This post is about the bad apples who employ every delay tactic they can, including lying to a court, to force settlements under Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute–avoiding actually having to “lawyer” a case to court.
You’ve read my previous reports on sanctioned law firms. I remarked they may have been what Governor Scott had in mind when he used the term “predatory” in his inaugural address.
Judges have accused Cohen & Battisti (Cohen), for example, of filing “…meritless lawsuit[s]” and engaging in “…a fraudulent practice that [it] was well aware of and complicit in.” (See Note #1 below).
I’ve also written of exploitations by the Strems Law Firm. Unlike Cohen, it doesn’t materially utilize AOB as its litigation for profit scheme. Neither does it like to completely “lawyer” a case. But, Strems is, none the less, not bashful about filing suits.
According to fourteen (14) transmittal letters DFS provided me, covering only eight months, the Strems firm filed 448 lawsuits against 22 insurance companies, including 78 multiple lawsuits. “Multiples” are when more than one suit (usually two but, sometimes as many as four) is filed by the same policyholder against the same insurer. A practice unique to Strems.
So, I queried DFS service of process (SOP) records and found that during one two-year period, just one lawyer, Scot Strems, filed 2,057 individual lawsuits against insurance companies. See the DFS report here. And, from this data my researcher identified 223 times when one homeowner filed “multiple” suits against the same insurer. (See Note #2 below).
Multiple suits, when used in this fashion, allow attorney fees to run concurrently on two or more suits from the same client. If, for example, 223 single suits only had one billable hour each (not likely), at $450 per hour, attorney fee’s would be close to one million dollars; $925,650 to be exact. But, since each of those 223 were “multiples” the payout doubles (at a minimum) to $1,851,300. Since it’s possible one of the two suits might settle before the other, I assumed only one billable hour each on all of the 223 cases. Strems actually filed 2,057 cases over a two year period–only 223 were doubles; none with only one hour of attorney fee’s, I’m willing to bet.
Let’s just say this… he’s raking it in!
When I contacted a carrier about Strems, one with a lot of policies in Southeast Florida, here’s the response:
“It is very common for one of his ‘feeders’ to arrive on the scene to investigate a purported water loss from a plumbing leak, look around the property and perhaps identify a stain on the ceiling, and then report a roof leak as well. Both will be reported on the same day, but given different dates of loss.”
A “feeder”, I’ve come to learn, can be a public adjuster (or a “fire chaser” ) which solicits homeowners willing to file claims and then “feeds” them to attorneys, emergency remediators or both. If you didn’t already “click” the preceding link for fire chaser, please do so. Then, connect some dots.
Though any connection is unconfirmed at this time, it’s remarkably curious that CFO Atwater’s fraud team just arrested an unlicensed public adjuster for defrauding Citizens out of $100,000. This PA’s M.O. included an artist who mixed a “caffeine based” liquid paint to create “…what appeared to be a water stain.” And, “…this was done at every residence they went to…” and had been going on “…for many years.”
I swear I’m not making this up. An artist painted water stains on the ceiling and walls! Read the arrest affidavit particularly the paragraphs on “employee #2”.
Of course, any connection with the multiple suits of the Strems firm and this most diabolical PA or his talented employee, are unconfirmed at this time. Heck, maybe the PA never even called an attorney, but…if he did, I bet the firm name appears somewhere on Citizens list of top 20 opposing firms that sue Citizens.
Look at the Citizens top 20 list, here. Guess who’s at the top…
Now, here’s the rest of the story…
Over the course of this blog site, I’ve reported on five (5) law firms implicated, to varying degrees, in fraudulent behavior in Florida’s property marketplace. The charges were taken from court documents awarding sanctions to the defendant insurer and, sometimes, even dismissing the plaintiff’s entire case. If their guilt or innocence has not been fully adjudicated, they remain innocent in my book. But, according to court documents, a judge believed the evidence was compelling enough to either award attorney fees and/or to dismiss their case(s) entirely. In a few instances attorney conduct was so bad that other attorneys have told me a review for potential disbarment would be in order.
Now, put that together with this.
The President of Citizens, Barry Gilway, has oft testified that Citizens’ current spike in water losses flows from the actions of just thirteen firms. Thirteen!
If the five firms I’ve previously identified on these pages (5) are among those 13 (not a stretch) that means, at a minimum, 38% of Citizens water problems are from firms using some form of deception, including bad faith, with the court system.
So, here’s a proposition.
What if lawmakers or regulators examined the first party property claims of all the top 20 firms to see “if”, and “how many times”, each may have engaged in bad faith activities, enough to warrant sanctions. Or, maybe just examine the records of the 13 attorneys on Citizens water loss list.
Seems to me an exercise well worth undertaking. What if, for example, all of the top opposing firms of Citizens have received sanctions or dismissals similar to Strems? Shouldn’t potential clients know this? Shouldn’t the legislature know this, in weeding out so called “bad apples.”
This just in–last month, January 7, 2017, a Final Order against Strems in the case of Rodriguez vs Geovera Specialty was rendered levying sanctions, including dismissing Strems entire case. The Circuit Court Judge, the Honorable Carlos Rodriguez, said:
“… this was not just a mistake. This was a violation of a Court order, multiple false filings under oath, failing to heed phone calls failing to heed the 57.105 notice and just flaunting discovery and court proceedings…” [emphasis added].
…The behavior creates an insurmountable problem with the administration of justice:
- lies are repeated and filed under oath,
- Court orders are ignored and (a) simple case just can’t go forward and is completely delayed in Court because Plaintiff insists on going forward with untrue damages,
- Extreme sanctions are warranted because this behavior and factual pattern illustrated in this order render the Court System inoperable. [emphasis added]. (See Note#3 below)
In Summary: when it comes to matters such as these I am a layman. I don’t know what the procedures are for shutting down bad apples in the ranks of trial attorneys. I don’t even know what constitutes a bad apple, legally, beyond what the court documents say. And, when I call the Florida Bar Association, well…I hear mostly about the possibility of being sued for filing a complaint.
Isn’t it about time the legislature’s reform efforts looked at “ALL” the bad apples, not just water remediators and/or roofers, but even the trial lawyers, some who don’t need AOB to abuse our system?
NOTE #1: read just one example in the decision by County Court Judge, John A. Moran accusing Cohen & Battisti of a frivolous lawsuit and stating they are in contempt of court, deserving of “sanctions” including a total of $108,337.72 in costs, expert fee’s and attorney fees. All parties are innocent until proven guilty.
NOTE #2: the full analysis of multiple suits can be viewed here. You can see the plaintiff’s name, the number of suits filed against the “same” insurer, the insurer, the restoration companies working with Strems and the date of all multiple suits; which are usually (but, not always) filed on the same day. You’ll also find plaintiffs who filed three, even four, suits against the same insurer–a practice that, to my knowledge, doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world except at the Strems firm. Ana Galliani filed two suits against the same insurer twice–Southern Oak and Citizens. Osman & Antonia Mohammed filed three suits against American Integrity in less than ten days. Ana Abraham filed four suits against Homeowners Choice all on the same day! Ana Nunez filed three against American Security on the same day. Patsy Sehuweret did the same against Citizens. And, Bernardo & Monica Iriarte filed four against Citizens… all on the same day!
NOTE #3: for a brief summary of the case see Groelle & Salmon’s summary here. Both the Second motion for Sanctions and the Second Motion for Fraud were too large to be maintained on my website, but…I attempted to save them to Box.com via links provided on my website here. But, save yourself some time–the judges’ language critical of Strems Law Firm is found in the Final Order Granting Defendant’s Second Motion to “Dismiss For Fraud Upon the Courts and Defendant’s Second Motion For Sanctions”. You can read the gist in paragraph eleven (11) here. One of the six elements in the judge’s decision appears above; here are five more:
- The conduct at issue was either inexcusable, deliberate violation of the December 8, 2015 Court order and after multiple notices that it is considered willful and inexcusable;
- The court finds Plaintiff has been previously sanctioned for exactly the same behavior in this case;
- the client was personally involved because they signed the sworn August 2014 sworn interrogatories and the May 2016 sworn interrogatories;
- there is prejudice to the opposing party in delay of the case and money spend on their counsel form May 2014 through the November 9, hearing;
- The justification offered by Plaintiff’s counsel at the hearing is insufficient, this was not just a mistake. This was a violation of a Court order, multiple false filings under oath, failing to heed phone calls failing to heed the 57.105 notice and just flaunting discovery and court proceedings;
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