The Miccosukee tribe and its lawyer must pay more than $1 million to three prominent Miami lawyers accused of malpractice and fraud in an “ignorant” failure of a lawsuit, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ordered the tribe and lawyer Bernardo Roman III sanctioned for filing a lawsuit that featured “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence.”
They must pay $975,750 in legal fees and costs to law partners Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, both former federal prosecutors. The judge also ordered the tribe to pay $95,640 to lawyer Dexter Lehtinen, who like Lewis once held the post of U.S. Attorney in Miami.
Friday’s order was vindication for the three lawyers who have been mired in the costly legal fight for the past two years. Paul Calli, a lawyer for Lewis and Tein, declined to comment Friday.
Lehtinen could not be reached for comment.
The West Miami-Dade tribe in 2012 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 Cypress to get kickbacks, while keeping the rest of the tribe in the dark about his 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.
Ultimately, Judge Cooke dismissed the lawsuit. A claim against Lewis and Tein, which collected more than $10 million in fees for various legal services, failed in state court, too. In a sweeping ruling, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton said there was no evidence of any fraud. A state court suit against Lehtinen is still pending.
In her sanctions ruling, Judge Cooke repeatedly blasted the investigation done by Roman, saying his work was “egregious and abhorrent.” She referred him to the Florida Bar for an investigation.
Roman declined comment.