A Miccosukee Tribe member testified he did not pay millions of dollars to his former defense attorneys in a fatal car-crash lawsuit, putting him at odds with the position they have taken in the long-running case.
Jimmie Bert also denied obtaining advances or loans from the tribe to pay his legal fees — contradicting the assertions of his former attorneys, who collected more than $3 million defending him and his daughter.
Bert, who admitted fault at trial along with his daughter, says he never saw the bills from Miami attorneys Guy Lewis and Michael Tein and paid only a small fraction of their legal fees years ago.
Bert’s testimony, delivered in a deposition on Friday, reversed his own earlier account and appears to undermine the lawyers’ position that they were paid the high fees by their clients — not the Miccosukee Tribe.
Lewis, a former U.S. attorney, and Tein, also an ex-federal prosecutor, are facing potential perjury sanctions for allegedly lying about who paid them. The lawyers maintain the tribe advanced money or made loans to Bert and his daughter, Tammy Gwen Billie, so the defendants could pay their legal bills.
But in a separate sworn statement filed this week, Bert recanted his January 2011 affidavit prepared by the Lewis Tein law firm in which he had said he was “responsible” for and was “paying” his legal fees. Bert said he did not understand the prior affidavit because the law firm did not have it translated or interpreted for him into his native Miccosukee language.
“Is that  statement that you were paying Lewis and Tein true?” Bert’s lawyer, Jose Herrera, asked him in the new sworn statement. Bert replied: “No.”
Asked who was paying his legal bills to Lewis and Tein, Bert responded: “The tribe.”
And when asked if he had a loan agreement with the Miccosukees to pay the legal fees, he said: “As far as I know, there’s no agreement.”
The source of the legal payments to the lawyers carries significant weight. If the funds came from the tribe as opposed to the father and daughter, it means there indeed was more than enough money available to pay an outstanding civil judgment of nearly $3.2 million. The pair have refused to pay, insisting they cannot afford it.
Billie, who served time in prison as a result of the car-crash case, has failed to show up for a deposition and to turn over key documents to the attorney for the victim’s family. This month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick found Billie in contempt of court, triggering a warrant to bring her to his court.
The victim’s attorney, Ramon M. Rodriguez, is still trying to obtain important evidence from Lewis and Tein, including their retainer agreement with their Miccosukee clients.
In his deposition, Bert said he signed the retainer agreement with their law firm, but it was not translated or interpreted for him. Lewis and Tein said they cannot find the 2005 contract.
Bert also testified that he was unaware that Lewis and Tein collected about $950,000 in legal fees after a Miami-Dade jury returned a verdict against him and his daughter in July 2009 — money that could have gone toward paying the judgment.
In their defense, Lewis and Tein’s lawyer, Paul Calli, recently deposed the tribe’s assistant chairman, Jasper Nelson. Nelson testified this month that the tribe approved a loan for Billie and Bert to pay their legal expenses. Asked by Calli if he had “any reason to believe [the] Lewis Tein [firm] ever did anything wrong to the Miccosukee Tribe,” Nelson replied: “No.”