An appeals court in the US state of Miami has ruled that the Miccosukee Tribe is immune from prosecution due to its status as a sovereign nation and therefore cannot be sued by its former lawyers, ending a bitter legal battle between the two.
Miami attorneys Guy Lewis and Michael Tein accused the tribe of engaging in a ‘criminal scheme’ to ruin their reputations through a series of bogus lawsuits going back to 2011.
The lawyers had previously successfully sued the tribe for damages in August 2016, when a state judge ruled that the tribe, through its earlier legal action, had effectively waived their sovereign immunity and could be prosecuted. However this week’s appeals court ruling has overturned that decision.
In his closing remarks Judge Robert Luck stated: “Granting immunity to Indian tribes is a policy choice made by our elected representatives to further important federal and state interests.
“It is a choice to protect the tribes understanding that others may be injured and without a remedy. The immunity juice, our federal lawmakers have declared, is worth the squeeze.”
Roberto Martinez, an attorney representing the two men told the Miami Herald: “We are exploring our options.”
Lewis and Tein’s law firm had previously served as the tribes attorneys between 2005 and 2010, working with former Miccosukee Tribe chairman Billy Cypress. Following Cypress’s dismissal from the post in 2011, Miccosukee tribal officials accused him of stealing $26m from tribal coffers to fund his extravagant lifestyle.
The Miccosukee also alleged that Lewis and Tein were working with Cypress to receive financial payments in return for keeping the information from the rest of the tribe.
A lawsuit by the tribe was later dismissed by federal judges citing lack of evidence, but by then the damage was done. Several lawsuits between the two followed and in 2016, Miccosukee tribal officials agreed to pay Lewis and Tein almost $4m in legal fees with tribal attorney Bernardo Roman likely to be disbarred for his conduct in the filing of the lawsuits against the two lawyers.
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