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Larry Seidlin, the recently resigned Broward judge and would-be TV star, was once the best of friends with attorney Lawrence ¨Chris¨ Roberts. They chummed together in the courthouse every day. They dined and vacationed together.
But today they´re involved in a very public battle that could wind up in a courtroom.
The conflict began in earnest after Roberts reluctantly went on the record in New Times two weeks ago with an allegation about Seidlin, who gained notoriety after overseeing the bizarre Anna Nicole Smith hearings and recently signed a TV deal with CBS. The lawyer said the judge asked him for gifts, including a $1,000 Louis Vuitton purse for his wife´s birthday. At the time, Seidlin was regularly appointing Roberts to defend cases in his courtroom on the public´s dime.
After the story broke, the Broward State Attorney´s Office asked Governor Charlie Crist to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the case. Local and national media outlets followed with coverage and readers and viewers chimed in with vigor and venom, often taking sides between the two former friends.
Roberts says it was his familiarity with Seidlin that led him to conclude that the judge was ¨despicable.¨ He says his old friend is cheap, manipulative, and immoral. But he says he didn´t write Seidlin off until three or four years ago, when their mutual pal, then-Broward County Chief Public Defender Alan Schreiber, told him something that turned his stomach.
According to Roberts, Schreiber said, ¨Larry found an old woman with a lot of money in this apartment in his building. I warned him not to get involved because this is going to be trouble. You know Larry.´¨
Roberts says he knew exactly what Schreiber meant: The judge was going to hustle the elderly woman out of money.
That woman was 81-year-old Barbara Kasler, a lonely millionaire living in the judge´s Fort Lauderdale condo building. Seidlin began catering to K asler´s every need, delivering three meals a day to her condo and driving her to the doctor and hair salon.
In return, Kasler, who is worth millions, has showered the Seidlin family with land, tuition money at Pine Crest School for Seidlin´s six-year-old daughter, and other gifts that total into the six figures. Kasler told me she willingly gave Seidlin the windfall, which has included privileges at the exclusive Lauderdale Yacht Club where she belongs.
¨A judge, especially one who heads the family and probate divisions [as Seidlin did], should never accept that money,¨ Roberts complains. ¨It´s financial exploitation and it´s despicable. I was finished with Seidlin when I heard about that.¨
Both men, however, remained friends with Schreiber. The financial ties between the three ran deep. Seidlin appointed Roberts to cases in his courtroom at $350 a pop, which can add up quickly under the gavel of ¨Lightning Larry.¨ Schreiber employed Seidlin´s wife, Belinda, as an investigator at about $50,000 a year. And the public defender hired Roberts to train young lawyers in his office for $10,000 a year.
It made for very cozy relationships. They dined with one another´s wives and children. They even once vacationed together in three rooms at The Breakers Hotel, the ultra-swank beachfront resort in Palm Beach.
It was Labor Day Weekend 2002, and Roberts´ wife, a travel agent, had found a bargain rate for the resort, where the cost varies between about $260 and $830 a night. All three men and their wives attended, along with Seidlin´s then-baby daughter and Roberts´ young son. They all paid their own way at the hotel, but Roberts says Seidlin found a way to get one over on both him and the hotel during the trip.
First, the judge wasn´t pleased with the caliber of the rooms, which Roberts said had a ¨nice view of the parking lot.¨ The lawyer says he watched as the judge famous for manipulating the Anna Nicole hearings tried to manipulate the front desk clerk, who happened to be a black woman.
¨Do you know who this is over here?¨ Roberts says Seidlin asked the clerk. ¨This is Alan Schreiber. He is the man responsible for electing the first African American woman to a constitutional office in Broward County.¨
Seidlin was referring to the since-disgraced Miriam Oliphant, who was elected as the county´s Supervisor of Elections in 2000 with Schreiber´s considerable support.
Roberts says the judge´s racial pandering embarrassed him. ¨I ducked my head into a corner while he was talking to her.¨
But Seidlin´s perseverance paid off -- he finagled three rooms with partial ocean views.
¨Larry´s a master schmoozer,¨ says Roberts.
Roberts soon went from embarrassed to angry with Seidlin, though. Roberts says the judge suggested they take turns paying for Schreiber´s meals, since the public defender, who would leave office in 2004 after serving six terms, had done so much for them (forget that he´d done it with tax dollars).
Roberts agreed and, later that night, plunked down a few hundred dollars at a nearby steakhouse for everybody´s dinner, he says. The next morning, they all got together for bagels at breakfast.