A TALE OF TWO CITIES
An analysis to determine the similarities between the modus operandi of
the Florida Bar and organized crime utilizing a Fort Lauderdale
Sun-Sentinel article on government lawyer legal fees.
The article is from the 1/7/98, electronic edition of the Fort Lauderdale,
- Hallandale prides itself on keeping legal costs low. It's long-time
city attorney is employed directly by the city, along with an assistant
attorney and a secretary. In July, a jury found Hallandale negligent in
the drowning death of a 5-year-old boy at a city pool. It awarded his
mother $17.5 million, a judgment later upheld by a Broward circuit judge.
The amount is about half the city's budget.
- Hallandale City Attorney Richard Kane chose not to request outside
legal help. He said his assistant city attorney had more than 15 years of
experience doing defense work at a private firm. The opposition was
represented by a high-profile personal injury attorney from Stuart.
- Kane's rationale was that that hiring an outside firm is costly and
doesn't guarantee a winning verdict. "You will find equally bad results
with outside counsel," he said.
- Without consulting the city commision, Kane also rejected, more than a
year before the jury trial, an offer to settle for $2 million. City
officials say the issue may be moot because Florida law limits a city's
liability to $100,000 for a plaintiff in a negligence suit. Anything more
must be approved by the Legislature, which rarely happens.
- But some wonder whether Hallandale should have hired a top-notch legal
firm to do battle, arguing that in-house lawyers often don't have the
expertise to win such complicated, controversial cases. "Frankly, while
we have a very well-qualified legal staff, we should have brought in
someone from the outside more acquainted with this type of case," said
Hallandale Vice Mayor Hy Cohen. "We missed, somewhere along the line."
- In fact, Hallandale commissioners in September decided it was better
late than never to seek outside help. They authorized Kane to spend
$30,000 to hire a Tallahassee firm to appeal the judgment.
- In Pompano Beach, city officials groan about the Yardarm property as
the lawsuit from hell. The court case began in 1974, after brothers Jim
and Tom Stephanis tore down their Yardarm restaurant at the picturesque
Hillsboro Inlet and decided to build a high-rise hotel on the spot. The
city had issued a permit, but revoked it after neighbors complained it
would block their ocean view. The brothers sued. Over the years, some
city commissioners wanted to settle the case. Others didn't, and they
prevailed. Court battles continued.
- The Stephanises lost the property to foreclosure in 1985. The city
bought it from the federal government four years later, but never built
anything on it, afraid they would have to sell if they got stung with a
large court judgment. The site sat empty for years and was turned into a
park in 1994.
- But the trials and appeals never stopped. Last year, the city won the
case when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the brothers' appeal. But
they are back in court claiming the city violated their civil rights.
Pompano Beach has spent at least $1.06 million on outside attorney's fees
since 1987 fighting the case. In the last three years, the city has paid
Seamons, Cherin & Mellot nearly $160,000 to fight the suit.
- "Defending the city is an unfortunate, but necessary evil of running a
municipal government," said Pompano Beach Assistant City Attorney Mark
Berman. "You figure it as part of your budget, just like a builder figures
on cost overruns."
- Sun-Sentinel Copyright (c) 1998, Sun-Sentinel Company and South
Florida Interactive, Inc.
This Web page is one of a SERIES OF WEB
PAGES examining the modus operandi of the Florida Bar.
The home page of this Web site is entitled LEGAL
REFORM THROUGH TRANSFORMING THE DISCIPLINE OF LAW INTO A SCIENCE