A former defense attorney for two Miccosukee Indians who lost a fatal car-crash lawsuit testified Tuesday that, contrary to what the West Miami-Dade tribe and his former clients have said, he and his law partner were not paid millions of dollars by the tribe.
Michael Tein, a former federal prosecutor, testified at his perjury-sanctions hearing that his Miccosukee clients, Tammy Gwen Billie and her father, Jimmie Bert, paid his law firm’s legal bills. On Monday, Billie and Bert testified they didn’t personally pay Tein’s firm about $3 million in legal fees.
Tein also testified that he regularly reviewed his firm’s invoices and legal strategy with Billie and Bert — a claim the former clients also contradicted the previous day.
“I had a longstanding relationship with these individuals,” Tein testified. “I had so many conversations with them.”
Tein and his partner, Guy Lewis, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, are accused of lying to a judge about who paid them to defend the two Miccosukee Indians in the civil car-crash trial in 2009, which resulted in a $3.2 million judgment against Billie and Bert.
The defense attorneys are accused of committing perjury when they testified two years later that their clients actually paid their legal fees — not the tribe. Tein reiterated that point Tuesday, noting again the tribe was not the client.
The source of the legal payments to the defense lawyers is important. If the funds came from the Miccosukees, as opposed to Billie and Bert, it means there indeed was more than enough money available to pay an outstanding civil judgment of $3.2 million to the family of the car-crash victim.
Billie and Bert have refused to pay, insisting they cannot afford it, even though each receives as much as $160,000 a year from the tribe’s casino profits.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick is considering civil contempt sanctions against Tein and Lewis, accusing them of lack of candor, perjury and misrepresentation.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the judge asked Tein how he could “account” for his former clients’ testimony the day before that they didn’t “remember any of those conversations” about legal bills with him.
“I was sad to hear that,” Tein told the judge, then suggested that his former clients were under pressure from the Miccosukee Tribe because of the high stakes of the litigation.
Tein also testified that after Billie testified Monday, she hugged him and told him that she loved him and she was sorry. Tein also said that he told her that he loved her.
“I forgive her for what she did’’ Monday. Tein testified. “I don’t think she was herself.”
On Monday, Billie testified she did not take out a loan from the tribe to pay for her defense fees, as Lewis and Tein claim. And she said she was unaware who paid Lewis and Tein to represent her and her father, Bert, at the 2009 wrongful-death trial.
Bert, Billie’s father, gave similar testimony Monday, saying he “guessed” the tribe had paid his daughter’s legal bills. But Bert also acknowledged that yearly deductions were taken out by the Miccosukees from his daughter’s share of the tribe’s distribution of gambling profits.
Bernardo Roman III, the tribe’s general counsel, testified Monday that those deductions, totaling about $1.5 million over the course of a decade, were used to pay for Billie’s criminal defense lawyer, Michael Diaz — not her civil lawyers, Lewis and Tein. Roman also said that Billie’s father did seek financial assistance from the tribe in 1998-01 to help his daughter pay for her criminal defense.