Mitch Stone got the call March 12, 2013.
Kelly Mathis, a former Jacksonville Bar Association president, had been arrested and his office was being searched.
Stone said after picking his jaw up off the ground, he immediately drove to the Mathis & Murphy firm to see, sure enough, officers with various agencies in place.
Mathis was pegged as the “mastermind” of a supposed $300 million gambling ring operated by the Allied Veterans of the World. Mathis was the group’s legal counsel.
As keynote speaker, Stone told members of The Jacksonville Bar Association at its November meeting Friday that it was never about Mathis running an illegal gambling business.
“Kelly was put on trial for practicing law and nothing more,” Stone told the group, recalling the defense.
The entire issue, Stone told the crowd, will disturb them as lawyers.
Mathis was representing his client — why he was in the crosshairs is still a mystery to Stone.
Yet, Mathis wasn’t going to take a plea deal like others in the case. Stone said there was a mountain of evidence that would show the truth.
During four weeks of trial in Seminole County, Stone, law partner Lee Lockett and Mathis all were on the same routine: trial, gym, preparation, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat.
Stone went on to talk about the legal ins and outs of the defense work and how he and others thought for sure the case would end in their favor, only for a jury to side with the state.
Mathis was sentenced to six years in federal prison, but an appeal reversed that decision nearly three years to the day after Mathis was arrested. That’s where the case currently stands.
“The case is not yet over,” Stone told the crowd of about 200. “We’re not here to take a victory lap.”
Mathis is trying to have his law license reinstated by the Florida Supreme Court and is represented in that effort by Brian Tannebaum, of Miami-based Tannebaum Weiss.
Stone said Mathis “was and will soon be again” a tenacious, experienced lawyer.
From the crowd, Mathis looked on with his legal peers surrounding him. He didn’t speak during the event because the case is pending. However, when Stone introduced him, the room stood in ovation.
“Wow,” Mathis said about that response. “I just ... Wow.”
Mathis said he decided to attend Friday’s lunch because he wanted to let people know “that I am not hiding.”
“I am standing up for what’s right,” he said. “Always have and always will.”