Call it an American life lesson: The bigger you win, the more people want in on the action. At least that's how Jeremy Alters says he's been feeling lately. In the past two years, Alters has become Miami's class-action-lawsuit king, raking in more than a billion dollars in settlements from defective Chinese-drywall sellers and from Bank of America for charging too much on overdrafts.
Amid the victories, though, he's been beset by challenges: from a former nanny who says she's owed thousands; from the Florida Bar, which investigated a mismanaged trust fund; and now from an Argentine law firm that says he gypped it out of $100 million. Add in partisan rancor for a guy who's also a top Democratic fundraiser, and playing King of the Hill can get tiring.
"When you negotiate these big settlements, people start coming out of the woodwork trying to get a piece," Alters says of the Argentine lawsuit. "They were not counsel of record in the case. They represented no plaintiffs in any of the bank cases. They did no work in the cases."
A 41-year-old wunderkind with a 1996 University of Miami law degree, Alters has captured headlines for his massive class-action wins. Last May, he nabbed $410 million for millions of people who had paid unfair Bank of America overdrafts. And his midtown Miami firm was among the first to sue Knauf, a German company, for importing defective drywall that has ruined thousands of Florida homes. A judge in December gave the OK for a settlement fund that could top a billion dollars.
Alters also served on President Obama's national finance committee in 2008 and has since helped collect hundreds of thousands for Democrats.
The lawyer's charmed ascent hit a bump in 2010, though, when two partners left, each suing for alleged unpaid fees (both later settled). Then, this past December, the Florida Bar temporarily suspended his license amid claims he had transferred thousands out of a trust fund. But the suspension was quickly lifted January 26 when a judge found that one of the former partners had actually misspent the cash.
In the past couple of months, Alters has been hit with two new civil suits. On December 29, Argentine law firm Raponi & Hunter filed a Miami-Dade claim that it had tipped Alters off to the Bank of America overdraft case, funneled clients his way, but never received a promised $100 million payout.
The former nanny, Katelyn Sullivan, meanwhile, said in a suit filed two weeks ago that Alters charged more than $170,000 on her credit cards, withheld $20,000 in pay, and even made her sell her old Volvo because he didn't like how it looked in his driveway.
(Attorneys representing Sullivan and the Raponi firm didn't return messages from Riptide.)
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Both are bunk, Alters says. He has filed a motion to dismiss the Argentine case and this week plans to file a similar motion against Sullivan's claims.
"Sullivan was my children's former nanny ... (who) was fired," Alters says. "It became clear over time that (she) was not grounded in reality and lived in a fantasy world. Her lawsuit is nonsense. Her claims are false."