from The Florida Bar
The Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 27 attorneys, disbarring 13, suspending 11 and placing one on probation. Some attorneys received more than one form of discipline. Two attorneys were publicly reprimanded. Four were ordered to pay restitution.
As an official agency of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the 88,000-plus lawyers admitted to practice law in Florida.
Court orders are not final until time expires to file a rehearing motion and, if filed, determined. The filing of such a motion does not alter the effective date of the discipline.
Disbarred lawyers may not reapply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that rejects many who apply. It includes a rigorous background check and retaking the bar exam. Historically, less than 5 percent of disbarred lawyers seek readmission.
The following lawyers are disciplined:
• Linnie Charles Williams, Jacksonville, disbarred effective immediately, following a December 23, 2009, court order. In December 2007, Williams was suspended from practicing law for one year. He failed to pay the costs associated with his suspension and he continued to practice law while suspended. (Case No. SC09-1738)
• Frank Elie Amsalem, Aventura, suspended for one year, effective 30 days from a Jan. 7 court order. After his divorce, Amsalem failed to willingly make child support and alimony payments. At one point, he was jailed and given an income deduction order. (Case No. SC09-259)
• Matthews Ryan Bark, Orlando, placed on emergency probation for an indefinite period of time, effective immediately, following a Feb. 9 court order. Bark agreed to participate in a rehabilitation program offered by Florida Lawyers Assistance Inc. (Case No. SC10-145)
• Jerome Berg, San Francisco, disbarred effective 30 days from a Jan. 21 court order. This is a reciprocal discipline action. Berg was disbarred in California in 1998. He mishandled the billing of 41 cases. Berg also billed a client prior to work being done, overcharged the agreed per hour amount and continued to bill after the client terminated the contract. It was later determined that he had over-billed approximately $250,000. In another instance, Berg represented a client in personal injury claims arising from two separate car accidents. Upon settling the cases, Berg issued himself a check in excess of the attorney client agreement. Although the client disputed the fee, Berg failed to reimburse the trust fund. He also failed to make timely disbursements to the client. (Case No. SC08-957)
• Daniel Newton Brodersen, Winter Garden, suspended for one year, effective 30 days from a Dec. 3, 2009, court order. During the course of representing a client in a foreclosure matter, Brodersen created fraudulent letters and lied under oath. (Case No. SC09-113)
• Maria Soledad Estevez, Miami, suspended for six months effective 30 days from a Jan. 7 court order. Further, Estevez shall pay restitution of $2,500 to one client and $1,614 to another client. In two separate instances, Estevez was hired to represent clients and she failed to communicate or take any action. She neglected to respond to Florida Bar inquiries regarding the cases, and she failed to cooperate with the grievance committee during its investigations. (Case No. SC09-1309)
• Andrew Stuart Forman, Tampa, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following a Jan. 21 court order. Forman represented a company in a foreclosure sale and received $308,000 to be held in trust for use at the sale. When the funds were not needed for the foreclosure, Forman disbursed the funds for his own purposes, without the permission of the client. He subsequently failed and refused to return the funds to the client. (Case No. SC09-1029)
• Mitchell Eric Fox, Plantation, disbarred effective immediately, following a Jan. 7 court order. Further, Fox shall pay restitution to all former clients who suffered as a result of his misconduct. On numerous occasions between 2005 and 2008, Fox misappropriated thousands of dollars in client trust funds. He failed to produce all subpoenaed records requested by The Florida Bar, including bank statements, canceled checks, cash disbursements and client ledgers. (Case No. SC09-1305)
• Kirsten Elizabeth Franklin, suspended for three years effective 30 days from a Jan. 7 court order. Further, Franklin shall pay restitution to 16 clients in the amount of $20,923.00. She formed a real estate law group and entered into an agreement with a non-lawyer. Under the terms of the agreement, she became responsible for approximately 600 client files. When the business relationship was severed, Franklin abandoned all legal representation and she failed to notify the clients and the courts of her termination of services. She also failed to refund clients fees. (Case No. SC09-2301)
• George Louis Garcia, Miami, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following a Jan. 8 court order. Garcia was found in contempt of a May 25, 2000, Supreme Court order, in which he received a three-year suspension effective retroactive to Aug. 8, 1998. While under suspension, Garcia worked as a real estate paralegal and conducted numerous fraudulent real estate transactions involving improper disbursements from his employer’s trust account. (Case No. SC06-1881)
• Delmer C. Gowing, III, Ocean Ridge, disbarred for five years, effective immediately, following a Jan. 21 court order. Further, Gowing shall pay restitution of $10,000 to one client. Gowing misappropriated client funds. He also issued multiple worthless checks from his operating account. (Case No. SC09-1311)
• Heather Mary Ann Gray, Riverview, suspended for three years, effective immediately, following a Jan. 21 court order. In numerous instances, Gray was paid to represent clients and she failed to diligently pursue their cases or communicate with them. She also failed to respond to Bar inquiries regarding client complaints. (Case No. SC09-1121)
• Gary John Hausler, Naples, disbarred effective immediately, following a Jan. 7 court order. Hausler received $80,000 from clients to be used for a loan transaction. The intended borrower subsequently died and Hausler disbursed the money for his own benefit without the clients’ permission. (Case No. SC09-1081)
• John Vernon Head, Orlando, suspended for one year, and thereafter, until he proves rehabilitation, effective 30 days from a Jan. 7 court order. Head knowingly made a false statement to a court and others in the course of representing a client in a bankruptcy case. Head was previously disciplined for similar misconduct. (Case No. SC07-2398)
• Thomas Lemuel Hurst, Miami, suspended effective immediately, following a Jan. 13 court order. Hurst failed to comply with a grievance committee subpoena in August 2009, which required him to appear and produce trust account records. (Case No. SC09-1854)
• J.A. Jurgens, Longwood, disbarred for five years, effective retroactive to June 22, 2009, the date of his emergency suspension, following a Jan. 7 court order. Further, Jurgens is ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,783.59 to one client. Jurgens misappropriated funds from his trust account on 12 separate occasions between November 2008 and March 2009. Jurgens also failed to follow trust accounting rules and he failed to promptly deliver funds to a client. (Case No. SC09-1312)
• Maria Teresa Lopez, Coral Gables, permanently disbarred, effective immediately, following a Jan. 21 court order. Lopez was involved in problematic real estate transactions including: the failure to satisfy mortgages and flipping (compound transactions that were conducted simultaneously). She also commingled funds by placing client funds in her operating and personal accounts and has improperly disbursed clients’ funds or funds designated to pay off mortgages or other obligations to sellers and/or third parties. Lopez was suspended in October 2008. (Case No. SC08-2412)
• Elaine Offord McKillop, North Miami Beach, disbarred effective 30 days from a Jan. 21 court order. McKillop conspired with another individual in the fraudulent conveyance of real estate. She also misappropriated client funds, failed to present proper documentation during a required audit and gave inconsistent testimonies regarding the misuse of client money. (Case No. SC09-564)
• James Joseph Moran, Rochester, N.Y., suspended for 18 months, effective immediately following a Jan. 21 court order. This is a reciprocal discipline case. Moran, who is also a member of the New York State Bar, was initially suspended in Florida in September 2009. Between 1997 and 2005, Moran funded through intermediaries more than 200 loans to clients totaling more than $700,000. He engaged in deceptive conduct in order to conceal from clients and others that he was the source of the loans. He also failed to report interest earned on the loans as income on his tax returns. (Case No. SC09-1841)
• Claire Stevenson Myers, Melbourne, publicly reprimanded in the Southern Reporter, following a Jan. 7 court order. Myers was hired to represent a client in dissolution of marriage case. After becoming ill, Myers failed to adequately communicate with the client. She closed her law office without informing the client and took no steps to ensure that alternate counsel completed the case. (Case No. SC09-1472)
• Okechukwu Josiah Odunna, Lauderhill, disbarred effective immediately, following a Jan. 21 court order. Odunna failed to comply with any trust accounting requirements mandated by The Florida Bar, and he intentionally commingled his own funds with those of his clients on a regular basis. Odunna was emergency suspended in January 2009 for trust fund irregularities. (Case No. SC09-404)
• Deborah K. Rice, Parkland, suspended until further order, effective immediately, following a Jan. 11 court order. In March 2009, Rice pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud—felonies. (Case No. SC10-25)
• Tashi Iana Richards, Pembroke Pines, disbarred effective immediately, following a Jan. 21 court order. Richards issued a trust account check for $13,000, which was returned due to insufficient funds; she failed to maintain her trust account and misappropriated the funds of several clients. Richards failed to respond to a number of subpoenas from The Florida Bar. Richards was emergency suspended in June 2009. (Case No. SC09-1317).
• Lawrence Charles Roberts, Fort Lauderdale, publicly reprimanded in the Southern Reporter, following a Jan. 28 court order. Roberts gave gifts to a judge upon his request in order to receive special public defender appointments from the judge. Roberts failed to report the conduct to the Judicial Qualifications Commission or The Florida Bar. (Case No. SC09-1790)
• David Joseph Sockol, St. Petersburg, suspended until further order, effective March 24, following a Jan. 25 court order. In January, Sockol was adjudicated guilty of driving under the influence. (Case No. SC10-96)
• Joseph Anthony Troiano, Fort Myers, disbarred on consent, effective 30 days from a Feb. 25 court order. Troiano misappropriated client trust funds. He also wrote bad checks totaling more than $190,000. (Case No. SC10-48)
• Lane Waring Vaughn, 6006 Chrystell Lane, Houston, Texas, suspended for three years, effective 30 days from a Feb. 1 court order. Vaughn was found in contempt of court by two separate courts for his willful refusal to pay child support, having the financial ability to pay. (Case No. SC08-1746)