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Samra v. Bedoyan

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

January 15, 2020

Harout Samra, Petitioner,
v.
Vicken Bedoyan, et al., Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          A Case of Original Jurisdiction - Prohibition. Lower Tribunal No. 14-22854

          Homer Bonner Jacobs Ortiz, P.A., and Christopher J. King and Jose A. Ortiz; Leon Cosgrove, LLP, and Scott B. Cosgrove, for petitioner.

          Dorta Law, and Matias R. Dorta and Gonzalo R. Dorta, for respondent Vicken Bedoyan.

          Before EMAS, C.J., and FERNANDEZ and LOGUE, JJ.

          EMAS, C.J.

         INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner, Harout Samra, seeks issuance of a writ prohibiting the trial judge from presiding further in the underlying case, following the trial court's order denying Samra's motion for disqualification. We grant the petition and remand for reassignment of the case to another judge.

         BACKGROUND

         Aside from the actual causes of action being prosecuted and defended in the case below, this cause has already been the subject of substantial litigation involving Samra's former counsel, Jose Ferrer ("Ferrer") and Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, LLP ("the Bilzin firm").[1] Here are the brief allegations[2] necessary to place the present issue in its proper context:

         In 2014, Samra sued, among others, his former partner, Vicken Bedoyan, and the case proceeded to a liability-only jury trial with Judge William Thomas presiding. Samra prevailed in that phase upon a finding that Bedoyan breached a partnership agreement. As the parties prepared for the second phase-a trial on damages-the Bilzin firm filed a motion to strike Bedoyan's pleadings based upon allegations of misconduct by Bedoyan and/or his attorneys. Bedoyan thereafter filed a motion to disqualify the Bilzin firm from the case based upon allegations of misconduct by the Bilzin firm's lawyers. Judge Thomas held a hearing, denied the motion, and soon after disqualified himself sua sponte. The case was reassigned to Judge Butchko.

         Bedoyan then sought reconsideration of Judge Thomas' order denying the motion to disqualify the Bilzin firm, and Bedoyan filed an additional motion seeking sanctions against Ferrer and the Bilzin firm for alleged misconduct. Soon thereafter, the Bilzin firm voluntarily withdrew from its representation of Samra, and Samra engaged Homer Bonner Jacobs Ortiz, P.A., to represent him in the impending damages phase trial.

         Notwithstanding the Bilzin firm's withdrawal, the motion seeking sanctions against Ferrer and the Bilzin firm remained pending, and Judge Butchko proceeded to a two-day evidentiary hearing on the motion. Importantly, Samra did not attend this two-day evidentiary hearing on the motion for sanctions; in fact, Samra's new counsel (Homer Bonner) was instructed by Judge Butchko that it could not attend the hearing.[3]

         Following the evidentiary hearing, Judge Butchko issued a fifty-one-page order imposing sanctions upon Ferrer and the Bilzin firm, finding, inter alia: "privileged attorney client telephone communications were illegally intercepted without the consent of all participants and, at a minimum, highly suspicious under circumstances that should have alerted Mr. Ferrer not to use them." Judge Butchko described the recordings as containing "suspect information acquired through suspect circumstances in bad faith" and found "that there were portions of the recordings that were altered or incomplete." Judge Butchko concluded that the Bilzin firm had acted "in bad faith and without factual ...


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