« Haridopolos says farewell: 'I'll miss being in the arena' | Main | Senate moving slowly but Oelrich, congressional hopeful, has time for fundraiser »

Lawyer opts to scrap all fees in order to pass Brody claims bill

A proposal to award $10.75 million to a Sunrise man who was permanently injured by a speeding cop 14 years ago could be fast-tracked to the governor’s desk after a new agreement to eliminate all fees associated with the claim.

An internal squabble between the lawyer representing Eric Brody and his former employer is behind the sudden decision to scrap all fees.

“By declining all fees it will make sure that Eric doesn’t have to pay $1 million to a bunch of rich lawyers that never did anything” on the case, said Lance Block, Brody’s attorney. Block said his former employer, West Palm Beach law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley hired a lobbyist to try and collect part of the $10.75 million payment.

The role of lobbyists in the claims bill process has been decried by lawmakers, and threatened to kill the claims bill for Brody this year.

The House and the Senate both arrived at a $10.75 million payment for Eric Brody, but the two chambers have been miles apart on how much they would allow Brody’s lobbyists and attorneys to collect in fees.

Brody has been wheelchair-bound since 1998, after a speeding Broward County Sheriff’s deputy plowed into the car he was driving, causing severe brain injury. His family has been traveling to Tallahassee for the past four years, trying to collect a $30.9 million jury award. Each year, the Legislature has ended its session without passing a claims bill for Brody

Last year, the legislative session ended in chaos after disagreements between the House and Senate over how to pay the claim for Brody, and wrongly convicted Brevard County man named William Dillon.

This year, the House originally capped fees on claims bills at $400,000, while the Senate allowed for 25 percent of the total to go to the fees. A compromise from the House would change the language to exempt attorneys that worked on the original civil case from fee caps. That prompted Block to offer to scrap all fees, in effect blocking his former law firm from claiming costs it may have spent on the civil case.

“I want to get paid,” Block said earlier this week when the Brody claims bill passed the House on a 107-7 vote. “But the most important thing is to take care of Eric.”

Block, who has advocated for Brody for the last 14 years, is now opting to take a pro-bono stance as the multi-million-dollar payment comes closer to becoming reality.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, is backing an amendment to the claims bill that would eliminate all fees associated with the claim.

“The lobbyist and lawyers in the case they believe that the amount of fees and where the fees go to has been the basis for the bill bouncing back and forth between the House and the Senate,” said Gaetz. “And they’d rather wave all their fees and cost to make sure Eric Brody is properly compensated.”

Block, veteran lobbyist Brian Ballard and the Searcy law firm (where Block was a partner when he represented Brody in a jury trial), would receive no payment for their participation if the amendment is approved.

Block now works for his own firm. His move to scrap all fees on the Brody claim could leave his former law firm out in the dark.

“I’d rather save Eric the $1 million,” said Block. “ I can walk, I can talk, I can get up and work every day –- and Eric can’t. I’d rather see him get the $1 million than it go to some West Palm Beach law firm that didn’t do any work on the case."

The bill, a top priority of Senate President Mike Haridolopos, is set for a vote in the Florida House on Thursday or Friday.