United Auto, PIP Lawyers Square off in Judicial Races

, Daily Business Review

   | 13 Comments

Miami-based United Automobile Insurance Co. has formed and funded a political action committee supporting two Miami-Dade judges.

What's being said

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    If that is true, why are all of the PIP plaintiff attorneys and friends hiding behind anonymity? If you have something important enough to say, put your name on it.

  • A voter

    It doesn’t matter if Reiss or Mickey Mouse is Carrazana’s campaign manager. You are missing the point Tom. The fact is that United Automobile, a company with a terrible reputation for not paying claims and exploiting minorities who cannot afford quality insurance coverage from more reputable insurance carriers, is attempting to buy judges in this election. Do you see State Farm or Progressive spending almost $250,000 to support the reelection of certain judges? No, you don’t. When judges appear to be in the pockets of big insurance, they are not qualified to be judges. They can’t be fair. It doesn‘t take a scientist to figure that out.

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    Also, Marlene Reiss is Carrazana‘s Campaign Treasurer.

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    Also, on April 21, 2014, Hector Lombana was designated as Campaign Treasurer for Victoria Ferrer. His firm Gamba & Lombana, PA donated $1,000 to her campaign on August 2, 2014.

    This article makes no mention of these facts and paints the false picture of Lombana as a disinterested commentator on the election.

    As a learned judge once said, "[c]ourts are not fact-free zones." Neither should purported news stories about the judiciary be.

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    The DBR readers can recognize a hatchet job when they see one.

    Why would United Auto spend money to support Judge Smith and Judge Saenz. Apart from their qualifications , what are the alternatives? Victoria Ferrer is working for Gonzalez a& Associates, one of the largest PIP plaintiff‘s firms in South Florida. And Carrazana has spent most if not all of his career suing United Auto and other insurers for PIP benefits and attorney‘s fees. Is United Auto supposed to sit idly by and allow the PIP Plaintiff‘s Bar to install two of their own? This article and the comments are an obvious political maneuver aimed at scaring candidates from accepting support from insurers so that insurers will be unable to participate in the election process.

  • A Miami Dade Citizen

    @ Tom Hunker
    The fact that Judge Smith’s ratings were better than his opponent (Carrazana) in the Miami Dade County Bar Polls and CABA polls means nothing (and everyone in the legal community knows that) because most lawyers don’t vote in those polls.

    If as you claim that Judges Rod Smith and Nuria Saenz are impartial and not married to the interest of United Automobile or that of insurance companies, then WHY did United Automobile spend more than $200,000 to support the Rod Smith and Nuria Saenz campaign? Not everyone is stupid or blind to what is happening.

    The real question in the upcoming election is not whether Smith and Saenz are impartial (that question has been answered by United’s ECO money). The real question is whether the citizens in Miami Dade County realize what is happening. Unfortunately, I suspect many Miami Dade county citizens are not aware. But if they were, there will be a large voter turn out on election day to make sure Judges Smith and Saenz don’t get elected (which is what should happen).

  • A concerned citizen

    Mr. Hunker:

    PIP lawyers donate to judicial elections as much if not more than United Auto? Who are you kidding Mr. Hunker? Do you think people who read the Daily Business Review are that naïve?

    United has spent nearly a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS in supporting Judge Rodney Smith and Judge Nuria Sanez. To be precise, as of this date, United through "Citizens for Judicial Fairnes," the electioneering communications organization (ECO), United Auto has spent $226,000 to support Judge Rodney Smith and Judge Nuria Saenz in this election. Here is the proof at the following link:

    http://election.dos.state.fl.us/committees/ComDetail.asp?account=64180

    When you get to the site, click on “campaign finance activity”; and you will see the how much United has spent in this election to help Judges Smith and Saenz to keep their seats.

    Why is United paying that kind of money to get Smith and Saenz re-elected? The answer is obvious.

    The citizens of Miami-Dade County deserve judges who are free from the influence of special interest such as insurance companies. The average citizen cannot compete with United Auto’s spending power; and neither can a group of plaintiff‘s PIP attorneys.

    No citizen will feel comfortable if they had to sue their insurance company and have their case heard by Judge Smith or Saenz. They can’t be fair. Wake up.

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    If we are going to have judicial elections, then it is important to support candidates that are both competent and fair-minded. Judge Smith possesses these qualities. He received the Miami Herald‘s endorsement and was overwhelmingly deemed more qualified than his opponent in the Cuban American Bar Association poll.

    PIP plaintiff attorneys donate to judicial elections as much if not more than United Auto and they have every right to do so. They are an extremely influential voting block in county court.

    The candidates that United Auto is supporting this year frequently rule against United Auto. Yet, they follow their honest interpretation of the law and do not possess an ideological bias against insurance companies. United Auto should not be faulted for supporting candidates that give it a fair fight.

  • Marlene S. Reiss, Esq.

    Yet again, I must write to correct Mr. Hunker‘s misstatements and half-truths. He implies that the circuit court‘s "elaborate order" denying proposal fees to United Auto was an example of Judge Smith‘s impartiality. In fact, it was I who informed the circuit court on rehearing that the fee order was legally incorrect because the circuit court was misreading Fla. Stats. Sec. 768.79, and that the fees had to be conditionally granted because United had obtained a final judgment and won on appeal.

    On first-tier certiorari review in the Third District, contrary to Mr. Hunker‘s legally incorrect argument regarding why United was entitled to its attorney‘s fees, it was I, again, who confessed the circuit court‘s error explaining why the circuit court was wrong in that it had misread s. 768.79.

    The circuit court‘s legally incorrect order has no bearing on the issues in this article because the ruling was made solely upon a legally erroneous reading of the proposal for settlement statute.

    Mr. Hunker‘s efforts to defend Judge Smith demonstrate the factual basis of the DBR‘s article. Most telling, however, is the fact that Mr. Hunker fails to address the real issue, which is United Auto‘s financial backing of Judge Smith to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars through an ECO-PAC.

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    Both Judge Smith and Judge Sayfie joined in the majority opinion. The Third District denied review of the majority opinion.

    However, all three circuit judges, including Judge Smith, signed onto an elaborated order denying United Auto‘s motion for appellate attorney‘s fees. United Auto sought review of the denial of its motion for appellate attorney‘s fees and the Third District granted United Auto‘s petition for writ of certiorari.

    If as Reiss, Carrazana, and this article imply, Judge Smith was biased in favor of United Auto based on his four months of working for the company over 10 years ago, then the Virga case is a poor example.

  • Marlene S. Reiss, Esq.

    I write to correct the misinformation and inaccuracies contained in Mr. Hunker‘s earlier comment, so that the record is accurate and correctly informs readers of the actual facts in the case.

    Mr. Hunker was my opposing counsel in that appeal. United Auto‘s contracted court reporter, Downtown Reporting, somehow managed to create three significantly and materially different trial transcripts, omitting sidebars, objections, curative instructions, and motions for mistrial.

    On relinquishment from the circuit appellate court, the trial judge (who actually presided over the trial, unlike Judge Smith) twice determined that the transcripts were inaccurate and were in such a state that only a new trial could cure the errors. After the third transcript was created and filed by United Auto, instead of allowing the trial judge to review yet the third version of the trial transcript, Judge Smith chose to ignore the trial judge‘s earlier recommendations and issue a decision based on an inaccurate and materially incorrect trial transcript, depriving the plaintiff of a fair appeal and a fair trial.

    The dissenting opinion, issued by Judge Dava Tunis, fairly and legally correctly suggested that the third transcript be reviewed by the trial court to see if the court reporter finally got it right (it did not).

    "... The chiropractor expresses the harm to his appeal by questioning how he may demonstrate preserved error when three (3) transcript versions omit the motion for mistrial, request for a curative instruction, and the curative instruction. . . . I interpret ‘no report of the proceedings was made [in Fla.R.App.P. 9.200(b)(4)],‘ as encompassing the omissions from the second amended transcript about which this chiropractor complains. . . . Therefore, we may remand for a limited Rule 9.200(b)(4) proceeding."

    Finally, unlike Mr. Hunker, I will not presume to know the basis of the Third District‘s denial of second-tier discretionary and very narrow certiorari jurisdiction, but can definitively say that the denial was a simple denial, not on the merits, and therefore, contrary to Mr. Hunker‘s pure and self-serving speculation as to its meaning.

    Put plainly, Judge Smith is a former United Auto employee who was intimately involved in an appellate decision favoring United Auto.

  • Thomas L. Hunker, Esq.

    The appeal Carrazana is criticizing at the end of the article was my appeal. Virga v. United Auto. United Auto presented evidence at trial from two witnesses that the claimant was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident. The jury agreed and rendered a verdict in United‘s favor.

    The transcript contained minor discrepancies mostly due to the plaintiff‘s piecemeal ordering of it. I listened to the entire audio recordings from the court reporter and filed them with the court. The audio recordings proved that the amended transcripts were accurate. Plaintiff could not articulate what was missing or why it was necessary for the appeal. The circuit appellate division gave the plaintiff numerous opportunities to recreate the record. Ultimately the court affirmed. The transcript issue was a failed attempt by then plaintiff to obtain a new trial without actually having a basis for reversible error. The Third District denied certiorari only after it first ordered briefing. If it was such a grave injustice, the Third District would have quashed. Carrazana had no involvement in the appeal and does not know what he is talking about.

  • Jonathan Blecher

    Correction: Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts is running against Martin Zilber for an open seat while Mary Gomez is running against Alberto Milian for an open seat.

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