Michael Tein and Guy Lewis have successfully defeated the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and its attorneys after many years of legal brawls. Multiple courts have sanctioned the tribe and its attorneys for pursuing frivolous trials in which they accused Lewis and Tein of embezzlement and racketeering in collaboration with former tribal chairman, Billy Cypress. Lewis and Tein had represented two tribal members in 2009 in a case involving a fatal car accident.
When the tribe expelled Cypress in 2010, it sued Lewis and Tein alleging they bribed him and fraudulently billed the tribe to get kickbacks from legal fees. Since then, the tribe has filed more than 20 motions against Lewis and Tein, none of which were granted. Moreover, Lewis and Tein had three major victories that defined the course of the dispute; in December 2013, the Third District Court of Appeals of the State of Florida affirmed a lower court’s summary judgement in favor of Lewis and Tein after the tribe was unable to provide any evidence of fraudulent behavior; in December 2015, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a U.S. District Court in Florida which sanctioned the tribe and its lawyer for pursuing a lawsuit with no evidence; and the same month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton ordered the tribe and its attorney, Bernardo Roman III, to pay Lewis and Tein’s legal fees.
Two more sanctions followed in 2016 against the tribe and its attorneys. The first entailed $1 million, in a ruling in which Federal Judge Marcia Cooke stated that the tribe and Roman “unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the lawsuit.” The second was a $4 million settlement to cover the legal costs of multiple frivolous cases. The Florida Bar filed a formal complaint against Roman, whose false allegations even included a police report accusing Lewis and Tein’s attorney of purposefully causing an allergic reaction in one of his clerks. Similarly, Ramon Manuel Rodriguez, who had also represented the tribe, faced ethics charges from The Florida Bar for filing a frivolous perjury case against Lewis and Tein. Both Rodriguez and Roman are currently awaiting trial. In the midst of a myriad of burdensome and virtually unsupported lawsuits, Lewis and Tein have consistently come out in victory.
Update: Two Parallel Cases? Lewis Tein v. Miccosukee & Miccosukee v. Roman
In August 2016, Lewis and Tein sued the Miccosukee Tribe alleging that it “committed a pattern of criminal acts designed to disregard the 2012 mandate of Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal and publicly obstruct justice in several judicial proceedings in Florida and federal courts,” all with the goal of harming them. The Tribe filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, referring to the sovereign immunity Indian tribes enjoy in the United States. However, the Court found that there had been a “clear waiver” of sovereign immunity, citing the Third District Court of Appeal’s (Third DCA) finding (in previous related lawsuits) that the Tribe had waived its sovereign immunity and holding that the Tribe authorized the delivery of a set of checks to the plaintiff’s lawyers. The purpose of the checks was to deceive the presiding judge into believing that Lewis and Tein were part of a fraudulent loan scheme and had committed perjury about it. In December 2016, the Tribe appealed to the Third DCA for the denial of its motion to dismiss the case.
In early June 2017, Miccosukee Tribe attorney, Robert Saunooke, filed a lawsuit under seal against Roman alleging, among other points, that the Tribe “suffered damages as a result of Defendant’s failures” and malpractice. Later that month, Lewis Tein requested the Third DCA to take judicial notice of that lawsuit, arguing that it “is incongruous for the Miccosukee Tribe to claim sovereign immunity over the conduct it jointly undertook with its Tribal Counsel but then, at the same time and in the same court system, sue that same Tribal Counsel.” The request adds that the lawsuit against Roman adds to the pattern of the Tribe’s decision to participate in or influence litigation in the state of Florida.
In a response, the Tribe stated that because the judicial notice was of a lawsuit in which Lewis Tein is not a party (referring to the lawsuit involving only Roman and the Tribe), then it “bears no relationship to the appeal in this matter.” The Tribe also argues that a lawsuit does not waive tribal immunity for a different lawsuit, in reference to the finding in previous lawsuits that the Tribe had waived its sovereign immunity.
On August 9, 2017, Judge Luck from the Third DCA reversed the trial’s court decision to deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction;
Like any injured party, if the allegations are true they should have proper redress for their injuries. But just as every right has its remedy, every rule has its exception. The exception here is sovereign immunity. Granting immunity to Indian tribes is a policy choice made by our elected representatives to further important federal and state interests. (Judge Robert Luck)
Judge Luck found that there had not been a clear waiver of immunity in this case, stating “The general rule is that a tribe’s immunity waiver in litigating one case does not waive immunity in subsequent cases.”
In another process, on June 29, 2017, Judge Dava J. Tunis – who acted as referee in the trial on the Florida Bar’s complaint – found Bernardo Roman III guilty of breaking 14 Florida Bar rules after a four-day trial. These include “fabricating evidence, counseling or assisting a witness to testify falsely,” “engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” and “failing to disclose a fact to correct a misapprehension in connection with a disciplinary matter.” On July 7, at the ensuing disciplinary hearing, a lawyer for the Florida Bar argued that Roman should be permanently disbarred. The Supreme Court of Florida has the final authority on determining Roman’s guilt and discipline.
Updated August 16, 2017
More Articles Related to this Case
- Miccosukees sued by their former lawyers – The Miami Herald
- Miccosukees, Attorney Slammed Again. Another Judge Sanctions Them for Frivolous Suit Against Lewis Tein – DBR
- Lewis Tein Sues Miccosukee Tribe in New Turn in Legal Saga –
- Ex-Client Agrees to Pay $4 Million in Sanctions to Lewis Tein Law Firm – DBR
- Lewis Tein Says Exit Of Tribe’s Atty Shouldn’t Affect Sanctions – Law360
- Lewis Tein Wins Fees In Fla. Tribe’s Malpractice Case – Law 360
- Tribe, Attorney Must Pay $1 Million in Sanctions – Courthouse News Service
- Miami-Dade judge tosses malpractice case against former Miccosukee lawyers – The Miami Herald
- Calli Law Successfully Defends Lewis Tein PL Against Miccosukee Tribe – Calli Law
- DBR on Calli Law Victory: “Miccosukees, Attorney Slammed Again” – Calli Law
- Former Miccosukee Lawyer Roman Broke 14 Bar Rules, Referee Finds – DBR
- BAD LAWYERS: Florida State Bar Wants Bernardo Roman III Permanently Disbarred – JDJournal
- Sealed Lawsuit Against Ex-Miccosukee Lawyer Raises Questions – DBR
- ‘He’s Unrepentant’: Tensions Bubble at Bar Discipline Hearing for Ex-Miccosukee Lawyer Roman – DBR
- Miccosukee Tribe’s Lawsuit Against Its Former Lawyer Unsealed
– Miami Herald
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