Miami-Dade County

Appeals court upholds victory for lawyers sued by Miccosukee tribe

An appeals court has upheld a Miami federal judge who dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Miccosukee tribe against its former attorneys.

The ruling was another victory for prominent Miami lawyers Guy Lewis, Michael Tein and Dexter Lehtinen, who have long been mired in legal battles over their former representation of the West Miami-Dade Indian tribe.

In 2012, the tribe sued its former chairman, Billy Cypress, accusing him of stealing $26 million from the tribe to spend on numerous gambling trips, shopping sprees, real estate investments and luxury cars.

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. The suit also went after Lehtinen, who was paid over $50 million over two decades for legal advice on everything from water management issues in the Everglades to income taxes issues stemming from the tribe's casino.

But U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke later dismissed the tribe’s claims, and ordered the tribe and lawyer Bernardo Roman III sanctioned for filing a lawsuit that featured “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence.”

“The terrible shame is that the Tribe and its lawyers were able to prosecute these lies for years, leaving a wake of destructive litigation that cost millions of dollars to defend,” said Paul Calli, Lewis and Tein’s lawyer. “Thankfully, the courts have put a stop to it.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Cooke, ruling there were “no factual references to support” the allegations against the lawyers.

The appeals court wrote that the tribe’s 314-page lawsuit seemed to be nothing more than “an attempt to create the impression of specificity through page-number ‘shock and awe.’ ”

A tribal lawsuit against Lewis and Tein in state court likewise failed.

Earlier this month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton ordered Roman and the tribe pay Lewis and Tein’s legal bills. Thornton wrote that the tribe, “in bad faith,” continued its lawsuit “in the face of overwhelming evidence demonstrating the claims against Lewis and Tein were unfounded and frivolous.”

A Florida Bar ethics investigation into Roman is continuing. He could not be reached for comment.

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