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Alters v. Villoldo

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

September 6, 2017

Jeremy Alters, et al., Petitioners,
v.
Alfredo Villoldo, et al., Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         On Petition for Writ of Certiorari from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 16-8682 Norma S. Lindsey, Judge.

          Young, Berman, Karpf & Gonzalez, P.A., and Andrew S. Berman, for petitioners.

          Hall, Lamb, Hall & Leto, and Andrew C. Hall, Matthew P. Leto, and Vanessa Palacio, for respondents.

          Before SUAREZ, LOGUE, and SCALES, JJ.

          LOGUE, J.

         In the case below, Jeremy Alters and his law firm are being sued by former clients. Alters moved to recuse the former clients' lawyers, Andrew Hall and his firm, because Hall had previously represented both Alters and Alters's former clients in unrelated matters. The trial court denied Alters's motion to recuse. Alters now petitions for a writ of certiorari to quash the order denying recusal. We deny the petition.

         Facts

         In 2008, Jeremy Alters was retained to represent two brothers, Gustavo and Alfredo Villoldo, in a lawsuit against Fidel Castro, the Republic of Cuba, and others for acts of terrorism. Alters obtained a judgment in state court for over $1.1 billion. The judgment, however, contained defects that made it uncollectable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1605. Upon learning of this problem, the Villoldos terminated Alters and retained Hall to correct the judgment. After the Villoldos hired Hall to correct Alters's work, Alters also hired Hall to represent him in a case in which two Argentine nationals were suing Alters for a share of the fees in a $410 million class action against Bank of America.

         In mid-August of 2011, as he was about to obtain the corrected judgment in the Cuba case, and while still representing both parties in unrelated matters, Hall reminded a lawyer in Alters's law firm that no charging lien had yet been filed in the Cuba case. Alters testified, and the trial judge found, that Hall was not representing Alters's law firm during that call. The Alters firm duly filed a charging lien later that month. On the same day, Hall obtained the corrected final judgment in the Cuba matter.

         On June 20, 2013, in his capacity as the Villoldos's attorney, Hall sent Alters a letter disputing Alters's charging lien. "My client has instructed, " Hall wrote, "that if you do not respond by the close of business tomorrow or should you insist on the Charging lien being enforced, the Villoldo Defendants will be compelled to vigorously resist that Charging Lien." At the time, it appears Hall was still representing Alters in the Bank of America class action dispute. On November 25, 2013, Hall wrote Alters saying he could no longer represent him in the Bank of America matter because Alters was holding itself out as co-counsel with Hall on the case involving the correction of the Cuba judgment despite having been previously terminated by the Villoldos.

         On December 20, 2013, Alters entered into a settlement agreement with the Villoldos over the charging lien. The agreement provided that he be paid $175, 000 immediately, and later, a percentage of the total amount collected once the relationship between the United States and Cuba normalized, Cuba was taken off the list of terrorist nations, and the State Department directed a payment be made. The agreement contained language indicating that certain conditions be completed "through the efforts of Jeremy Alters" or his law firm. Hall did not represent either party in the dispute or the settlement.

         On March 6, 2016, the Villoldos filed the complaint in the instant case against Alters seeking a declaratory judgment that Alters had no right to further compensation under the settlement agreement. Hall represented the Villoldos in that action. Alters and his firm responded by moving to recuse Hall. The trial court held an extensive evidentiary hearing, made detailed ...


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