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Ports Authority Has Received $10.1 Million In Legal Bills During Calderon Administration
Agency has paid close to $20 million since 1989
By MARIALBA MARTINEZ
December 16, 2004
The Puerto Rico Ports Authoritys bills for legal services have increased from $115,000 during fiscal years (FY) 1989 to 1993 to $10.1 million during the Calderon administration (FY 2001 through October 2004), an increase of 8,683%.
Miguel Castellanos, legal counsel to the Ports Authority, confirmed to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that the agencys expenses for legal services over the past four years have totaled approximately $10 million. Information provided to CB by San Antonio Maritime Corp. indicates that since 1989, more than 30 local and stateside law firms have billed the Ports Authority approximately $19.2 million (See chart).
The expenses will continue to mount since the Port Authority is fighting several suits in state and federal courts, some dating as far back as eight years. Last week, CARIBBEAN BUSINESS reported that the Ports Authority had spent close to $1.5 million defending itself at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), where several companies have claimed the Ports Authority doesnt have sovereign immunity and so isnt protected from lawsuits brought by private companies for breach of contract (CB Dec. 9).
The decision is now being appealed by the Ports Authority.
CARIBBEAN BUSINESS has now learned the Ports Authority is appealing a November ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. On Nov. 18, Judge Salvador Cassellas granted San Antonio Maritime Corp. a waiver on a maritime lien and payment of attorneys fees and associated costs by the Ports Authority. The motion involved the July 1, 2004 seizure of the Katy-B, a barge previously owned by San Antonio Maritime Corp.
San Antonio Maritime alleged the Port Authority had agreed to the barges sale to Salmon Bay, one of the companys most important clients, despite a $2 million debt it supposedly had for dockage fees at Isla Grandes West Cargo Pier. Three days after the sale went through, and with no signs of a lien on the vessel, the Ports Authority asked the court to seize the barge, now owned by Salmon Bay, and place a lien for unpaid fees. San Antonio Maritime returned the barges purchase price to Salmon Bay and has paid all legal fees, leading to the judges opinion against the Ports Authority.
"The Ports Authoritys filing before the FMC for sovereign immunity...is just a smokescreen," said San Antonio Maritime President Victor Gonzalez. "These frivolous suits are nuisances to the federal agency. The Ports Authority not only has three filings before the FMC [Odyssea, Intership, and San Antonio Maritime], but in addition, Luis Ayala Colon Sucrs. filed a motion that is still pending resolution, and there have been other motions filed and lost over the years. What is worrisome is the FMC has already ruled in favor of several maritime carriers, after recognizing the Ports Authority hasnt been forthcoming and has hidden court decisions from it."
Gonzalez was referring to the FMCs finding in the Odyssea case that the agency not only had failed to observe and enforce just and reasonable regulations in negotiating leases and agreements, but also had discriminated against the maritime company and engaged in deceit (FMC Docket 02-08 Odyssea Stevedoring of Puerto Rico Inc. v. Puerto Rico Ports Authority). Judge Cassellas made a similar claim when he said, "The Ports Authority acted in bad faith. At the hearing, the court itself elicited evidence of the Ports Authoritys bad faith in connection with its actions [U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico-Puerto Rico Ports Authority v. Barge Katy-B Civil No. 04-1637 (SEC)].
The Ports Authoritys decision to appeal Judge Cassellas opinion is based on its assertion that the barges seizure was legal. "Salmon Bay and San Antonio Maritime Corp. are suing the Ports Authority for damages, and we cant responsibly accept this determination," said Castellanos. "We have tried to reach agreements on this matter with San Antonio Maritime Corp. but havent been able to. So, we feel we have a good chance to win the case at a higher level."
Puerto Rico Ports Authoritys Legal Fees
Fiscal Year 1989 to October 2004
Attorney / law firm: 1989-1993
Trias Acevedo: $60,000
Attorney / law firm: 1993-1997
Esteban Bird: $120,000
Fernandez Collins: $71,000
Jose Dapena Thompson: $308,000
Ledesma Palau: $100,000
Luis Berrios Amadeo: $300,000
Martinez Odell: $250,000
McConnell Valdes: $100,000
Totti & Rodriguez: $70,000
Verner Lipfert Bernhard: $115,000
Attorney / law firm: 1997-2001
Fernandez Collins: $590,000
Francisco Ramirez Rivera: $195,997
Fuentes Fernandez: $119,000
Luis Guinot: $100,000
McConnell Valdes: $396,687
Mercado Soto: $2,235,500
Newton Assoc. Inc.: $400,000
Shapiro Olander: $376,000
Verner Lipfert Bernhard: $1,441,000
Lespier Muñoz Noya: $150,000
Attorney / law firm: 2001-Oct. 2004
Acevedo & Acevedo: $390,000
Akin Gump Strauss Haur Feld: $560,000
Antonio Corretjer: $108,000
Dario River Carrasquillo: $100,000
Heidi Calero: $126,750
J.J. Puig Jordan: $380,000
Luis Felipe Colon: $1,720,000
Manuel A. Nuñez: $1,176,500
Pedro Ruiz Melendez: $1,023,000
Quiñonez & Sanchez: $150,000
Rivera Fernandez Reboredo: $1,115,000
Rosas Bayonet: $62,500
Ruiz & Habib: $335,000
Winston & Strawn: $2,475,000
Source: San Antonio Maritime Corp./Puerto Rico Office of the Comptroller
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.