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Bias suit lawyer accused of guerilla tactics

The lawyer representing 29 black clerks seeking $1.3 million to settle racial discrimination claims against Broward Clerk of Court Robert Lockwood faces stiff sanctions and Florida Bar investigations into alleged misconduct that one federal judge called "guerrilla litigation."

The Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Norman E. Ganz, has pounced on governments from Miami to Fort Pierce, aggressively pursuing racial discrimination lawsuits, and sometimes reaping handsome rewards.

Tuesday, Broward commissioners are scheduled to vote on whether to advance Lockwood $1.3 million so he can pay Ganz and the 29 clerks instead of taking the case to a jury.

Ganz, a private attorney who also represents the Fort Lauderdale branch of the NAACP, has sued the Broward Sheriff's Office, Boynton Beach police and the Village of Indian Creek in Miami-Dade County. He is also preparing a race discrimination case against the Broward County School Board on behalf of 15 school district employees.

Last month, St. Lucie County school board members agreed to pay Ganz and 16 clients $1.4 million to end their race discrimination lawsuit.

In the Lockwood lawsuit, more than half of the $1.3 million settlement would cover fees and other costs for Ganz and other attorneys and lobbyists he recruited, including a lawyer from California.

The individual Broward court clerks would receive far less -- an average of $18,800 each. Ganz, 36, is not accused of ethical misconduct in his case against the Broward clerk.

"My prosecution of the case against Mr. Lockwood and his associates, while aggressively and zealously pursued, has been very ethical, " Ganz said Saturday.

The alleged violations occurred in another racial discrimination lawsuit.

In late January, U.S. Magistrate Ann E. Vitunac recommended that Ganz pay $180,000 for alleged misconduct during a case against the Broward-based owners of 20 Subway sandwich shops in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Vitunac was disturbed by tactics Ganz and his paralegal, Brian Nieman, used to try to win a multi-million dollar settlement. The two men allegedly threatened to involve the NAACP in the lawsuit -- unless Subway executives paid $4.75 million.

She recommended the Florida Bar look into the matter. The Florida Bar already has opened two other investigations into Ganz's conduct.

After a two-day hearing, Vitunac wrote a 42-page report detailing threats, harassment and "bullying tactics" in the Subway case, tactics that even Ganz conceded during testimony were "rather unsavory."

"In the rough and tumble of litigation, some hyperbole and rhetoric is to be expected, " Vitunac wrote. "However, Mr. Ganz and Mr. Nieman went far out of bounds, with repugnant conduct, clearly in bad faith and sanctionable."

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp is expected to rule on the sanctions within the next few weeks. Ganz declined to discuss the proposed sanctions.

"It's inappropriate for me to comment on my feelings about that report to the media before the judge rules, " Ganz said. "It would undermine the integrity of the legal system."

Ryskamp has already made some comments on Ganz and the threats against Subway, likening the situation to a "terrorist threatening all kinds of things if you don't capitulate to my demands. It looks like blackmail."

"I've never seen anything like it, " said West Palm Beach attorney, G. Joseph Curley, who represented Charles and Linda Serabian, the owners of several Subway franchises scattered mostly throughout Broward.

Curley and other lawyers representing Subway corporate executives asked for sanctions against Ganz. They say Nieman, who has felony convictions for insurance fraud, and Ganz frequently threatened them and demanded a $4.75 million settlement.

If they refused to pay, then "the Fort Lauderdale division of the NAACP, which Mr. Ganz stated he represented -- would join the lawsuit or file its own action, " Vitunac wrote.

Nieman also prodded the local Subway store owners to cut a quick deal. Nieman allegedly told Curley that if his clients "would be willing to roll over on big Subway (the corporate headquarters) and provide them with statements and affidavits to get to the 'real deep pocket, ' to use his words, then they could adjust their demands, " Curley testified during the hearing over sanctions.

"I've never in my career moved for sanctions against another attorney, " said Curley, a lawyer for 12 years who is with the firm Gunster, Yoakley, Valdes-Fauli & Steward in West Palm Beach.

"They would throw around the NAACP threat like it was salt and pepper, " Curley said. Nieman noted that race discrimination complaints against the Serabians are pending.

Charles Whitelock, special counsel for the Broward Sheriff's Office, is also familiar with Ganz's and Nieman's aggressive style. Ganz filed a lawsuit several weeks ago against BSO, alleging race discrimination against three former deputies who worked in Broward's jail system.

First, Nieman and Ganz petitioned BSO for a list of all black deputies who had been fired by the department, Whitelock said.

"Then Ganz held a meeting with all of these terminated employees and enlisted them, or solicited them, to try to create a Lockwood-styled, class-action lawsuit, " Whitelock said. "These were the only three people they could come up with. I don't think lawyers should be soliciting business like that."

Whitelock dismisses the BSO lawsuit as worthless. The corrections director, Susan McCampbell, was sued personally, similar to the Subway corporate executives. But two of the deputies had been fired before McCampbell began working at BSO, Whitelock said.

Several Broward commissioners are troubled by the case against Lockwood and a letter that NAACP President Roosevelt Walters sent them, encouraging them to settle the case. Lockwood's attorney, John Gronda, said there is no comparison between the Subway and Lockwood cases. The NAACP was involved in the Lockwood case from the beginning. Commission Chairwoman Lori Parrish last week demanded a break-down of how much each of the attorneys would collect, and a list of how much money would be paid to each of the 29 clerks.

Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger and Commissioner John Rodstrom were disturbed after learning that Ganz hired two attorneys, Sam Fields and Susan Motley of the law firm Ruden, McClosky, Smith, Schuster & Russell, to lobby commissioners to turn over $1.3 million in tax dollars to end the lawsuit.

And now Gunzburger is concerned about the allegations of misconduct.