Judges: Miami fire-fee attorney acted reprehensibly
|Prominent attorney Hank Adorno -- already under Florida Bar investigation for his role in Miami's fire-fee scandal -- on Wednesday was blasted by the Third District Court of Appeal for what the judges called his ''reprehensible conduct'' in the now infamous case.|
Third District Court of Appeal ruling
BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ
Prominent attorney Hank Adorno -- already under Florida Bar investigation for his role in Miami's fire-fee scandal -- on Wednesday was blasted by the Third District Court of Appeal for what the judges called his ''reprehensible conduct'' in the now infamous case.
In a unanimous opinion that upheld a lower-court decision invalidating Miami's $7 million fire-fee settlement with just seven people, the appeals court ripped into Adorno, who had represented the so-called ''lucky seven.'' The Adorno & Yoss firm stood to earn a $2 million share of the $7 million payout, while some 80,000 taxpayers got nothing.
''Plain and simply, this was a scheme to defraud,'' the judges wrote, noting that Adorno, 59, a former Miami-Dade prosecutor, was supposed to be representing taxpayers and instead worked behind the scenes to stiff them.
"More unethical and reprehensible behavior by attorneys against their own clients is difficult to imagine.''
Miami paid only $3.5 million -- the first half of the settlement -- before the details became public that nearly all taxpayers were left out. The city refused to pay the second installment and took the matter to court, saying the agreement was a huge mistake.
That explanation was met with skepticism after a former assistant city attorney and a deputy fire chief testified under oath that Miami, hoping to save money, left out most taxpayers on purpose.
A judge invalidated the deal last year, and ordered the money returned to City Hall. The repayment happened, but Adorno & Yoss -- along with the ''lucky seven'' -- appealed the decision in hopes of keeping the $7 million.
In court, the law firm argued that although it was hired to represent all taxpayers, the class-action status had not been certified when the $7 million deal was struck. Therefore, Adorno & Yoss told the appeals court, the law firm and the handful of people included in the settlement legally could take the money.
The appeals court countered that the class-action certification was clearly expected to happen -- and Adorno & Yoss, by negotiating a windfall for just a few people, had not lived up to its duty of protecting taxpayers.
Adorno & Yoss managing partner George T. Yoss on Wednesday defended his firm's conduct, saying nothing its attorneys did prevented taxpayers as a whole from getting a fire-fee refund.
''We respectfully disagree with their decision,'' Yoss said of the appeals court.
Yoss noted that Miami city leaders last month announced a new $15.55 million settlement that includes all taxpayers.
The claims process for taxpayers to get their share of the refund still has to be worked out, but checks could arrive as soon as early next year.
Adorno & Yoss no longer represents taxpayers in the case -- a judge removed the firm from that post. Richard Williams, one of the attorneys who now represents taxpayers, said citizens have been forced to wait years longer for a refund because of Adorno's actions. Williams said he will ''very shortly'' be filing a malpractice lawsuit on behalf of taxpayers against Adorno & Yoss.
''It sounded to me like the court was disgusted,'' Williams said of the appeals court. ``The revulsion felt by the judges as a whole was obvious.''