The following article from the 1/8/98, electronic edition of the Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, Sun-Sentinel is part of an analysis to determine the
similarities between the modus operandi of the Florida Bar and organized
crime (utilizing a series of Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel articles on
government lawyer legal fees.)
DUELING OVER DOLLARS
Sun-Sentinel Copyright (c) 1998, Sun-Sentinel Company and South
Florida Interactive, Inc.
- Broward politicians say the $1.2billion expansion of the
airport will be an economic boon.
So far, that certainly has proved true for two powerhouse law
firms tight with county officials.
- Since 1988, Broward County has paid more than $8 million to
Miami-based law firm of Kubicki Draper to fight disputes with property
owners around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Conrad, Scherer & Jenne has earned almost $500,000 from the
county since 1993.
- The firms have been fighting lengthy court battles between
county, which needed land for the airport expansion, and property
owners, who wanted top dollar for their land.
The firms' legal bills are small compared to the $172 million
that Broward will have spent on parcels needed for the airport's
- Moreover, two-thirds of the county's land purchase costs
qualified for reimbursement by the Federal Aviation Administration.
But regardless of who was picking up the tab, county officials
grew distressed with the soaring bills, especially Kubicki's.
Deputy County Attorney Noel Pfeffer questioned the firm's high
fees for simple tasks.
- "I would suggest this office evaluate the billing practices
this firm. I am not inclined to approve any of them," Pfeffer wrote in
a 1994 memo to his boss.
Another county attorney was assigned to check out his
colleague's concerns, but found no problems. Kubicki's bills were paid
- It took another two years for Broward County commissioners
ask for an audit of all airport litigation bills.
"My review points out deficiencies in record keeping," Auditor
Norm Thabit wrote in a January 1997 memo to the commission. Thabit
also found "insufficient controls" over legal work.
His biggest finding: The airport was paying as much or more for
Kubicki's legal fees and expenses as it was for certain properties.
His audit, however, revealed no evidence of overbilling by
- Angela Flowers, a Kubicki partner, said the county's audit
proved that the firm's bills were legitimate.
Costs ran so high because of the complex nature of eminent
domain law, Flowers said, which gives government the authority to take
private property. Landowners usually chose to fight the takeover,
which also drives up costs.
- Broward completed its purchase of property around the
- Highland Beach got hit with millions of dollars in legal
and fees when town officials blocked a massive condominium project
along the Intracoastal Waterway.
A lawsuit ended badly for the town in 1992, when a federal judge
ordered Highland Beach to pay the property owner $14.4 million in
- The judge also ordered Highland Beach to pay $1.8 million
attorney fees to the Resolution Trust Corp., which had assumed
ownership of the 17-acre property from a failed savings and loan.
Highland Beach appealed and eventually settled with the RTC,
paying $1.2 million in attorney fees and $3.3 million in damages.
- But the settlement costs were larger than the town's
budget. Officials were forced to borrow about $3 million.
The town's insurance company paid another $750,000 in fees for
Highland Beach's team of liability lawyers, said George Roberts, a
West Palm Beach attorney and lead counsel.
- In the mid-1990s, the town spent at least $100,000 more on
for its in-house attorney and other lawyers to fight the case, records
- Were all those legal bills worth it? Roberts' summation:
"Hindsight is always 20/20."
- What happened to the controversial waterfront property?
Development Group bought it for $12.6 million in 1996, and later won
town approval to build 425 condo units in three towers.
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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