Florida Bar opens investigation on Mathis
The Florida Bar is among the many organizations investigating an alleged multistate gambling, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering operation involving Internet cafés operated by Allied Veterans of the World.
The inquiry stems from one of its nearly 94,000 members being named as a co-conspirator.
Former Jacksonville Bar Association President Kelly Mathis (2006-07) is scheduled to appear May 7 in Seminole County Court for arraignment, where he will be informed of charges against him and be able to enter a plea.
"It's unfortunate that a member of our legal profession has gotten caught up in these allegations, but we must remember that our legal process has to play out and everyone involved in this will have their guilt or innocence determined through that process," said Ray Driver, current Jacksonville Bar Association president.
"In the event that it is determined a member of our profession is found guilty of the charges, I would expect that The Florida Bar would act pretty quickly under our rules of professional conduct," said Driver.
The Jacksonville Bar Association is voluntary and does not have authority to regulate the activity of the legal community.
The Florida Bar is charged with the responsibility as the licensing organization for the legal community in the state.
The Florida Bar has opened a file on Mathis and will be investigating his activities, said Karen Kirksey, Florida Bar public information coordinator.
"We received calls about the case Tuesday and we opened a file," said Kenneth Marvin, Florida Bar director of lawyer regulation for its legal division.
"We respect the criminal case and the authorities that are investigating the case. Normally, we monitor the case and see what happens," said Marvin.
According to the rules regulating The Florida Bar, "Upon receiving notice that a member of the bar has been determined to be or adjudicated guilty of a felony, the bar will file a 'Notice of Determination or Judgment of Guilt' in the Supreme Court of Florida."
It also states that when the notice is filed and served, the respondent will be suspended as a member of The Florida Bar.
Upon suspension, the court then appoints or directs the appointment of a referee to review the suspension. The referee is usually a judge from a surrounding county outside of the area where the attorney practices.
The referee can hear a petition to eliminate or modify a suspension imposed within seven days of appointment. The referee also will submit a report and recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court within seven days of the date of the hearing.
The referee can recommend termination or modification of the suspension only if the suspended member is not the convicted person or that the criminal offense is not a felony.
If Mathis is determined to be innocent of charges, the file could be closed without action by the Bar. There are other options available between disbarment and no action, including suspension, probation, reprimand and admonishment.
Former Bar President Jesse Diner told members of the Jacksonville Bar Association during its Nov. 19, 2009, meeting that the Bar might investigate a member for violation of Bar rules, but the privacy of the investigation doesn't allow for the Bar to discuss its' efforts until the investigation is complete.
Diner commented on the Bar's investigative efforts when discussing the activity of disbarred attorney Scott Walter Rothstein of the defunct Fort Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler for using a Ponzi scheme to steal $1.4 billion from investors.
Cases involving such alleged scandals grab headlines, but they appear to be the exception rather than the rule, according to disciplinary statistics provided by the Bar.
In fiscal 2011-12, which concluded July 1, the Bar membership reached 93,895. During that year, 7,423 files were opened as a result of sworn complaints. Review of those cases led to 696 cases that resulted in 380 discipline orders.
"We review each complaint to determine if the member the complaint was filed against violated any of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar," said Marvin.
The 380 discipline orders included 103 disbarments, 142 suspensions, 41 reprimands and 46 probations and other actions.
The total number of discipline orders in fiscal year 2011-12 represent less than 1 percent of the Bar membership.
Total disbarments rose from 84 in fiscal year 2010-11.