Two former federal prosecutors accused of lying about who paid them millions of dollars to defend two Miccosukee Indians in a fatal-car crash case will face a perjury sanctions hearing Monday.
The court hearing will be the climax of a Miami legal brawl involving partners Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, the Miccosukee Tribe, and the lawyer for a family that hasn’t been able to collect a $3.2 million judgment from 2009 for the wrongful death of a young mother.
Lewis, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, and Tein, an ex-federal prosecutor, are accused of committing perjury when they testified in August 2011 that their two clients actually paid their $3 million-plus legal fees — not the Miccosukee Tribe.
The source of the legal payments to the lawyers carries importance. If the funds came from the West Miami-Dade tribe as opposed to clients Tammy Gwen Billie and Jimmie Bert, it means there indeed was more than enough money available to pay the outstanding civil judgment. Billie and Bert — daughter and father — have refused to pay, insisting they cannot afford it.
Earlier this month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick said in an order that “one of the matters of concern” to him is the defense attorneys’ “obligation of candor to the court.” Dresnick raised that issue because the Miccosukee Tribe issued 61 checks directly to the Lewis Tein law firm for more than $3 million in the representation of the two tribal members — evidence that the defense attorneys never disclosed in 2011.
Dresnick noted that he never received a timely “clarification” from Lewis and Tein “concerning any money they had received from the Miccosukee Tribe on behalf of their clients or otherwise.”
On Friday, Lewis and Tein said in a court filing that their firm “is sincerely sorry’’ for misunderstanding an earlier order from the judge, and wrote that his “concern with the ‘source of funds’ to pay their fees never registered’’ with them.
“Through all the difficulties associated with this hotly contested matter … Lewis Tein did not make a false statement to the court, and did not violate their obligation of candor to the court,” the law partners’ attorney, Paul Calli, wrote in the filing.
After the checks surfaced in October 2011, Lewis and Tein asserted their two Miccosukee clients had borrowed money from the tribe to pay their legal fees in the car-crash case. They said the money to pay back the “loans” — which will be sharply contested at Monday’s hearing — came from the tribe’s distribution of gambling profits to some 600 tribal members, including Billie and Bert.
In November, Bert testified in a deposition that he did not pay millions of dollars in legal fees to Lewis and Tein, and did not take out loans from the tribe to pay them. Bert added in a sworn statement that the tribe paid his legal bills to the defense attorneys. His daughter, Billie, did not give a deposition or statement.
At the 2009 car-crash trial, Billie, the driver who killed Liliana Bermudez, 30, on Tamiami Trail, and Bert, who owned her uninsured Acura Legend, admitted fault for Bermudez’s death in 1998. The Miami jury issued the multimillion-dollar award to the victim’s husband, Carlos Bermudez, and their teenage son, Mathew.
The perjury allegation was lodged after Judge Dresnick sanctioned Lewis and Tein for $3,500 in September 2011, for failing to turn over financial information to the Bermudez family’s lawyer in the post-judgment phase of the case.
The lawyer, Ramon M. Rodriguez, accused Lewis and Tein and their clients of lying when they asserted the Miccosukee Tribe did not foot their huge legal bill. Rodriguez had obtained the 61 checks from the Miccosukee Tribe and its longtime lawyer, Bernardo Roman III.
“The tribe made a determination to give out these checks as it felt that there was a fraud being perpetrated on the [Miami-Dade] Circuit Court,” Roman said at court hearing last year.
But Lewis and Tein, who are also being sued by the tribe for legal malpractice and for racketeering in separate state and federal cases, strongly disputed that accusation.