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Florida Supreme Court disciplines 22 lawyers

From Staff

The Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 22 attorneys: disbarring eight, suspending five and publicly reprimanding nine. Three attorneys received more than one form of discipline.

None is from Jacksonville.

• Chmari Lael Anderson, P.O. Box 3604, Orlando, to be publicly reprimanded and further, directed to attend ethics school. Anderson represented a client on criminal charges. After the case resulted in a 30-year term of incarceration, the client asked Anderson to file a notice of appeal. Anderson filed the notice of appeal in an untimely manner, typed the client’s name on the signature line without permission, which suggested that it was approved by the client, and failed to disclose his involvement in filing the untimely notice of appeal. Anderson subsequently failed to respond to the court regarding allegations made by the client.

• Angela Morton Armstrong, 1155 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor, suspended for 91 days. Armstrong was hired to represent clients in several instances and failed to follow through. Armstrong failed to respond to the Bar in two cases and did not timely respond in two other cases. Additionally, the grievance committee found probable cause that Armstrong failed to diligently represent and communicate with her clients in four bankruptcy cases, causing one to lose his home.

• Derek Michael Aronoff, 27 S.E. Ocean Blvd., Stuart, to be publicly reprimanded by publication in the Southern Reporter and further, directed to attend ethics school. After the death of a client, Aronoff attempted to provide legal services to her family when he was not competent to do so. Instead of advising the family that he was unsure how to proceed, he attempted to bring a civil action in the name of the decedent, when no probate proceeding was pending. Aronoff mistakenly believed filing a civil action in the name of the decedent in the wrong county would initiate a probate proceeding.

• Francis Wesley Blankner Jr., 217 N.E. Ivanhoe Blvd., Orlando, to be publicly reprimanded. In the fall of 2013, the 5th District Court of Appeal referred a matter to the Bar to investigate whether Blankner was incompetent and lacked diligence in representing clients before the court dating back to 2011. The court noted instances in which Blankner failed to timely file documents, requested repeated extensions of time to file briefs, failed to respond or timely respond to orders from the court and failed to supervise an associate attorney, among other issues.

• Thomas R. Busatta Sr., 12995 S. Cleveland Ave., Suite 47, Fort Myers, to be publicly reprimanded and placed on probation for two years. Busatta lacked competence and failed to supervise non-lawyer assistants in several bankruptcy matters.

• Marshall Lawrence Cohen, P.O. Box 60292, Fort Myers, disbarred retroactive to March 1. Cohen was suspended by the Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida in 2008. But for his disbarments from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Oct. 17, 2005, as a reciprocal discipline for his disbarment from the state of Georgia in April 2004, he could have been readmitted to the bankruptcy court. He never notified the Middle District of Florida or the bankruptcy courts of his disbarments. In 2012, Cohen held out as being able to practice in the bankruptcy court for the MDFL when he was not authorized. He was disbarred by the MDFL bankruptcy court in June 2013. Additionally, Cohen represented a client in a post-judgment matter and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

• Nathan James Dygart, 2240 N. Pow Wow Trail, Beloit, Wis., disbarred effective immediately. Dygart was found guilty by a jury of two felony counts: unlawful use of computer service and traveling to meet a minor.

• David Edward Evans, 108 W. Fourth St., Panama City, suspended for one year, retroactive to Nov. 29, 2013. Evans was found in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of a June 17, 2011, court order in which he was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years. The terms of his Florida Lawyers Assistance contract required him to remain drug and alcohol-free. He tested positive for alcohol and cocaine in random drug/alcohol screening tests.

• Mark F. Germain, 2305 Hutchinson Ave., Leesburg, disbarred. Germain did not competently represent a client who was the victim of domestic violence. Specifically, he did little to protect her. He did not help her to obtain an injunction, discouraged the criminal prosecution of the perpetrator and was misleading during the Bar’s investigation of the matter.

• Julian Andrews Hayes Jr., P.O. Box 271682, Tampa, suspended for 30 days. In five separate instances, Hayes was retained and failed to adequately communicate with the clients.

• Karen Sue Keaton, P.O. Box 1139, St. Petersburg, to be publicly reprimanded. Keaton violated conflict-of-interest rules. Keaton represented a client in various estate planning, tax and corporate law matters. The client subsequently established a charitable trust and named Keaton as trustee. She was also legal counsel for the charitable trust. Several of the private mortgage loans Keaton made as trustee went into default. The charitable trust had $200,000 in May 2008 and $70,000 in July 2009.

• Curtis P. Leonard, P.O. Box 985, Tavares, disbarred. Leonard was charged in November 2013 with one count of witness tampering and one count of conspiracy to commit witness tampering, both first-degree felonies. In May, he entered a plea to accessory after the fact to witness tampering, a first-degree misdemeanor.

• Virgil L. Light, P.O. Box 6760, North Port, disbarred. Light collected excessive fees, did not perform services, failed to appear at court hearings and failed to communicate with clients. He became ineligible to practice law in October 2012 and continued to practice without informing the clients of his ineligibility. He also failed to respond to a Bar inquiry and he did not contact the grievance committee investigating member.

• Gregory A. Martin, 1925 Brickell Ave., Suite D202, Miami, permanently disbarred. On several occasions Martin mishandled trust funds and facilitated a fraud upon innocent third parties by disbursing escrow funds before the conditions precedent to release of the funds occurred. Also, while a shareholder at the law firm of Adorno & Yoss, Martin violated his employment agreement by stealing firm clients and fees while employed by the firm. A Bar investigation found Martin maintained two separate trust accounts outside of the firm through which literally millions of dollars of trust-related funds passed.

• Matthew David O’Brien, 1580 Bay Road, Apt. 731, Miami Beach, suspended for 90 days. In July 2013, O’Brien was charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance, a third-degree felony.

• Thomas Harold Ostrander, 514 27th St. W., Bradenton, to be publicly reprimanded. In April 2006, Ostrander was appointed to represent a client in a criminal case. In November 2010, the client was sentenced to 30 months in prison on a felony conviction. Ostrander failed to respond to the client’s phone calls or emails for five months. In June 2011, after telling the client that he’d file the initial brief, within 10 days, he filed it in August 2011, but did not keep the client informed about the status of the appeal. Ostrander also failed to timely respond to the Bar’s inquiry regarding the matter.

• Sarah Michelle Pashaee, 124 Hanging Moss Drive, Oviedo, suspended for 18 months. Pashaee engaged in a course of conduct involving loan modification matters that resulted in numerous client complaints against her or her law firm, Aldridge Law Group. Although Pashaee was solely licensed to practice law in Florida, she operated a law firm out of California where she had resided since in or about 2011 with mail being sent to an Orlando address. There was no bona fide office in Orlando. Mail and telephone messages were received in Florida and forwarded to Pashaee in California. Pashaee’s staff solicited clients for loan modification cases across the United States based upon leads she had purchased from an Internet company. Due to Pashaee’s failure to supervise her staff, clients and potential clients received inaccurate information from the law firm, were promised unrealistic results or failed to receive adequate communications from the firm.

• Ali Andrew Shakoor, 3801 Corporex Park Drive, Suite 210, Tampa, to be publicly reprimanded and placed on probation for one year. Shakoor represented his sister in her dissolution of marriage proceedings in Ohio, on a pro hac vice admission. His status was revoked due to his failure to properly associate with a local co-counsel who was to have been actively involved in the case. During the representation, Shakoor filed five emotionally charged motions and pleadings, including inappropriate and disparaging remarks about the opposing party and the opposing counsel.

• Loring Noel Spolter, 1301 E. Broward Blvd., Suite 330, Fort Lauderdale, disbarred effective immediately. Spolter represented four clients in cases pending before the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida. The judge hearing the cases found that Spolter violated rules of civil procedure by publicly making disparaging remarks about him, alleging bias and other misconduct.

• Mark P. Stopa, 447 Third Ave. N., Suite 405, St. Petersburg, to be publicly reprimanded by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar at a time and date to be determined by the board. Further, Stopa is directed to attend ethics school. Stopa drafted a motion by oral dictation and did not revise or review once it was typed. As a result, he failed to remove inappropriate language before it was filed with the court. In the motion, Stopa impugned the integrity of the judge.

• David C. Ullman, 1316 S. Highland Park Drive, Lake Wales, disbarred. Ullman was sentenced on a felony charge of using a computer to seduce a child.

• Antonina Vaznelis, 8235 River Country Drive, Spring Hill, to be publicly reprimanded by publication in the Southern Reporter and further placed on probation for five years. Vaznelis represented a trustee in the administration of a complex estate with multiple beneficiaries. She also represented parties in interrelated trust and estate cases. Over a period of many years, Vaznelis failed to timely marshal assets and administer the trusts and estates. When contacted by an attorney for a surviving beneficiary, Vaznelis failed to respond.

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