defendants to pay a $3.2M judgment in a fatal car-crash case, a South Florida judge on Wednesday ordered the defendants’ lawyers to pay $50,000 to a plaintiff’s attorney.

Despite not having gotten all that he sought in a sanctions motion over his opposing counsel’s conduct, the lawyer for the victim’s family, Ramon M. Rodriguez, expressed satisfaction about the $50,000 award against the former federal prosecutors representing the defendants, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, and said he is hopeful his clients will collect the $3.2 million judgment, the Miami Herald reports.

At issue in the sanctions matter was whether Lewis and Tein had misstated to the court how they were being paid to represent Tammy Gwen Billie and Jimmie Bert. The two defense lawyers said their individual clients were covering their own legal fees, the newspaper recounts. But the plaintiffs uncovered evidence that the Miccosukee Tribe, of which the two defendants are members, had in fact paid the legal bills.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick held that the two defense lawyers did not mislead the court or commit perjury, but indicated they could have been more forthcoming about their legal fees, the newspaper says.

Dresnick said learning that the tribe had paid the two defense lawyers $3 million to represent Billie and Bert in a 2009 wrongful death trial “made my eyes spin in their sockets.” He said he was “shocked” and “flabbergasted” by the amount of the fees. Approximately $1 million in legal fees was billed by the two defense attorneys after their clients admitted liability at trial and the jury found for the victim’s family, the article notes.

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