When attorneys tell judges they want off a case, they routinely cite “irreconcilable differences,” which typically means they haven’t been paid.
But, when a Jupiter attorney decided he no longer wanted to represent former North Palm Beach jeweler Anthony Simpson, he felt compelled to apologize to the judge and lawyers representing a New Jersey woman who is trying to evict Simpson from his home. Court records show he deeded it to her in 2015 in exchange for $450,000.
“My credibility is all I have and I have been lied to repeatedly by (Simpson),” attorney David Kuschel wrote in a motion filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court earlier this month. “I did not become an attorney to abuse the judicial system or to lie to other members of the Florida Bar and the Court.”
Like others who have dealt with the former owner of Shamrock Jewelers on Northlake Boulevard, Kuschel said he believed Simpson when he told him he had “a financial backer.” Simpson promised repeatedly that the anonymous benefactor would give him $600,000 to settle the eviction lawsuit filed against him by Jodi Monell, as trustee of two family-owned trusts in Colts Neck, N.J., Kuschel wrote.
Kuschel said he met with people who were interested in buying Simpson’s home but that they didn’t understand the urgency of doing so. “Apparently, (Simpson) also misrepresented facts to the financial backers,” he wrote.
“The undersigned counsel does not know what else he can do, hence withdrawing from this action is my best course of action,” he wrote in the request.
In 2015, Simpson repeatedly told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Erik Kimball he had “an angel” who would repay those who invested roughly $12 million in Rollaguard, a company he formed to produce a high-tech brief case. When the anonymous benefactor never appeared, Kimball put a bankruptcy trustee in charge of Rollaguard and Shamrock, who closed them both.
Trustee Robert Furr has filed dozens of lawsuits trying to recover millions from those who made money on both Shamrock and Rollaguard at the expense of others. Simpson also faces charges in Louisiana for writing bad checks to a diamond broker there.
Circuit Judge Edward Artau has scheduled a hearing on April 17 on Monell’s request to order Simpson out of his Oyster Road home.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has accepted a position as head of the Global Compliance and Investigations team at the international law firm Holland & Knight.
The move, announced in a press release Wednesday, will put Ferrer in charge of corporate compliance and government investigations for the firm’s white-collar defense division.
Company officials said Ferrer, who with seven years as U.S. Attorney was the South Florida office’s longest-serving top prosecutor since the 1970s, will focus on both domestic and international clients.
“Over my many years in the South Florida community, I’ve been very impressed by the caliber and professionalism of Holland & Knight attorneys, many of whom I count as friends,” Ferrer aid in the news release. “The firm has an outstanding reputation in the profession and also embodies a culture that is deeply committed to giving back to the community. I look forward to contributing to its continued success.”
Ferrer will work at the firm’s Miami office, one of its 27 branches worldwide.
Former Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd, who heads Holland & Knight’s West Palm Beach office, attributed Ferrer’s move in part to an opportunity to reunite with the head of the firm’s litigation section, John Hogan.
Ferrer previously worked with Hogan at the Department of Justice while Mr. Hogan was chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
“I think it’s great to have Willy as part of the the team,” Shepherd said, later adding: “He’s a real trial attorney, both from the county attorney’s office in Miami-Dade and as Assistant U.S. Attorney, so he brings new depth to an already strong national team.”
State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced this morning that he will be spending the week in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba to attend the trial of accused terrorist mastermind Abdul al Hadi al Iraqi.
According to a press release from Aronberg’s office Monday, Aronberg was selected to represent the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) in observing the criminal hearings for Iraqi, an alleged former member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle.
Iraqi has been described as a military leader for the Taliban, and is accused of various war crimes, including allegations that his troops attacked U.S. and U.S. ally targets in Afghanistan.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to observe up close our system of justice as it relates to terrorist suspects, and to meet with the brave men and women of our military who keep us safe every day,” Aronberg said in a press release Monday.
UPDATE 2:48 p.m.: It took a Palm Beach County jury just over two hours Tuesday to decide in favor of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office in a lawsuit from a former prosecutor who said she was fired because she had cancer.
The verdict comes nearly two weeks after the trial in Angela Miller’s case began, featuring testimony from current Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and three of his predecessors, along with several others in the legal community who worked with Miller during her 16-year stint at the office.
Attorneys for Aronberg’s office told jurors that all Aronberg did was exercise his right not to retain Miller when he took office, a decision that had already been in the making before Miller’s diagnosis in August 2012.
“We’re pleased with the jury’s verdict, and we feel justice has been served,” Aronberg said through spokesman Mike Edmondson after the verdict Tuesday.
Miller, a mother of two who tearfully told jurors on the witness stand that she was still undergoing chemotherapy when she learned she was being let go, said she was glad she pursued the case despite the outcome.
“It was critical for me to tell my story, because this is happening to someone else right now, as we’re talking, someone is being terminated right now because they’re sick. And it’s a story that has to be told,” Miller said.
Miller said she will be talking to her attorneys, Cathleen Scott and Lindsey Wagner, to decide whether she will appeal the case. Five months after she wasn’t retained at the state attorney’s office, Miller got a job at the Boca Raton commercial litigation firm Sachs, Sax and Caplan, where she remains today.
Defense attorney James Williams reminded jurors Tuesday that despite Aronberg’s decision not to keep Miller, he encouraged a partner the firm to hire her.
ORIGINAL POST: Four women and two men have now begun deciding whether Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg wrongfully terminated former Assistant State Attorney Angela Miller in 2012 because she had cancer.
Lawyers of both sides of Miller’s lawsuit against her former employers are now delivering their closing arguments, ending the trial that began earlier this month and featured testimony from top politicians, judges and lawyers in Palm Beach County’s legal community.
Miller’s attorney, Cathleen Scott, reminded jurors that all who testified during the trial characterized Miller as a great trial attorney. Miller, diagnosed with cancer in August 2012, found out in December that Aronberg would not be swearing her in as one of his assistants when he took office in January 2013.
Scott balked at suggestions from Aronberg’s testimony while on the witness stand last week comparing his takeover at the state attorney’s’ office to a coach taking over a sports team and making changes to the coaching staff.
“This isn’t football, this isn’t baseball. This is somebody’s life,” Scott said, later adding: “The law doesn’t allow it, and neither should you.”
Defense attorney James Williams’ position to jurors has been that Miller wasn’t asked to stay on with Aronberg in spite of her cancer diagnosis, not because of it.
He reiterated concerns Aronberg and others said they had about Miller’s actions outside of the courtroom, including allegations that she berated a juror in 2010 for voting to acquit a murder suspect and broke the law in the summer of 2012 when asked an investigator to search an FBI database for personal reasons.
Williams told jurors that they would have to believe 11 lawyers, a doctor and three law enforcement officers would have had to have participated in an orchestrated cover-up in order for jurors to believe Miller’s version of why she was let go.
Though Miller’s cancer diagnosis was tragic, Williams said, her anger with Aronberg and the state attorney’s office is misplaced.
“It can’t be, ‘I can do anything I want, and now because I’m sick, they can’t do anything to me. That’s not how the law works,” Williams said, adding later: “To do it that way would encourage a lot of bad behavior.”
The last arguments jurors heard Tuesday was from Scott, who had harsh criticism for Aronberg and accused him of being more concerned with placating “his defense attorney donor buddies” than with prosecuting criminal defendants.
Scott compared Miller to Brian Fernandes, a chief assistant state attorney under Aronberg who as a statewide prosecutor was responsible for handling gang cases and other violent crimes.
“He’s a tough prosecutor, just like Ms. Miller,” Scott said. “Let’s hope he doesn’t get sick.”
Circuit Judge Donald Hafele sent jurors sback to deliberate at noon.
UPDATE:The “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page was taken down Friday. Richard Giorgio, Dana Santino’s political consultant, said in an email, “Several defense attorneys who are supporting Dana Santino contacted the campaign. They felt the Facebook page “The Truth About Gregg Lerman” could be viewed as a commentary on all defense attorneys. In deference to them, the page has been taken down.”
The page, that offers links to newspaper stories about several high-profile cases Lerman has handled, underscores further how little Santino understands about the criminal justice system or what criminal defense attorneys do, Lerman said.
“A criminal defense attorney works to preserve the system and make sure it works,” said Lerman. He is challenging Santino in the Nov. 8 election for a seat on the county court bench, where misdemeanor cases and civil matters, worth less than $15,000, are decided.
A few newspaper stories don’t begin to tell the story of his 31-year career or the job of a criminal defense attorney, Lerman said. The job involves more than appearing in court. It often involves trying to get people help with demons, such as drug addiction, to keep them from committing crimes. It also involves protecting clients from overzealous prosecutors and making sure the punishment fits the crime.
He said he suspects Santino, who in an email to would-be supporters last week said Lerman represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals,” has stepped over a line. Unlike those seeking other elected positions, judicial candidates are constrained by judicial canons and can face sanctions for violating them.
Richard Giorgio, Santino’s political consultant, said Santino is on firm legal ground. “We’ve looked at the canons,” said Giorgio, who administers Taxpayers for Public Integrity which created the website for Santino.
“Candidates are allowed to draw clear, honest, factual differences with their opponents,” he said. “There’s nothing misleading. One candidate focused her career on defending victims and one focuses his on defending perpetrators of crime.”
Santino, who works as a guardianship and probate attorney, worked as a victim’s advocate from 1993-94, according to her campaign brochure. Giorgio said she still represents victims of crime.
Lerman said he does, too. He said he and those close to him have been victims of crime. He said he understands both sides. “It’s aggravating because she doesn’t know me or what I do,” he said.
Santino, he said, is violating judicial candidates by misrepresenting his credentials and questioning the validity of the type of law he practices. “You can’t attack someone personally based on what they do and infer they can’t be fair and impartial,” he said. “That’s exactly what they claim.”
He said he intends to seek an opinion from a campaign ethics committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and file a complaint against Santino with the Florida Bar.
Giorgio indicated he isn’t worried. “He doesn’t represent these people because he champions constitutional principles. He’s doing it because he make a lot of money doing it,” Giorgio said.
Lerman accepts court appointments to represent people charged with murder. Most agree it is far from lucrative.
But, he said, he does it because he respects the criminal justice system and takes his responsibilities as a lawyer seriously. “I raised my hand 31 years ago to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.
A long-running legal battle pitting a storied and politically connected West Palm Beach law firm against one of its founding partners culminated Wednesday when an appeals court ruled the partner deserved a fraction of the $2.3 million he was slated to get.
Rejecting calculations made by former Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Ciklin Lubitz & O’Connell owed former partner Patrick Casey only $511,200.
“Reverse, reverse, reverse,” managing partner Alan Ciklin said of the appeals court decision. “We’re pleased and we feel vindicated.”
Attorney Eric Hewko, who represented Casey, said he and his client were “very disappointed” in the three-page ruling. The $511,200 is the equity Casey had in the firm roughly 15 years ago which doesn’t reflect what it was worth when he stepped down in 2012, he said.
Hewko said he and Casey are deciding whether to ask the West Palm Beach-based appeals court to reconsider the decision or whether to appeal it to the Florida Supreme Court. Ciklin said he doubted an appeal would be successful.
“It’s been a long haul and certainly not something we wanted to happen,” he said.
The saga began two months after Casey, a founder of the 30-year-old firm, resigned. While the firm paid him what Ciklin described as “less than $100,000” that he was owed under the partnership agreement, Casey sued, claiming he was entitled to more.
After a five-day trial in 2014, Brown agreed. She wrote a scathing 12-page opinion, questioning the veracity of Ciklin’s testimony, blasting the firm for keeping at least two sets of books and awarding Casey $2.3 million.
In its far less detailed ruling, the appeals court said Brown misinterpreted the partnership agreement. For instance, it rejected Brown’s reasoning that as one of 10 partners Casey was entitled to 10 percent of the firm’s income. “This mechanical approach ignored the language of the applicable portion of the partnership agreement,” the three-judge panel wrote.
In what some legal observers called an unusual move, the case was heard by Judges Martha Warner, Melanie May and Burton Conner. However, it was decided by Warner, May and Judge Robert Gross. The opinion notes that Gross didn’t hear oral arguments, but reviewed the record.
While acknowledging such switches are rare, Clerk of Court Lonn Weissblum said occasionally a judge discovers he has a conflict as the case progresses. Judges are not required to explain why they step down, he said.
Ciklin is the brother of Cory Ciklin, chief judge of the appeals court. Their brother, Blair Ciklin, is a longtime commissioner of the Port of Palm Beach.
The firm traces its roots to one of the county’s most prominent attorneys, Phillip O’Connell Sr. A former professional boxer, he served a quarter-century as Palm Beach County State Attorney while also maintaining a private law practice, according to the firm’s website. A bust of him graces the lobby of the state attorney’s office. His son, Phillip O’Connell Jr., and nephew, Brian O’Connell, are partners of the firm.
Roughly 10 years ago, one of its named partners – Bill Boose, considered the dean of local land use lawyers – was sent to prison for 15 months after admitting he helped former Palm Beach County Commissioner Tony Masilotti hide profits from a secret land deal. The scandal, that also sent Masilotti to prison, rocked the county.
Throughout his career, which began in 1978 as a prosecutor in the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, the 62-year-old registered Democrat has represented priests accused of stealing from the collection plate, cops accused of killing suspects and politicians behaving badly.
Most recently, he was a member of the defense team for John Goodman when the Wellington polo mogul in 2014 – for a second time – was convicted of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 crash that killed engineering graduate Scott Wilson.
Those who have known the defense attorney, whose courtroom style is more professorial than dramatic, said they weren’t surprised Richardson, along with former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, were hired to represent Corey Lewandowski on a battery charge.
“He’s a great lawyer, an exceptional trial lawyer and he’s extremely ethical,” said defense attorney Michael Salnick, who shares his longtime friend’s love of the law, baseball, the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. “He’s an excellent choice to represent this man.”
Lewandowski turned himself in at the Jupiter police station Tuesday morning and was given a notice to appear on a misdemeanor battery charge in connection with allegations made by Michelle Fields, a former reporter for the online Breitbart News Network. At a March 8 press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, the 28-year-old Fields claims Lewandowski manhandled her when she tried to ask Trump a question — a claim Lewandowski denies.
Richardson, often working with Salnick and former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, built his career representing cops accused of crimes. One of his most headline-grabbing cases was in 1991 when he and Krischer represented West Palm Beach police officers Glen Thurlow and Stephen Rollins in the beating death of Robert Jewett.
Despite an autopsy that showed Jewett’s injuries included a broken neck, nine broken ribs, a bruised lung, a puncture in his heart and blood-filled testicles, jurors cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.
In 2005, he worked similar magic for Delray Beach police officer Darren Cogoni in the shooting death of 16-year-old Jerrod Miller at a school dance. Taking the calculated risk of allowing Cogoni to testify before the grand jury, the panel cleared the rookie officer of wrongdoing.
He also represented the Rev. John Skehan, a longtime priest at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach. Admitting he stole from the parish from 2001 to early 2006, the 81-year-old priest pleaded guilty to grand theft over $100,000 and received a 14-month prison sentence after police said he embezzled as much as $8 million from the church.
When Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe was elected in 2008, he sought to shore up the office by hiring Richardson. McAuliffe created a special position for Richardson as his chief counsel, earning praise from underlings. A big part of Richardson’s job was to train young attorneys – part of what McAuliffe called his desire to build a prosecutorial force of “national caliber.”
When McAuliffe unexpectedly quit the job before his term was up, Richardson returned to private practice.
Richardson, who is famously tight-lipped with the press, wasn’t immediately available for comment. Years ago, when asked why he counted so many police officers as clients, he explained that he enjoyed bursting misconceptions people may have about cases that received enormous attention in the press.
“I enjoy being able to present the facts within the rules governing the admissability of evidence and oftentimes overcoming initial misconceptions about the guilt or innocence of the officer,” he said.
In what could be a harbinger of a particularly contentious judicial election season, the Palm Beach County Bar Association has already logged its first ethics complaint against a candidate.
“We’ve never had a complaint filed this early before,” bar association CEO Patience Burns said of the complaint filed last week against county court judge candidate Lisa Grossman. “We’re not prepared to accept it.”
The Judicial Campaign Practices Commission, which reviews complaints of unethical behavior and issues advisory opinions, won’t be formed until after the election qualifying period ends at noon on May 6, Burns said.
That means the complaint, accusing Grossman of improperly converting her personal Facebook page into a campaign advertisement and dragging her nearly 300 “friends” along for an unplanned political ride, will be put on hold, she said.
Attorney Alka Sharma, co-chair of the campaign committee for incumbent Judge Marni Bryson, said several people called her upset that Grossman was using their Facebook friendship to shore up her judicial campaign. Some of those “friends” are supporting Bryson in the Aug. 30 election, she said.
The page titled, “Lisa Grossman for Judge,” shows pictures of people holding Grossman campaign signs. Before the March 15 presidential primary, the North Palm Beach lawyer posted this: “Anyone interested in holding a sign at an early voting site between 10-6 this weekend please contact me!!”
Sharma said her research showed that the converting a personal Facebook page into one for a campaign is improper under rules that dictate what is and isn’t allowed in Florida judicial races. While such sites can be created by an election committee, they can’t be established or maintained by the candidate themselves, she wrote in the complaint. Even then, she said, the committees can’t control who counts themselves among the candidates’ supporters.
The rules for judicial candidates differ wildly from those seeking other offices. Grossman should bone up on them, Sharma said. “She seems to be kind of doing it Wild West style,” she said.
Gross declined comment. “At this point it’s all unsubstantiated hearsay,” she said.