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By Deirdra Funcheon
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Although Stafford quickly refused, Forman was not deterred, seeking permission from the county commission to appeal Stafford's ruling on a contingency basis, taking 25 percent of any fee award he wins for the county. Commissioners agreed, after Chairwoman Lori Parrish, a friend of the Forman family since childhood, roared, "This is an integrity issue. I'm tired of being the deep pockets. I'm tired of paying people off. I'm tired of people thinking we're a bunch of dumb country bumpkins."
Among the issues that irritated commissioners was that while they had been paying Forman $900,000 to fight a lawsuit brought by Platt and Eckert Seamans, the county had been also been paying Eckert Seamans to be its lawyers: more than $241,000 since 1995. Thus Eckert Seamans was both friend and enemy at the same time, which is not supposed to happen.
"The policy is, you can't have a conflict," unless you get a waiver from the commission, which Eckert Seamans did not do, said Michael Kerr, an assistant county attorney handling the port case. "The most prudent scenario would have been to obtain a waiver," he said. The failure to do so "would obviously be taken into account in any future work."
After what sounded like a threat against Eckert Seamans, Platt was asked whether he feared punishment by county government on future legal work, to which he responded by breaking into laughter. "It's ridiculous," Platt said, adding that Eckert Seamans considered the lease case to be against Port Everglades, not county government, so there was no conflict.
Of Forman's contention that Eckert Seamans should be penalized for bringing the port lawsuit, Platt said that the fact the case lasted more than four years, surviving various motions to dismiss and ending with a two-week trial, is evidence that legitimate issues were raised. His clients would have appealed, Platt said, except "they've effectively run out of money."
Eckert Seamans now accuses Forman of a "personal vendetta," warning that if he pursues the county's legal-fees appeal, the firm will consider that action "frivolous" -- and go after the county and Forman for its legal fees.
Even Forman acknowledges his appeal is based less on a "smoking gun" than on "nuggets you have to sort of sift out.... Perhaps the appellate court will say, you're full of baloney, grow up, don't be such a child. But I tend to feel like I need to at least ask the question of the appellate court, because it looks real bad to me."
So after five years and $900,000, county commissioners say the case will continue, for, in the words of chairwoman Parrish, "sometimes you roll the dice."
Thank goodness they're not a bunch of country bumpkins.