Nearly a year after a federal judge ruled that two lawyers did such a bad job of representing their client that they should repay more than $275,000 in fees, one of them turned over the keys to his Miramar home and his 2001 BMW as partial payment.
Peter Mayas, of Miramar and Plantation, and disbarred former lawyer Emmanuel Roy, of Brooklyn, N.Y., have already been found in contempt of court.
The two could end up being jailed if the judge finds they tried to hide their assets to avoid paying, as alleged in court by the attorney helping their former client get his money back.
The extraordinary legal soap opera is still unfolding in a series of hearings before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff in federal court in Miami. The judge said he hopes to wrap up with a final hearing next month.
The drama started in 2008 when Patrick Coulton, a former Broward resident, was arrested on drug and money-laundering charges. On a neighbor’s recommendation, he hired Roy and Mayas also got involved, according to court testimony.
The judge ruled last year that Roy and Mayas broke the basic rules of lawyering when they represented Coulton because neither had permission to work in federal court in South Florida and they abandoned him after he reached a plea agreement and was sentenced.
In September, the judge found the two men in contempt of court and ordered them to repay every dime of the fees or explain why they couldn’t pay. The two ignored the order for months. Roy had to be arrested in New York last month to answer to the judge.
Mayas had claimed he sold the Miramar home but underwent a change of heart or mind after the judge spelled out the consequences of continuing to test his patience.
Then Mayas skipped a court hearing last week, in part he said, because he got sick after undergoing a colonoscopy. But the judge wasn’t buying it .
“There’s simply no excuse” for his failure to show up in court last week, Turnoff told Mayas.
When Coulton’s lawyer, Paul Petruzzi, told the judge Mayas had not handed over the keys to his vehicle and his Monarch Lakes home, the judge demanded he turn over the keys in court.
As Mayas fumbled with his briefcase and his keyring for what seemed an unnecessarily long time, the judge cracked: “I bet the colonoscopy was easier than this.”
With the house keys in hand and a promise the car would be turned over within hours, Petruzzi said it was a small step toward making things right.
But he said Coulton wasn’t particularly enjoying watching his two former lawyers put through the legal wringer.
“This will barely make a dent in what they owe to my client,” Petruzzi said. “[Coulton] would be a lot happier if he could just go back in time and have hired a proper lawyer from the start.”
Petruzzi hopes to sell the car and house and turn over the money to Coulton.
Mayas’s home, which was in someone else’s name, is valued at $234,750 by the Broward Property Appraiser’s records. But Petruzzi said the bank is trying to foreclose and it would probably sell for a lot less.
Coulton was initially sentenced to 14 years but Petruzzi helped him get that cut in half. He is scheduled for release in 2014.
Mayas wouldn’t comment Thursday. His lawyer, Richard Dansoh, said Mayas recognized he had gotten himself into the predicament, though Mayas also claims he was duped by Roy.
“He’s trying to keep himself out of jail,” Dansoh said of Mayas’s decision to pay his debt.
Petruzzi estimated Coulton’s fees should have been about $40,000 to $50,000 for a private attorney but said Roy and Mayas squeezed far more from Coulton’s family by lying and misleading them.
Roy will have a chance to give his account to the judge at next month’s hearing.