Bye Bye Jay Wingate. Hello Peter Sotolongo?

Sorry for the lack of posts, folks, I had some lawyering to do. Ok, actually I went skiing in Colorado for a couple days. By the way, the powder was very nice.

Anyway, news here that Jay Wingate has agreed to drop out of the law business in the wake of allegations involving inside Royal Caribbean settlement info:

Embattled lawyer Jay Wingate agreed Thursday to drop out of 77 shipboard injury cases after Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines claimed his firm paid a cruise employee for inside information. Wingate said he is closing his practice, but the future of the cases is uncertain.

The Miami-based cruise company filed a motion two weeks ago to disqualify Wingate’s law firm from pursuing the lawsuits against it. An attached affidavit from a fired Royal Caribbean employee said she accepted cash from two Wingate investigators in exchange for information about lawsuit settlement authorization, including the amount of money the cruise operator was willing to pay to settle cases.

At a hearing Thursday before Senior Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Herb Stettin, Wingate’s attorney Miles A. McGrane III of McGrane Nosich & Ganz in Coral Gables announced Wingate would withdraw as counsel from the pending cases.

Royal Caribbean attorney Curtis Mase, a partner with Mase & Lara in Miami, requested a brief recess and returned to relay his client’s elation.”They are quite surprised and amenable,” he said.

The fired employee’s name was blacked out in the court filing, but the Daily Business Review obtained an unredacted copy identifying her as Wanda Ballestas, a former supervisor for crew claims in the company’s risk management department. Ballestas acknowledged accepting a series of $500 payments for Royal Caribbean’s confidential settlement projections and a $2,000 Christmas bonus, according to the affidavit. She admitted passing information on 20 plaintiffs to Wingate investigators Maria Elena Parilla and Nelson Ayala.

Wingate and McGrane vigorously denied Ballestas’ claims at the hearing and said dropping out of the cases was not an admission of wrongdoing.

But the convoluted legal saga did not end with Wingate’s withdrawal from the cases.

Peter Sotolongo, a partner in The Wingate Firm, said in an interview that he is starting his own firm and hopes to take over many of the cases against Royal Caribbean. Although he was named in Royal Caribbean’s motion to disqualify, Sotolongo came into the hearing expecting he would be in line to take over the bulk of the cases the firm was dropping. But the potential hiring of another firm to help those clients was a setback to that effort.

Royal Caribbean would oppose Sotolongo taking on the remaining cases, Mase said. “If Peter Sotolongo comes to represent any of these plaintiffs, then at that time Royal Caribbean will take the action that they deem to be appropriate,” he said. “I think it’s probably fair to say that Royal Caribbean would oppose someone who was an attorney in the firm, a very small firm I might add, which is alleged to have engaged in improper conduct.”

Hmm. Does anyone think this is over yet?