Carlos Bermudez lost his wife in 1998 when a drug-impaired Miccosukee Tribe member slammed into the couple’s car with their infant son in the back seat on the Tamiami Trail.
More than a decade later, Bermudez and his son won a $3.1 million judgment for her “wrongful” death, but they have struggled to collect the jury award — now totaling almost $5 million with interest.
And now Bermudez, a Miami-Dade truck driver who has never received a dime, has been ordered to pay the tribe about $72,000 for a court fee — far more than his net worth, he says.
On Monday, the latest legal turn left Bermudez bewildered and insulted. There has been “no justice” for the death of his 30-year-old wife, Liliana, he said.
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The five-figure bill is for an administrative fee that the tribe incurred when it had to deposit the entire award with the Miami-Dade Circuit Court last year. After an appeals court overturned that decision in July, a Miami-Dade judge granted the tribe’s request last week to have Bermudez repay the tribe for its court fee.
“Liliana was tragically taken from us 16 years ago,” Bermudez, 46, told the Miami Herald. “We prayed for justice, but justice never came to us. Every year, on Oct. 2, we are painfully reminded of our emptiness.
“To make our pain worse, now the Miccosukee Tribe wants to be paid $72,000,” he said from the road in Wisconsin. “There is no justice for Liliana’s death.”
In September, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick gave back the nearly $5 million award to the tribe — money he had previously ordered paid toward a longstanding judgment owed to the Bermudez family.
Dresnick approved returning the money after a state appeals court ruled that he made a legal error last year. He had ordered the West Miami-Dade tribe — instead of the actual defendants, the driver and her father, who owned the uninsured car that killed Bermudez’s wife — to pay the 2009 judgment.
While that appeal was under review, the Miccosukee Tribe had to deposit about $4.8 million in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court registry and pay an administrative fee of almost $72,000 in October 2013.
The tribe’s lawyers blamed the Bermudez family’s attorney, Ramon M. Rodriguez, for forcing the Miccosukees to post the judgment in the court registry during the appeal.
Rodriguez tried to dissuade the judge from returning the jury award to the Miccosukees, and then from ordering his client to pay the large court fee — to no avail.
The tribe’s main attorney, Bernardo Roman, said he would seek a comment from Miccosukee Chairman Colley Billie on the judge’s latest order, but did not provide one on Monday.
In the case of Liliana Bermudez’s death, authorities determined that the driver, Tammy Gwen Billie, had drugs in her system when she rammed into another car on the Tamiami Trail on Oct. 2, 1998, killing the woman.
Carlos Bermudez, and his son, Mathew, now 17, have struggled to collect the 2009 judgment. The driver, Billie, and her father, Jimmie Bert, say they are broke after borrowing millions of dollars from the tribe to pay their legal-defense fees.
The tribe fronted almost $3 million in legal payments to Miami lawyers Guy Lewis and Michael Tein in a trial where the defendants admitted liability at the outset.
Last year, Dresnick ordered the Miccosukees to pay the original $3.1 million judgment, with interest, after concluding the tribe had directed the legal strategy and paid for defense’s bills.
In July, a three-judge appeals panel ruled he had erred, but also expressed sympathy for the Bermudez family and chastised the tribe for not making the defendants use annual income drawn from casino profits to pay the long-owed judgment. Each of the 600 Miccosukee members collects $164,000 a year from the tribe’s gambling operation.