As an attorney, I was disappointed in the Third District Court of Appeals’ decision reversing Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick’s order that the Miccosukee Indian tribe pay a $3.1 million judgment awarded in 2009 to the Bermudez family, whose relative, Liliana Bermudez, was killed a result of two tribe members who were driving drunk. It’s unconscionable that an innocent family is destroyed, while tribe elders have flouted the judicial system with no thought to compensating the Bermudez family for its unspeakable loss.
What I’m most troubled by is the payment of $3.1 million in legal fees to Guy Lewis and Michael Tein by the Miccosukee tribe — whether the money is viewed as a loan from the tribe to the two tribe members or as a direct payment of legal fees from the tribe to Lewis and Tein. The two tribe members early on admitted their criminal culpability and civil liability. The only question in the civil case was damages — how much should the tribe members be required to pay the Bermudez family for the loss of their wife and mother?
In today’s hyper-litigious society, the most prestigious lawyers in the best law firms are sometimes paid up to $500 per hour to represent clients in complex civil cases. Neither Lewis nor Tein practice in that rarified environment. Yet, assuming they were paid at the rate of $500 per hour, and allowing for $100,000 of the $3.1 million in legal fees to be used for investigative services, to actually earn their $3-million fee Lewis and Tein would have to have spent 6,000 hours on a case in which the only issue was the amount of damages. Inconceivable and ludicrous.
Clearly, by any calculus, Lewis and Tein received a substantial amount of unearned money.
As members of the Florida Bar, and especially because of the egregious underlying facts of this case, they would be well advised to donate a significant portion of their windfall legal fees to the Bermudez family. There is no law I know of that would require this; nor is there any pressure I know of that the Florida Bar or the legal community can bring to bear to persuade them to donate a portion of their fee to the Bermudez family. It would be an act of kindness.
I am hopeful Lewis and Tein will re-read their Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar and, upon reflection, do what is right. The Bermudez family deserves this act of kindness, however belated it may be.
Robert J. Bondi, assistant U.S. attorney (retired), Miami