The attorneys undermined their integrity and trust, and must pay the consequences, the federal judges wrote.
Two Jacksonville-based law firms, including one with offices in Gainesville and Ocala, have been hit with an almost $9.2 million fine for filing false claims to try to get payouts from tobacco companies.
Farah and Farah, which has offices and throughout Florida and Georgia, and another Jacksonville law office, the Wilner Firm, filed 1,250 false claims, including some on behalf of people who never smoked and some who were dead, the ruling states.
Four federal judges signed the order.
The attorneys undermined their integrity and trust, and must pay the consequences, the judges wrote.
“Wilner and Farah violated their obligations by failing to inform themselves about the facts of their ‘clients’ cases,” the ruling states. “Had they done so, they would not have advanced hundreds of complaints involving dead plaintiffs, people who never smoked, people who never lived in Florida, people who did not authorize a lawsuit, and people whose claims had been previously adjudicated.”
The Gainesville Sun contacted the Gainesville Farah and Farah office to try to learn if any of the cases involved area residents. Instead, the law firm of Holland and Knight, which represents Farah and Farah, issued a statement.
“Our clients respectfully disagree with the Order and fully intend to continue to defend themselves as they have successfully advanced the legal rights of thousands of tobacco related victims,” it said. “They have dedicated their professional careers to the representation of those in need and will continue to do so. Without lawyers willing to take on difficult cases against formidable opponents, more preventable injuries and deaths will occur. They will remain zealous advocates for their clients while respecting the role of the judiciary.”
The cases were filed as part of a class-action suit that began in the 1990s when Florida smokers or their survivors joined together to sue several major tobacco companies. They won, and $600 million was ordered to be set aside for payouts.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class action, known as the Engle Class after one of the plaintiffs, and ruled that all cases must be heard individually.
Those cases were known as Engle-progeny cases, and they are the cases for which Farah and Wilner were fined. The order does not explicitly break out how the fine is split between the two firms.