Email Adds New Twist To Miamis Fire Fee Settlement
Written by Yudislaidy Fernandez on October 2, 2008
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
An unsolicited e-mail sent by a judge’s clerk to lawyers representing the City of Miami in its fire fee settlement has led to a motion to remove the clerk from the case.
Lawyer Lorena Schwartz, clerk to Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez, sent an e-mail Sept. 17 asking for advice on how plaintiffs seeking the fee settlement could strengthen their case. The e-mail went to lawyers representing the city — not the lawyers in the class-action lawsuit who represent residents wrongly charged the fee.
Judge Rodriguez had been holding hearings on the amount of fees to go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Ms. Schwartz works in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit’s office of the General Counsel, a team that assists, conducts research and aids judges in trials.
In the e-mail, Ms. Schwartz asks the two lawyers for "off the record" advice on whether having three residents who testified in the attorneys’ legal fees hearing testify on the settlement would strengthen the class counsel’s argument. She refers to the testimonies of the four main residents who brought the suit as "flawed."
Ms. Schwartz also writes in parentheses that the request is: "made by me and not the judge (Mr. Rodriguez) and totally off the record."
In the motion made Tuesday (9/29), the plaintiffs’ lawyers say the email creates "fear or concern" that the settlement won’t get a "fair consideration."
Neither Judge Rodriguez nor plaintiffs’ lawyers returned phone calls. Ms. Schwartz’s voicemail indicates she is on vacation until Oct. 16.
Scott Cole, lawyer for the city, turned the email over to plaintiffs’ lawyers. He said he doubts it will delay closing of the case. "I don’t think it will have any effects."