Foreign Attorneys Sue for Share of $100M Fee

     MIAMI (CN) - Argentinean attorneys claim a Miami law firm stiffed them for a 23 percent consulting fee from a $410 million consumer class action settlement "and one of the largest attorney's fee awards in such a case, over $100 million."
     The class action involved U.S. banks' chronologically rearranging debit transactions from largest to smallest, to generate "billions of dollars of additional overdraft fees."
     Raponi & Hunter Abogados claim Jeremy Alters "sold off or assigned interests in the recovery from the class actions lawsuits to fund his law firm and/or his lavish, extravagant lifestyle."
     They also claim: "On December 28, 2011, The Florida Supreme Court suspended Alters from the practice of law, until further order of the court, in regard to the pending Florida Bar complaint against Alters for trust account misappropriation."
     Raponi & Hunter sued Alters Morelli Ranter fka the Alters Law Firm fka Alters, Boldt, Brown, Rash, Culmo; Jeremy W. Alters, Bruce S. Rogow PA and Bruce S. Rogow in Miami-Dade County Court.
     According to the Argentinean partners, Osvaldo Raponi and Jaime Hunter: "In August, 2008, Raponi, an expert in banking law, and Hunter, brought to Alters and his firm the most significant case in Alters' legal career, litigation over the unfair assessment of overdraft fees by banking institutions in the United States and elsewhere that chronologically altered the order of debit transactions to highest to lowest, resulting in billions of dollars of additional overdraft fees. This was the first consumer banking class action in which Alters or his firm were involved. Raponi and his firm were the architects of the claims brought by Alters, which resulted in one of the largest consumer class action settlements in history, $410 million, and one of the largest attorney's fee awards in such a case, over $100 million.
     "Not only did Raponi and Hunter bring this case to Alters and his firm, Raponi also provided important and valuable contributions to Alters in pursuing the litigation. In a deposition given in litigation involving the Argentinean attorney [Adrian Campos] who introduced Alters to Raponi and Hunter, Alters acknowledged that Raponi consulted in the overdraft case in a 'meaningful way that deserves compensation for his work,' that he has done work, '(a) lot of it,' that Raponi provided information 'that we probably couldn't have gotten elsewhere that benefitted the common benefit (sic) of the MDL going forward,' and that 'we have met with him and spoken to him on countless occasions about the case, about the future of the case, about the press, about everything. And that was an ongoing working relationship' Alters also acknowledged that Raponi was able to provide information about the case, that he followed the case, 'not just ours but others'; and that he provided helpful insight into what the case was about or where to look for things.
     "In exchange for originating the case and providing this assistance, Alters agreed that Raponi and Hunter would receive 23 percent of his firms' fee from this litigation.
     "Years later, after the Bank of America case settled, Alters betrayed Raponi and
     Hunter and misrepresented that the fee agreement was unenforceable and that they could receive a mere fraction of the agreed upon fee as 'consultants,' not as foreign lawyers, or they would receive nothing at all," according to the complaint. (Parentheses, but not brackets, in complaint.)
     Raponi & Hunter says Bank of America settled with the Miami lawyers in February 2011 for $410 million.
     The Argentinean lawyers say: "No one from ALF [the Alters Law Firm], Alters and Rogow included, notified Raponi and Hunter of this settlement. Instead, Raponi and Hunter learned of the settlement when it was released in the news.
     "Concerned over this lack of disclosure, Raponi and Hunter flew to Miami to meet with Alters in mid-February, 2011. This was their first meeting with Alters in 22 months. At the meeting, Alters represented to Raponi and Hunter that he had spoken to Rogow about the validity of the fee agreement and that Rogow had advised him that the agreement for 23 percent contract was not enforceable. Alters further stated that the agreement was not valid because it was for the sharing of legal fees between a Florida lawyer and a non-lawyer, that it would not be enforced by the Court. Alters stated that he was willing to restructure it as a consulting agreement for 5 percent, and therefore it would not need approval of the court. Based on Alters' representations and his statements that Raponi and Hunter would not be able to recover any fee if they did not sign a new contract, they had no choice but to sign a new contract for 6 percent of the ALF fee after Alters agreed to increase it by 1 percent to cover taxes that would be due from fees paid to R&H under the agreement. Raponi signed the new agreement on February 16, 2011, only because Alters convinced Raponi and Hunter that they would otherwise lose any fee. ...
     "At no point did Alters or ALF inform the plaintiffs that Rule 4-5.5 of the Regulating the Florida Bar specifically authorizes lawyers admitted in non-United States jurisdictions, such as Raponi and Hunter, to perform temporary legal services in Florida when undertaken in association with a lawyer, such as Alters or Rogow, who is admitted to practice in Florida and who actively participates in the matter.
     "Nor did Alters or ALF inform the plaintiffs that the BofA settlement would allow the attorney's fees to be awarded under the agreement to be allocated among class counsel without the approval of the court."
     The Argentinean lawyers say they also learned from the news that Adrian Campos was suing Alters and his law firm for refusing to pay his referral fee.
     Raponi & Hunter says Alters had told them the referral fee was 2 percent, though Campos claims it was 25 percent.
     The complaint states: "Recognizing that Alters never made that disclosure to them, the Plaintiffs suspected that Alters had deceived them as to his purported justification for reducing their fee percentage.
     "On information and belief, Alters prevailed upon plaintiffs to enter into the reduced fee percentages not because of the purported unenforceability of Contract 1 [their original contract], but because Alters had sold off or assigned interests in the recovery from the class actions lawsuits to fund his law firm and/or his lavish, extravagant lifestyle."
     According to the complaint: "Since the Bank of America Settlement, the following six banks in the Overdraft MDL have settled: (1) Union Bank, N.A for $35 million on November 1, 2011 in Larson v. Union Bank, NA., S.D. Fla. Case No. 09-23235-KlNG; (2) Bank of Oklahoma, N.A for $19 million on November 15, 2011 in Case v. Bank of Oklahoma, NA., S.D. Fla. Case No. 11-20815-KING; (3) Associated Bank, N.A for $13 million on November 23,2011 in Harris v. Associated Bank, NA., S.D. Fla. Case No. 10-22948-KING; (4) Great Western Bank for $2.2 million on December 13,2011 in McKinley v. Great Western Bank, S.D. Fla. Case No. 10-22770-KING; (5) BMO Harris Bank, N.A for $9.4 million on November 30, 2011 in Blahut v. BMO Harris Bank, NA., S.D. Fla. Case No. 1O-21821-KING; and (6) Commerce Bank for $18.3 million on December 23,2011 in Wolfgeher v. Commerce Bank, S.D. Fla. Case No. 10-22017-KING. On information and belief, ALF, Alters, Rogow, or Rogow, P.A will receive a portion of the attorney fees to be awarded in these cases.
     Raponi & Hunter ask the court to declare that their first contract is valid, plus damages for unjust enrichment, breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and they seek rescission of Contract 2 for fraud, lack of consideration and mutual mistake.
     Their lead counsel is Herman Russomanno with Russomanno & Borrello.