Florida Bar won’t file ethics charges against 2 Miami attorneys in Miccosukee case

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A Florida Bar grievance committee Thursday found no basis to file ethics charges against prominent Miami lawyers Guy Lewis and Michael Tein in their defense of two Miccosukee Tribe members ordered to pay a $3.2 million judgment in a fatal car-crash case.

The committee found no probable cause that Lewis, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, and Tein, an ex-prosecutor in his office, violated any Florida Bar ethics rules, so the investigation is closed, said Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker. The committee’s findings will be released Friday.

The lawyer for Lewis and Tein, Paul Calli, could not be reached for comment.

The ethics probe was launched in April, after a Miami-Dade judge slapped the partners with a $50,000 fine. Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick decided he had originally sanctioned Lewis and Tein too little for a post-judgment violation over their failure to promptly turn over certain financial records of their two Miccosukee clients.

The judge raised the fine from $3,500 after realizing he had made a mistake when he initially found the partners’ legal fees were not that high and their bills were not paid by the Miccosukee Tribe.

Dresnick said the $3.1 million in fees charged by Lewis and Tein to represent the two Miccosukee Indians in the 2009 fatal car-crash trial made “my eyes spin in their sockets.”

Lewis and Tein were accused of committing perjury by the attorney for the family of the car-crash victim after they testified at a sanctions hearing in August 2011 that their two clients — not the Miccosukee Tribe — paid their legal fees. Both defense lawyers had told the judge that any sanctions fine would come out of their pockets, not their clients’ or the tribe’s.

But Lewis and Tein made those assertions before the family’s lawyer, Ramon M. Rodriguez, discovered $3.1 million in checks issued directly to their law firm by the tribe for the defense of the two Miccosukee clients, Tammy Gwen Billie and her father.

Lewis and Tein argued that their Miccosukee clients borrowed money from the tribe to pay the legal fees.

Ultimately, Dresnick found in a final order that Lewis and Tein “did not commit perjury, did not engage in fraud on the court … and did not fail in their obligation of candor” at the sanctions hearing.

Billie was behind the wheel of an uninsured car, owned by her dad, when she crashed, killing 30-year-old Liliana Bermudez on the Tamiami Trail in 1998.

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