After Wednesday’s ruling, Rodriguez said he was pleased with the outcome. “We are going to continue to do our best to collect the Bermudez judgment,” he said.
Attorney Paul Calli, who represented Lewis and Tein in the latest sanctions hearing, unsuccessfully urged the judge not to increase the fine.
“This has been a heavy price to pay,” Calli told the judge, noting that Lewis and Tein’s law firm has shrunk and their reputations have been damaged by the publicity. “I don’t think you should increase the sanctions award.”
The judge was not swayed. Dresnick noted that Rodriguez had offered to settle the Bermudez case for $650,000 before trial, which was rejected by Lewis and Tein’s clients.
The judge also noted that Lewis and Tein ran up almost $1 million in legal bills after their clients admitted liability at trial and the jury issued the multimillion-dollar judgment.
Their law firm billed $550 to $750 an hour for legal services.
A Miami attorney who specializes in defending lawyers facing ethical complaints said, “Judge Dresnick was obviously quite miffed.”
“He greatly increased a modest financial sanction against Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tein for their discovery violation,” said lawyer Andrew Berman, who has represented attorneys Hugh Rodham, Hank Adorno and Jeremy Alters.
“Judge Dresnick indicated [in 2011] that he would have imposed a more severe sanction had the evidence shown the tribe was funding the defense,” Berman added. “With the new evidence supporting that conclusion, he increased the sanctions accordingly.”
Earlier this month, Dresnick said in an order that “one of the matters of concern” to him was 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 $3.1 million in the representation of the two tribal members — evidence that the defense attorneys never disclosed at the previous sanctions hearing in August 2011.
At the latest sanctions hearing, Lewis and Tein apologized to the judge for not recognizing his concern about clarifying the issue of who funded their clients’ defense.
The controversy over who paid their law firm’s legal fees erupted soon after Tein had testified back in 2011 that its client was not the Miccosukee Tribe. “The defendants have been responsible for our fees and they ... had been paying our fees,” Tein swore to the judge. Lewis agreed with his partner’s testimony.
The Miccosukee Tribe, which underwent a major political shift with the ouster of Chairman Billy Cypress in early 2010, was outraged by Tein’s testimony — and turned over the 61 checks to the opposing lawyer, Rodriguez.
The tribe has since sued Cypress, accusing him of embezzling $26 million from the Miccosukees. The tribe has also sued Lewis and Tein, who once represented the Miccosukees and Cypress on tax and other legal issues, in separate state malpractice and federal racketeering cases.