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.)


  1. 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.

  2. Since 1988, Broward County has paid more than $8 million to the 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.

  3. The firms have been fighting lengthy court battles between the 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 growth.

  4. Moreover, two-thirds of the county's land purchase costs have 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.

  5. "I would suggest this office evaluate the billing practices of 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 in full.

  6. It took another two years for Broward County commissioners to 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 Kubicki.

  7. 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.

  8. Broward completed its purchase of property around the airport last summer.

  9. Highland Beach got hit with millions of dollars in legal damages 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 damages.

  10. The judge also ordered Highland Beach to pay $1.8 million in 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.

  11. But the settlement costs were larger than the town's operating 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.

  12. In the mid-1990s, the town spent at least $100,000 more on fees for its in-house attorney and other lawyers to fight the case, records show.

  13. Were all those legal bills worth it? Roberts' summation: "Hindsight is always 20/20."

  14. What happened to the controversial waterfront property? Omega Development Group bought it for $12.6 million in 1996, and later won town approval to build 425 condo units in three towers.

Sun-Sentinel Copyright (c) 1998, Sun-Sentinel Company and South Florida Interactive, Inc.

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