A key witness in the well-publicized civil suit aimed at Larry Seidlin is a courthouse attorney who once worked closely with the former Broward County Circuit Court judge. And the witness could provide more embarrassment and shame for Seidlin than Seidlin caused Broward County while presiding over the nationally televised Anna Nicole Smith circus back in 2007.
The lawyer, who no longer works in the courthouse and spoke on the condition of anonymity, gave me an earful last week. The lawyer said Seidlin often spoke about Barbara Kasler, the elderly widow in his building whom the lawsuit claims he systematically exploited. Kasler handed over more than a half-million dollars in cash and assets. But the lawyer said Seidlin never referred to Kasler by name. "He always called her the 'old lady,' " said the source. "He told me, 'I met an old lady in my building. She's out of her mind, but she's loaded.' "
The attorney also claimed to have witnessed the judge and another lawyer discussing property Kasler owned in Palm Bay. "They were looking over the survey and the deed of the property, and Seidlin said, 'We'll put in [the judge's daughter] Daxie's name; that way, they'll never trace it back to us.' It wound up being put in the wife's name, so I guess they realized how hard it is to put property in a child's name."
Shortly after that, Seidlin brought up the property again with the source.
"He came back to me and said, 'You know that property I was talking about? I don't want you to think about it. It's just a property full of rocks, and it's only worth two grand. I don't want to concern you with it,' " the attorney recounted. "A week later, he asked me how to write a will that can't be contested."
Seidlin eventually had Kasler's will rewritten to include his wife, Belinda, and daughter. Their names have since been removed by family members and advocates who pushed the lawsuit. The land was valued at $45,000 when it was transferred from Kasler to Belinda Ray Seidlin.
The former judge's attorney, Theodore Kypreos, didn't return a call seeking comment. Kasler, a frail woman in her 80s who had recently lost her son when Seidlin entered her life, told me in 2007 that she "didn't want to bother" with the land anymore so she gave it to "Dax," whom she thought might want to build a house on it someday.
Seidlin is accused of immersing himself in Kasler's life, calling himself her son, providing her meals, and making Kasler so dependent upon him that she gave him cash, land, a condo at a cut-rate price, and tuition for Dax to attend the very expensive Pine Crest School.
The potential witness describes it as a cold and calculated ploy. The attorney claimed to have asked Seidlin to bring his mother to a wedding over which Seidlin was presiding.
"Seidlin said, 'No, I'm bringing the old lady; it's important that she see me in my robes,' " the attorney told me.
The witness spoke of more than just Seidlin's relationship with the elderly widow; the attorney also provided insight into the former judge's infamously lax work ethic. "He'd roll in a little after 9, and he would come in and order some clothes or jewelry for his wife over the phone," said the lawyer. "Then he would do the juveniles and then maybe some probate. At about 11 o'clock, his wife would come in... to shoot the breeze and go with him to lunch."
In the afternoon, Seidlin did what the attorney described as "drive-bys."
"He would come back in the afternoon in his car, and he would sign what he had to sign out in the street," said the lawyer. "He would have someone in his office bring the files down to the corner, and he would sign them in the car. He would wear a hat and sunglasses like he didn't want people to recognize him."
The attorney said Seidlin actually checked with state officials to make sure he wasn't required to work full business days. "He had his [judicial assistant] call someone in Tallahassee to see if there were any requirements that a judge had to work a seven- or eight-hour day," said the source. "She came back and said there are no requirements about how long you have to work so long as you get through the docket."
And so Seidlin sped through his dockets, earning the nickname "Lightning Larry." While he was still judge, he was the subject of a gotcha report by WSVN-TV (Channel 7) reporter Carmel Cafiero. "[W]hen we watched the judge April 10th and 11th and April 17th and 18th, Seidlin's lunch breaks lasted close to three hours," Cafiero reported. "If he worked at all in the afternoons, it was for about one hour. And by 4, he was at a tennis club three out of the four days."
Seidlin had a short attention span, said the attorney, never read books, and had little knowledge of the law. "You could put all his knowledge of the law in a thimble and still have room left over," said the lawyer. "I don't know how he got a bar license; he had the worst attention deficit I've ever seen. He was always afraid people were going to figure out that he didn't know the law, but I always say Seidlin is the luckiest man alive."
The attorney was in contact with investigators in the criminal probe of Seidlin conducted by Miami-Dade prosecutor Howard Rosen but incredibly was never deposed: "They said they didn't have enough money to fly where I was and talk to me or to fly me there. Everything I've told you, I told them on the phone, but they disregarded it."
Seidlin was cleared in the criminal probe. But the witness won't be shut out of the civil case. If it goes to trial, the attorney said he will testify and has been in touch with the plaintiff's attorneys.
"I just want to do the right thing," said the attorney.
Lawyers Having Heyday
Rothstein bankruptcy attorneys stand to make a bundle.
When Scott Rothstein's Ponzi scheme imploded, everybody knew it was going to be a lawyers' bonanza with investors, creditors and banks fighting for years.
Now it is confirmed.
Creditors in the Rothstein bankruptcy were last week sent a notice that detailed how much "interim compensation" the bankruptcy lawyers and accountants are charging for their work from November 10 through January 31. Here's the list:
• Lead bankruptcy attorney Paul Singerman's firm, Berger Singerman, is asking for a total fee of $1,230,974.50 for those 15 or so weeks of work, plus $28,092.06 in expenses, for a total of more than one and a quarter million dollars.
• Bankruptcy attorney John Genovese is asking for $324,805.50 plus $3,659.90 in expenses.
• Miami accountant Richard A. Pollack is charging $611,640.50 plus $1,846.30 in expenses.
To put those numbers in perspective, consider that, extrapolated over a full year, those three entities would be making more on this one case than the entire 70-member RRA firm made in revenues last year, about $8 million. And that doesn't even count bankruptcy trustee Herbert Stettin's charge. A hearing on the fees will be held at 1:30 p.m. April 7 at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
I'm not claiming wrongdoing by anyone here. The professionals listed above are tops in their field and are believed to be totally aboveboard. It's the system that is flawed. This is just bloated business as usual. Lawyers love it; everybody else knows it stinks, but nobody can do anything about it.
Remember, this is all money that is supposed to go to those who lost money in the Rothstein debacle. And this might seem like a true outrage if the shady hedge fund crowd that primarily fed the disbarred lawyer's Ponzi scheme was more sympathetic. A good example of receivership that could make your blood boil comes in another Ponzi scheme, the case of Joel Steinger's Mutual Benefits Corp.
In that fiasco, you have hard-working elderly folks who lost their life savings — and the only people who are going to see any sizable amount of what has been recovered are the lawyers, who have turned it into a gold rush while the victims just keep suffering.
There has to be a better way. And it starts with putting the lawyers in check.