Miami-Dade County

Lawyer faces discipline in nut-allergy altercation

AP

A Miami lawyer is facing discipline after investigators said he called police to falsely claim that a rival attorney attacked his nut-allergic law clerk — with peanuts and pistachios.

The Florida Bar has filed a complaint against lawyer Bernardo Roman on a host of allegations of dishonesty and false claims involving his representation of the Miccosukee tribe.

The complaint, filed last week, is but the latest fallout from a series of bitter legal battles between Roman and the Miccosukees, and the tribe’s formers lawyers, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein.

The tribe had sued Lewis and Tein, alleging that they engaged in a series of fraudulent activities with then-Miccosukee Chairman Billy Cypress. A federal judge later dismissed the tribe’s claims and ordered the tribe and Roman sanctioned for filing a lawsuit that featured “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence.”

In May, the Miccosukees agreed to pay $4 million to Lewis and Tein over the series of failed lawsuits. Roman, still facing possible sanctions from a court, said he will fight the allegations.

“I was zealously representing my client in exposing one of the largest thefts of tribal monies in the history of Indian tribes by powerful and politically connected interests,” Roman said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “Unfortunately, these cases were dismissed on procedural technicalities and the real victims never obtained the justice they deserved.”

Last week, the Florida Bar filed a complaint over his handling of the lawsuits, and the incident with the nuts, which took place during a deposition in June 2013.

The deposition was being overseen by a retired judge, Ellen Leesfield, who placed bowls of peanuts and pistachios on a conference room table at a Coral Gables law office. Roman’s clerk, Shenna Perez-Martin, announced that she was allergic to the nuts, and the bowls were moved to a reception room.

During a break in the deposition, Perez-Martin said she was having an allergic reaction just by having been near the nuts, according to the Bar complaint. In the reception room, she told Roman she was leaving to an urgent-care clinic for treatment.

At that moment, Lewis and Tein’s attorney, Paul Calli, emerged from the conference room, grabbed a handful of nuts and walked back, weaving between the two opposing lawyers. Perez-Martin left.

An hour later, after lunch was delivered, Roman called 911 to allege that Perez-Martin “was just the victim of a battery.”

“He purposely put pistachios in her food and in front of her, and she had to be taken to the hospital. That’s where she is, in urgent care right now,” Roman said, according to the Bar’s complaint.

But Perez-Martin told investigators that never happened — and that Roman got angry at her for not changing her story or agreeing to press charges, the report said. Judge Leesfield and another judge who were present said the whole episode “was a setup” by Roman to get Calli in trouble.

Calli declined to comment. Roman, in his statement, said of the statement: “I was relieved that she did not suffer a more serious health reaction.”

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