Judge Laura Watson Takes Witness Stand

, Daily Business Review

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Laura M. Watson
Laura M. Watson

The presiding chair in Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson's ethics trial on Tuesday questioned her agreement to take a position adverse to her clients in a $14.5 million settlement.

In the second day of trial, Watson spent the morning on the witness stand.

The state Judicial Qualifications Commission charged her with ethics violations in a class action lawsuit against Progressive Insurance. Her personal injury protection law firm was one of several on the losing end of a judgment entered against them in 2008 for unjust enrichment and misinforming clients about the settlement.

Watson and other PIP lawyers represented medical providers who were denied or shorted on payments for treating auto accident victims.

Fifth District Court of Appeal Judge Kerry Evander asked Watson about a settlement clause stating the PIP attorneys would defend Progressive against their own clients if any should decide to pursue a bad faith claim.

Watson tried to deny that could occur. She said the indemnification protecting Progressive applied only to PIP claims. And those that might remain unresolved were so few the damages amounted to very little. Moreover, the bad faith claims were settled for $1.75 million, she said.

Evander noted the clause referred to all claims, saying, "This says you will indemnify them from bad faith claims."

Watson argued the clause had no practical effect because the law at the time was against her clients. They would not have prevailed on another bad faith claim.

"You agree one of your duties and obligations is to advise your client of whether to accept or reject a settlement?" Evander asked. "Under this agreement, if you advise your client to reject an offer, you'd be exposing yourself to liability."

She conceded, "Potentially, yes."

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