By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Steinsmith says he was unaware of Kent's bar record when he signed over power of attorney. After a reporter describes the case to him in the hospital, Steinsmith says, "Well, I don't know, but I know I can't do anything from here. The way I see it, he's helped me."
Steinsmith friends Derning and Ullman, as well as attorney Rae Shearn, contend that Kent's bar record supports their position that Kent should not have access to Steinsmith's money. Their concern arose in November, when Kent requested that Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren grant him legal guardianship over Steinsmith. Shearn objected that guardianship, which would give Kent total control over the ill activist's person and property, was premature.
"It wasn't known at the time that this was a temporary mania treatable with medicine," Shearn says. "It was also legally inappropriate, because you can't go into a county court and ask to be appointed guardian. There's a long process involved there, and Judge Lerner-Wren doesn't have jurisdiction to do that. If for some bizarre reason she would have granted it, it would have been an illegal order that could have circumvented Gary's civil rights."
Shearn grew more suspicious when Steinsmith told her that he had written several checks to Kent.
Kent maintains that the checks were to pay for Gary's outstanding personal bills. To some degree, Steinsmith confirms this. To cover his outstanding bills, Steinsmith says, he wrote Kent a check for $25,000. He also cut a $5000 check to Kent for his legal services and a $3500 check to Shearn for her work on his case.
Shearn says the $3500 check bounced. "We had agreed that I would work Gary's case pro bono because he's a friend," says Shearn. "I didn't need the money; I didn't necessarily want the money. And I certainly don't know what Norm was doing asking for $5000."
When contacted by New Times, Kent said he was partnering with Shearn on Steinsmith's case. Shearn says that's not true. "I never agreed to work with him; I don't need to work with him," she replies. "I can handle this case by myself."
Kent would not discuss with New Times whether Steinsmith wrote checks to him, nor would he explain why he requested guardianship. "All I can say is that I had taken care of Gary's outstanding indebtedness. Gary did retain me as his power of attorney, and I am pursuing all legal remedies that enable me to pay for his bills."
Steinsmith says he has not tracked whether the $5000 and $25,000 checks have been cashed. But he told New Times repeatedly that Kent asked him to buy ad space in the Express while the lawyer knew of his mental instability. Shearn confirms that Steinsmith told her the same thing. "He called me from the hospital and said that Norm had called him about buying ads," says Shearn. "Gary was asking me if I thought it would be a good investment."
Kent denies calling Steinsmith about buying ads while he was still in the hospital. The lawyer and Expressowner provided New Times with a series of e-mails that he believes shows the ads were Steinsmith's idea. Beginning October 25 -- before Steinsmith was hospitalized -- Steinsmith sent two missives: One described his Miami-Dade County arrest, and another stated that he would like to "underwrite ads for worthy non-profits." Kent replied on October 26 by suggesting Steinsmith pay $6,000 for 12 advertisements. In subsequent days, Steinsmith e-mailed that he would make a check payable to the Express.
"This was the last and only conversation I had with Gary about his financial participation in my paper," says Kent. "The next thing I heard, he was in court after being jailed by Fort Lauderdale police."
Although the e-mails illustrate that Kent knew of Steinsmith's Miami-Dade trespassing arrest, the attorney maintains he never questioned Steinsmith's mental health. "He told me that the charges had been dropped. I had no reason not to believe him, and I thought that was that," Kent says. "He came to my office in his new Jaguar telling me that he'd invested in the stock market and had made a lot of money. To me and others, he appeared lucid, cogent.
"All I know is that I've done what's right by Gary," he continues. "I just don't think anyone, including myself, really understood the gravity of his situation before he was in [mental health] court."
On October 26, during the week that he corresponded by e-mail with Kent, Steinsmith was ticketed for driving his Jag around a road barricade. Just hours later, he was pulled over and ticketed for speeding on Interstate 95 near Davie Boulevard at 2:48 a.m. About a week later, he wrecked the $85,000 car by hitting a median. He left it in a Walgreens parking lot. Rather than have it fixed, he visited Alpine Motors again to lease another one. Derning knew of Steinsmith's plans and called salesman Brad London, who had leased Steinsmith the first Jaguar. Derning told London that Steinsmith was mentally ill.
"It would have been unbelievable to me if he would have sold Gary another car," Derning says. "Gary is so incredibly vulnerable, I thought for sure it was going to happen."