Throughout the last decade, Royal Caribbean’s reputation would embarrass most executives. Compared to other cruise lines, the cruise line was served with the most lawsuits, paid the highest settlements, and incurred the highest defense attorney fees.
In 2008, Royal Caribbean tried to reign in its out-of-control risk management department by what can only be described as cut throat measures. It terminated its vice president of risk management, an associate general counsel, the manager of its passenger claims department and many other long term employees. It hired two top lawyers away from its competitor, Carnival, and created a new team of five in-house lawyers to oversee the defense of passenger and crew member cases.
In the process, the cruise line lowered its settlement payments and defense expenses but it earned the reputation of being a cut throat organization. Many of the defense lawyers who had been loyal and dedicated advocates for Royal Caribbean for the past decade found themselves abandoned by the cruise line.
One of the best defense lawyers for Royal Caribbean, Jonathan Aronson (photo, right), decided to stop handling the defense of cruise line cases last year when his case load dropped from 65 cases a year to only one case in 2009. In the last few months, Mr. Aronson appeared as co-counsel with our firm in a few cases against this cruise line.
But Royal Caribbean didn’t like the idea that one of its lawyers would "switch sides." Particularly one of its most experienced and talented lawyers, and especially as co-counsel with our firm. So it appears that the decision makers at Royal Caribbean decided to make an example out of Mr. Aronson and send a message to the maritime lawyers in Miami not to switch sides.
President Goldstein elected to hire Holland & Knight, the largest law firm in the state of Florida with over 1,100 lawyers, as well as a second firm Mase, Lara & Eversole, to litigate against Mr. Aronson and our firm.
Between these two firms, eight defense lawyers filed over twenty motions, memoranda, affidavits, declarations and depositions in a scorch-the-earth attempt to kick Aronson and our firm off of the cases. The cruise line spent a small fortune with this army of lawyers.
But the cruise line was destined to lose.
You see, the law is not on the cruise line’s side. In Florida, disqualification is considered to be a "drastic remedy" and is granted only in very limited circumstances. Courts are also skeptical of motions to disqualify attorneys because a party like Royal Caribbean can use a motion for tactical reasons to harass the other side.
In the last two weeks, the cruise line lost its first two disqualification motions. As we expected, the courts ruled that there was no basis to disqualify Mr. Aronson.
The cruise line has now filed an appeal – an expensive, time consuming and ultimately losing proposition which the cruise line is committed to pay in order to try and make a point.
But the point the cruise line is missing is that loyalty between an attorney and client runs both ways. A large $15 billion corporation like Royal Caribbean has to learn that it cannot abandon talented lawyers without consequence. And until it learns this, this cruise line will find more and more of its better lawyers switching to the right side.
Top – Jonathan Aronson, outside the Miami-Dade County Courthouse – by Jim Walker.