Federal courts

Magistrate accuses Miami lawyers of “shell game” with Miccosukee Tribe

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A federal magistrate judge has ordered Miami attorneys Guy Lewis and Michael Tein to stop playing a “shell game” by raising “boilerplate” objections to providing billing and other records sought by the Miccosukee Tribe in its racketeering lawsuit against the prominent lawyers.

Lewis, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, and Tein, an ex-prosecutor in his office, were paid more than $10 million in legal fees by the tribe during 2005-10 while representing the tribe and several members, including former Chairman Billy Cypress. Last year, the West Miami-Dade tribe sued Cypress, accusing him of embezzling $26 million during his two-decade tenure, along with his personal lawyers, Lewis and Tein, and the tribe’s former longtime general counsel, Dexter Lehtinen.

The litigation, especially between the Miccosukees and Lewis and Tein, has been fiercely confrontational, with both sides fighting throughout the discovery process over providing evidence before trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley, in a recent order, noted the law partners’ failure to provide responses to 11 of the tribe’s requests for engagement agreements with members, legal invoices and check payments, as well as records of any loan agreements approved by the tribe for the payment of fees on behalf of members.

McAliley ordered Lewis and Tein to provide detailed responses and any documents by Friday, July 12. Citing case law, McAliley wrote: “Discovery is not supposed to be a shell game, where the hidden ball is moved round and round and only revealed after so many false guesses are made and so much money is squandered.

“Sadly, in a number of instances in this lawsuit, the discovery process has been such a shell game,” the judge wrote in her June 28 order, noting that Lewis and Tein’s responses to the tribe’s requests for their billing and other documents is “the latest example.”

The law partners’ defense attorney, Paul Calli, has argued in pending motions that the tribe’s document requests are premature because the tribe has failed to state a claim against Lewis and Tein’s law firm in the racketeering suit, which alleges the pair were in cahoots with Cypress, who was ousted from his position as chairman in early 2010.

Calli, with the law firm Carlton Fields, has asked U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke to put the exchange of evidence in the case on hold pending her decision on the legal basis for the tribe’s suit.

But McAliley noted in her order “the fact that those motions have been filed does not suspend discovery.”

Calli declined to comment about McAliley’s order, but brought a discovery violation by the Miccosukee Tribe to the Miami Herald’s attention in a parallel state case.

Discovery disputes have also dominated the tribe’s state malpractice lawsuit against Lewis and Tein. In May, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton found the tribe violated a discovery rule and a court order prohibiting Miccosukee lawyer Bernardo Roman III from “disseminating personal information” about Lewis and Tein. The judge ordered the tribe to pay a $4,265 fine.

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