Judge Watson's Attorney Warns JQC That It's Reminiscent Of KGB

, Daily Business Review


Laura M. Watson
Laura M. Watson

No One Complained

In a 2008 trial, Palm Beach Circuit Judge David Crow ruled for Stewart Tilghman on an unjust enrichment claim against the other law firms. He concluded the PIP firms misinformed their clients and ordered a revised legal fee split to include Stewart Tilghman.

A Florida Bar investigation was delayed by years of appeals. Although the Bar ultimately found probable cause, the case was closed when Watson was elected because the Bar has no jurisdiction to police the ethics of sitting judges.

JQC prosecutor Miles McGrane of the McGrane Law Firm in Coral Gables said the case is about how Watson dealt with her clients and how the PIP attorneys "set up this procedure for resolving the case where clients weren't told things."

McGrane concluded: "Her argument is the end justifies the means. The end is, 'I've got clients who got their PIP benefits, and no one's complained about it. Therefore, it must be OK.' "

The PIP attorneys arbitrarily decided to pay the clients in three ways. Some clients were paid in full. Some were paid PIP claims and a portion of a $1.75 million trust account for bad faith claims. A third group was paid its PIP claims and half of the bad faith account.

This created conflicts of interest among the groups, but they weren't informed of the different treatment or given details of the global settlement, McGrane said.

Another key aspect in the case was Stewart Tilghman's role. Crow found the bad faith firm's negotiations were pivotal in motivating Progressive to settle, and it was likely the clients could have gotten much more than $1.75 million for the bad faith claims.

Watson offered expert PIP testimony Tuesday from Lawrence Kopelman of Kopelman & Blankman in Fort Lauderdale. He disagreed with Crow, noting the PIP attorneys proceeded with a bad faith cause of action on the theory that Progressive's practice amounted to an illegal silent preferred provider organization discount.

Kopelman testified by video deposition that, during the litigation, an appeals court ruled the discounting practice was permissible.

"At the time, the bad faith cases were hanging by a thread," Kopelman said.

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