As the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continues to investigate questionable parking garage bonds that were approved by the City of South Miami, local government officials are planning for the possibility of a long and costly legal battle. Despite having hired lawyers from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P. to represent their interests, the council opened the July 27th commission meeting by inviting former U.S. prosecuting attorney, Guy Lewis, to promote his own law firm as an alternative solution.
Lewis, a partner of Lewis Tein, PL expressed his desire to see the case resolved favorably and offered his firm’s resources at minimal cost. The rate quoted for services of Lewis Tein, PL was $275 per hour, less than half the customary rate of $750 per hour. This sparked intense debate amongst commission members who have been presented with a cost estimate from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P. of approximately $300,000 over a period of 10 months.
Tensions inside of City Hall quickly rose as Commissioner Velma Palmer launched into an irate tirade against Lewis’ proposition. Palmer aggressively questioned the commission’s decision to bring in Lewis, citing his appearance as a poorly timed maneuver. Palmer’s emotions reached a boiling point when she threatened to leave the room in response to having been warned of a sanction for improper behavior.
The conflict was eventually resolved and vice mayor Newman offered an apology to Lewis for Palmer’s outburst. The dispute brought to light the effects of a heavy burden that has been placed on the shoulders of city officials faced with the prospect of having to buy back $11 million worth of bonds.
Since the services of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P. have already been contracted, board members debated whether it would be in their best interest to change firms at this point. Although the argument for a lower price was an attractive one, there was opposition to Lewis’ involvement in current issues and the commission chose to remain loyal to Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.C.
City Attorney Laurence Feingold offered the committee’s verdict of their legal situation. “Squire, Sanders & Dempsey are searching for an amicable solution. I would not consider replacing them at this point, but I would consider working with Guy Lewis as a litigator if we are forced into going to court,” he said.