Appeals court nixes $17K sanction against Boca Raton law firm

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‘Because the trial court did not provide adequate notice and an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to entering its sanction order, we reverse.’

A Boca Raton law firm won’t have to pay a $17,150 penalty after the Third District Court of Appeal overturned a lower court order assessing the sanction. The appellate court found the firm didn’t receive an evidentiary hearing beforehand.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Veronica Diaz ruled in January 2021 that Shir Law Group lawyers had brought a frivolous motion against individuals for allegedly violating a confidentiality order. She issued an official order in March 2021 requiring the firm to pay $17,150 to cover attorney fees for opposing counsel.

But because she issued the order from the bench without giving the Shir Law Group lawyers an evidentiary hearing, the Third District reversed the ruling in a decision issued by a three-judge panel — Judges Monica Gordo, Norma Lindsey and Thomas Logue.

“Although the trial court possesses the inherent authority to impose attorneys’ fees for bad faith conduct, the trial court must provide notice and an opportunity to be heard and present evidence prior to entering the sanction,” the ruling states. “The trial court’s failure to allow notice and a hearing prior to entering the sanction order is violative of the Shir Defendants’ due process rights.”

The Shir firm brought a motion against Javier Lopez in May 2019, claiming he should be held in contempt for violating a confidentiality order by revealing information subject to a settlement agreement that was not to be disclosed.

Attorneys for Flavia and Dario Carnevale, the other parties in the case, filed a motion against Robert Menje for litigation misconduct. Judge Diaz dismissed both motions but levied a sanction against the Shir law firm to pay Carnevale’s attorneys fees, which were calculated at $17,150, because the information was already made public.

But Judge Diaz issued the penalty of her own initiative, the ruling notes, and didn’t allow the Shir firm to present evidence.

“Because the trial court did not provide adequate notice and an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing prior to entering its sanction order, we reverse,” the ruling states.

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