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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


December 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The Puerto Rico Ports Authority’s 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 agency’s 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 doesn’t have sovereign immunity and so isn’t 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 attorney’s 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 barge’s sale to Salmon Bay, one of the company’s most important clients, despite a $2 million debt it supposedly had for dockage fees at Isla Grande’s 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 barge’s purchase price to Salmon Bay and has paid all legal fees, leading to the judge’s opinion against the Ports Authority.

"The Ports Authority’s filing before the FMC for sovereign 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 hasn’t been forthcoming and has hidden court decisions from it."

Gonzalez was referring to the FMC’s 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 Authority’s 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 Authority’s decision to appeal Judge Cassellas’ opinion is based on its assertion that the barge’s seizure was legal. "Salmon Bay and San Antonio Maritime Corp. are suing the Ports Authority for damages, and we can’t responsibly accept this determination," said Castellanos. "We have tried to reach agreements on this matter with San Antonio Maritime Corp. but haven’t been able to. So, we feel we have a good chance to win the case at a higher level."

Puerto Rico Ports Authority’s Legal Fees

Fiscal Year 1989 to October 2004

Attorney / law firm: 1989-1993

Trias Acevedo: $60,000

Others: $55,000

Total: $115,000

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

Others: $475,306

Total: $1,909,306

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

Vickerman: $529,890

Lespier Muñoz Noya: $150,000

Others: $736,407

Total: $7,120,481

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

Others: $214,328

Total: $10,086,078

Source: San Antonio Maritime Corp./Puerto Rico Office of the Comptroller

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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