Judge Laura Watson's Ethics Trial Begins
Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson spoke in her own defense Monday in opening statements in a judicial ethics trial concerning her activities as a lawyer 10 years ago.
Standing before a panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission in the Broward County Courthouse, Watson insisted she did nothing wrong.
She is accused of being part of a global settlement with Progressive Insurance that wrongfully cut out a group of bad faith lawyers and deliberately misled clients on the terms of settlement.
Miles McGrane of the McGrane Law firm in Coral Gables, acting as attorney for the JQC, explained how Watson's personal injury protection law firm was in league with two other PIP law firms to get Progressive to pay doctor bills it was either denying or shorting.
There were 441 medical profession clients across the state represented by the PIP firms. In 2002, the PIP attorneys recruited Stewart Tilghman Fox & Bianchi of Miami, relying on their expertise with bad faith claims.
The Stewart firm was assigned to work a subset of 38 clients known as the Goldcoast plaintiffs.
McGrane said there was an understanding that all of the PIP clients could potentially benefit from the work done for the 38.
Over the next two years, the Stewart group pressured Progressive into settlement talks.
Progressive offered $3.5 million, and managing partner Larry Stewart informed the PIP attorneys. But soon after, he was fired without explanation.
Stewart then learned the PIP attorneys reached a $14.5 million settlement with Progressive but was not informed of the terms, only that no money in the agreement was assigned to bad faith claims.