A Miami lawyer should be permanently disbarred over a series of frivolous lawsuits he filed on behalf of the Miccosukee Tribe, a Florida Bar lawyer urged a judge on Friday.
The recommendation of discipline came against attorney Bernardo Roman, who spearheaded the tribe’s years-long legal fights against its formers lawyers, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein.
“The tribe with its lawyers destroyed our law practice,” Tein, a former federal prosecutor, testified on Friday. “Destroyed our reputations that we spent a lifetime building.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dava Tunis, who is serving as the referee on the Florida Bar’s case against the attorney, will make the decision on recommending discipline in the coming weeks. Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court will decide whether Roman can remain an attorney.
Last month, Tunis found Roman guilty of a slew of legal misconduct charges, including that he falsely claimed that a rival attorney attacked his nut-allergic law clerk by sprinkling pistachios and peanuts in her food.
Roman, speaking at the hearing on Friday, said he had no prior disciplinary record and advocated that he should only be suspended, not permanently banned from the legal profession.
Emotional on the stand, Tein bristled at Roman’s years of conduct, suggesting he acted criminally and was “unrepentant” for pushing lawsuits that garnered years of negative headlines.
“The tribe built the bonfire and Mr. Roman ... poured kerosine on it on a daily basis,” Tein said.
Last year, the Florida Bar filed a formal complaint against Roman on an array of allegations of dishonesty and false claims involving his representation of the Miccosukee Tribe. Many of the tribe’s 600-odd members live in the Everglades, west of the Miccosukee Resort, a casino-gambling operation with bingo-style slot machines at the corner of Tamiami Trail and Krome Avenue.
The complaint followed a long and bitter legal battle between the tribe and its former law firm. It started in 2012, when the tribe sued Lewis and Tein, alleging that they engaged in a series of fraudulent activities with then-Miccosukee Chairman Billy Cypress. In the federal suit, the tribe alleged Lewis and Tein conspired with Billie to get kickbacks, while keeping the rest of the tribe in the dark about Cypress’ spending.
But a federal judge later flatly dismissed the tribe’s claims, ordering the Miccosukees and Roman sanctioned for filing a lawsuit that featured “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence.” And in May 2016, the tribe agreed to pay $4 million to Lewis and Tein over that case and several other failed lawsuits. A few months later, Lewis and Tein sued the tribe, a lawsuit that is still pending.
Some of Roman’s lawsuits also targeted another former tribal lawyer, Dexter Lehtinen, who testified that years of handling litigation for the tribe took a heavy toll on his life and career. For years, he represented the tribe on everything from water management issues in the Everglades to income tax issues stemming from the tribe’s casino.
He was accompanied Friday by his wife, retiring Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.
“Virtually unlimited Indian gaming money, buying frivolous litigation and an unethical lawyer, was the sword; and false claims of exaggerated Indian sovereign immunity was the shield,” Lehtinen, a former Miami U.S. attorney, said afterward.