In the legal profession we sometimes use the term “res ipsa loquitur”—Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." With that in mind, take a look at the article, All’s fair? Scott Link changes sides after $5M Citizens superlawyer pay,1 discussing the fact that the top lawyer for Citizens is leaving to represent policyholders.
I don’t need to editorialize in this blog to demonstrate how nauseating this is.
All’s fair? Scott Link changes sides after $5M Citizens superlawyer pay
By Charles Elmore – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
One state legislator calls it “ridiculous.”
A West Palm Beach lawyer whose firm collected about $5 million in a controversial role as “coach in the press box” for other attorneys at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has stopped doing that job at least a year ahead of a maximum contract term — and now he’s switching sides.
Scott Link has touted his experience as coordinating counsel for the state-run company in a PR release announcing he is ready to represent policyholders against insurance companies.
“We are extraordinarily disappointed that Scott has taken that position,” Citizens CEO Barry Gilway told The Palm Beach Post.
“It’s ridiculous,” said state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, a public adjuster who tried in vain to persuade Citizens board members to vote against a contract with the West Palm Beach law firm. “Now he’s soliciting clients with the free education he got.”
Artiles called it an “inside job” in the first place for Citizens to pay millions to a law firm with no prior experience in property insurance — noting the firm did not disclose in its application past compensation it paid an interim Citizens president who was still in office when initial bids went out.
As for his new role, Link said he has not taken a case against a property insurer yet, let alone against Citizens, but sees nothing wrong with representing policyholders. They need someone in their corner, too, he said — and will need it especially if Florida’s 11-year hurricane hiatus ends.
“Folks in the U.S. Attorney’s office, they learn, they switch and go out and represent defendants,” Link said. “There’s nothing unethical or wrong about it.”
Link said he “asbsolutely” has reached out to lawyers to say he would serve as co-counsel in cases against insurers, but he characterized likely prospective work as non-Citizens cases after, say, a hurricane.
“I have no cases against Citizens and I have no intention of suing Citizens,” Link said. “I cannot say that 10 years from now given the right circumstances and facts that I wouldn’t take a case against Citizens that was unrelated to work that I did. I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t know what the world will be like in 10 years.”
Link called Gilway “a terrific CEO” and said his role at Citizens ended by mutual consent because his work there was done.
“The experience I gained in my role with Citizens positions me to now bring all that knowledge to the private sector,” Link said in a PR release earlier this year. “My team is ready to represent businesses, condominiums and homeowners in pursuing their property insurance claims, both during the claims process and during litigation if necessary.”
His firm’s website says: “In December 2015, Scott concluded a three-year term as Coordinating Counsel for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., earning recognition as one of the state’s most knowledgeable and experienced trial attorneys on property insurance claims. During his first 20 months on the job, he provided strategic analysis in more than 500 property insurance claims and helped to win favorable trial results in the majority of the jury trials that fell under his supervision.”
A Citizens update prepared for a claims committee meeting in March 2015 showed Citizens lost 21 of 37 cases with a verdict in 2014, though company officials noted that did not include five favorable verdicts in commercial cases and two settlements during trial.
Gilway said Link’s work proceeded “ahead of schedule” so Citizens could wrap up after two years a deal starting in 2014 worth up to $6.5 million over three years, with an optional fourth, as coordinating counsel for more than 13,000 cases. That deal followed an earlier $1.5 million contract to serve as coordinating counsel for sinkhole cases, supplemented by $100,000 monthly extensions.
“Scott Link did an extremely good job,” Gilway said during a break at a conference in Boca Raton this month. “However, I would also say right now that I am very disappointed that Scott has chosen to utilize some of the strategies that he basically developed for us for plaintiff counsel.”
A termination letter obtained in a records request by The Post shows shows Citizens officials met with Link to discuss canceling the contract on May 7, 2015. The letter dated Nov. 12 says the contract required 30 days notice by Citizens to cancel, and the company informed him it was ending the contract by Dec. 31, 2015.
During his relationship with Citizens, Link was authorized to bill the company up to $1 million a year for his services, three times the annual pay of the Citizens CEO. That did not count other billing from colleagues at the firm, travel and expenses.
Though it lacked experience in property insurance, the firm of Ackerman, Link & Sartory had experience with complex civil litigation involving brokerages and other companies — not to mention a link to Tom Grady, a former interim Citizens president and an ally of Gov. Rick Scott.
The West Palm Beach firm paid Grady as recently as 2010 in an “of counsel” relationship, meaning he was compensated though he was not a firm member or partner. The law firm did not disclose the relationship in its application to Citizens. Company officials said they saw no ethical conflict because payments to Grady had ceased before he became president. In any case, they said, Citizens contract language barred the West Palm Beach firm from paying “of counsel” attorneys.
Grady was still president of Citizens when an “expedited” bidding process began for a law firm to coordinate work with sinkhole claims.
Link’s firm finished third out of nine bidders in initial scoring by a Citizens evaluation panel based on written applications, barely making the cut for interviews, The Post reported.
It won the contract in 2012 after an interview lasting less than 30 minutes.
Link’s hourly fees of $525 far exceeded those of any lawyer at nine firms bidding from across Florida and as far away as California, the Post found. The nearest: $360.
Gilway, taking the company’s reins from Grady, was in office for approval of the first contract and soon advocated for a second, bigger one.
“I know I’m being dramatic, but I would tell you, what he (Link) has done, and what that firm has done for our litigation management capabilities in a relatively short period of time, has been enormous,” Gilway said in a claims committee meeting.
The contracts did not require Link to set foot in a courtroom for any particular case, or meet specific performance goals in terms of cases resolved or legal expenses avoided. The deal required reports as often as monthly from the firm to Citizens, but Citizens declined to release those as privileged attorney-client communication.
One lawyer for a firm that did Citizens defense work privately described mock trials Link oversaw as “vanity exercises” and said Citizens proceeded to lose at trial a case on which he worked.
Link said his job was to change the way things were done, even if not everyone liked it.
“I’m sure I made enemies, no question about it,” he said.
Link said as he remembers it, the company won its first case that came to trial during his tenure after a long period of not trying cases at all.
“That means you’re sending a message to plaintiff’s lawyers that if they don’t have a good case you will try them,” Link said. That helped pave for the way for what the company saw as more favorable settlements later, as he saw it.
“I think there were huge benefits from it,” Link said. “Can I put a dollar figure on it? No.”
In 2014, the company’s legal team produced a year-end report on the coordinating counsel’s activities, which summarized progress on such goals as “develop and implement a global and unifying litigation strategy among pending matters.” It did not attempt to provide an overall cost-benefit analysis of the coordinating counsel contract.
No such year-end report was produced for 2015, a spokesman said.
“From the outset, the goal of the coordinating counsel was to take a comprehensive approach to resolution of our sinkhole claims and litigation cases, and also build an in-house team to carry out the coordination process through knowledge transfer with coordinating counsel,” Citizens general counsel Dan Sumner said in a statement.
“The comprehensive approach to resolving sinkhole claims and litigation is demonstrated through the settlement of 2,287 sinkhole cases, with the settled cases resulting in sinkhole repair through Citizens’ Sinkhole Managed Repair Program,” Sumner said. “The sinkhole resolutions have resulted in savings of at least $54 million in defense costs alone.”
Sumner added, “The knowledge transfer has occurred with the build-out of the in-house Claims Legal Team, which is embedded in all areas of our claims organization.”
In 2014, Artiles estimated Citizens could have “saved” at least $50 million a year just by paying claims customers requested, instead of paying its own lawyers and outside defense firms, and then paying still other lawyers to coach the rest of the lawyers.
In 2016, Artiles said it is far from clear to him that the contracts paid off for anyone but Link.
“Citizens lawyers should have been doing Scott Link’s job all along,” Artiles said.
Paying lawyers to coach other lawyers
State-run insurer Citizens paid Ackerman, Link & Sartory in West Palm Beach to serve as coordinating counsel for more than 13,000 cases, paying $3.2 million over two years of a maximum four-year contract. An earlier contract for sinkhole cases paid the firm more than $1.5 million.
2104 $2.1 million
2015 $1.1 million
Total $3.2 million
Source: Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
1 Charles Elmore, “All’s fair? Scott Link changes sides after $5M Citizens superlawyer pay” Palm Beach Post, June 24, 2016. Available online; last viewed on July 6, 2016: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/alls-fair-scott-link-changes-sides-after-5m-citize/nrmsM/