Monthly Archives: October 2015

LegalZoom settles multi-million dollar antitrust suit against the North Carolina State Bar with agreement to continue operating

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent agreement between LegalZoom and the North Carolina State Bar which will apparently settle its multi-million dollar antitrust lawsuit which was filed in the North Carolina Middle District in June 2015.  The agreement has certain conditions and would allow LegalZoom to continue operating in that state.  My Ethics Alert blog discussing the federal antitrust lawsuit is here:  https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/legalzoom-files-federal-antitrust-lawsuit-against-the-north-carolina-state-bar-citing-2015-ussc-dental-board-case/

LegalZoom filed the antitrust lawsuit in June 2015 seeking $10.5 million in damages for the alleged antitrust violations and based on the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion which struck down the enforcement of regulations by North Carolina’s dental board, which attempted to prohibit teeth whitening by non-dentists.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the regulation of a profession by licensees in the same profession violated antitrust regulations.  The case is North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, No. 13–534. (USSC February 25, 2015).  That opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-534_19m2.pdf and my Ethics Alert blog on the case is here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/u-s-supreme-court-opinion-finds-that-there-is-no-automatic-antitrust-immunity-for-state-professional-licensing-boards/

According to media reports, LegalZoom and the North Carolina State Bar have agreed to settle the pending antitrust lawsuit.  Under the terms of the settlement, LegalZoom will agree to have its documents reviewed by North Carolina lawyers and inform its customers that the blank templates are not a substitute for advice from an attorney. The North Carolina State Bar also agreed to allow LegalZoom to continue to operate in the state and to support proposed legislation designed to clarify the definition of the “unauthorized practice of law”. Both parties agreed to support pending legislation permitting interactive legal-help websites if the websites abide by the basic terms of the settlement agreement.

The North Carolina State Bar had criticized and fought LegalZoom’s activities since 2008, although the company had been approved to operate in the state in 2003.  Legal challenges to LegalZoom’s activities have either ended or are not being pursued in other states and the North Carolina effort was the only ongoing effort to change LegalZoom’s business model.  According to reports, LegalZoom states that the agreement is on the same terms that it proposed in 2011 but the Bar refused the offer.

According to an article in the ABA Journal in 2014, LegalZoom is planning to offer more services to consumers and small businesses, including routine legal advice using both lawyers and non-lawyers.  According a LegalZoom news release, the company is increasing its services to include prepaid legal service plans in various states in addition to preparation of online documents, and it also plans to launch more services in North Carolina and other states this year.

Bottom line:  If this settlement is approved, it would appear to be a victory for LegalZoom and its activities, with certain modifications, including the requirement that its documents be reviewed by lawyers and that it informs its customers that the blank templates are not a substitute for obtaining advice from an attorney.  We will see how this plays out in North Carolina and in the other states and jurisdictions, including Florida.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this blog is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Bar antitrust, BAR UPL antitrust, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Unauthorized practice of law, Unlicensed practice of law, Unlicensed practice of law antitrust lawsuit

New York paralegal indicted for allegedly creating more than 100 false settlement orders and forging signatures of 76 judges

 

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Indictment of a New York paralegal for allegedly creating more than 100 false structured settlement orders and forging the signatures of 76 supreme court  judges.  The case is State of New York v. Thomas Rubino and the 234 count Indictment is here: http://nylawyer.nylj.com/adgifs/decisions15/091715indictment.pdf

According to the Indictment, Thomas Rubino was a paralegal at a personal injury firm and he allegedly forged the signatures of 76 state Supreme Court justices to create more than 100 false judicial orders in structured settlement matters.  Rubino has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A September 16, 2015 press release by New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. states:

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, from July 2010 to October 2013, RUBINO was employed as a paralegal for Paris & Chaikin a law firm located on West 34th Street in Manhattan. Paris & Chaikin represents structured settlement companies in the purchasing of structured settlement rights – money owed to an individual from an insurance claim settlement, such as a personal injury matter, generally paid in installments over the course of several years. Structured settlement companies purchase an individual’s settlement rights in return for a lump sum payment. This practice is regulated in New York State and each transaction requires the approval of a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court to ensure that each transfer is in the best interest of the individual.

Beginning in December 2010, RUBINO served as the law firm’s primary employee handling structured settlement acquisitions. In this role, the clients would email him directly with a transaction that required approval. RUBINO was supposed to draft the required court documents and file them in the court in the appropriate county in New York State.

Between approximately late June 2011 and October 2013, RUBINO forged the signature of 76 justices on 117 documents that purported to be judicial orders approving the transfer of structured settlements. The defendant used a pair of scissors to cut a judge’s signature from a legitimate document, and then taped that signature onto the fake order that he created. After RUBINO transmitted the forged judicial orders to the clients, the clients released the funds to the individuals and sold the annuities to third parties.

In late 2013, the legitimacy of at least two transfers processed by RUBINO was called into question. Fearing detection, the defendant told the law firm that he had a family emergency and needed to leave immediately. He never returned.

According to the Indictment and court documents, Rubino met with prosecutors four times and “fully confessed to these crimes.”  A voluntary disclosure form filed in the case has four statements allegedly made by Rubino to the prosecutors, including “I couldn’t keep up with the work, and I felt like I couldn’t leave so I created the forged orders.”

Rubino also said that he received a letter from a judge asking the firm to appear because the local clerk’s office could not locate an order; however, he hid the letter in his desk and did not tell anyone. He said “I knew I had been caught” and he left the firm soon after that.  The firm’s partners apparently did not know about his alleged misconduct.

According to the District Attorney’s statement, “the structured settlement process is regulated in New York for a very important reason—to protect the best interests of the individuals receiving settlements.”  “(Rubino) caused financial harm to the companies that relied on the legitimacy of the process, deprived the individuals of their right to protection, and undermined the authority of State Supreme Court justices.”

Bottom line: This is a very scary example of a paralegal apparently gone extremely wild.  If the partners and other lawyers did not know what was going on, there may be a serious issue of lack of supervision.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Paralegal misconduct, Paralegal misconduct false orders and judge signatures

Florida lawyer permanently disbarred for, inter alia, soliciting and making misrepresentations on website and representing clients in other states

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court Order approving the Report of Referee and permanently disbarring a Florida lawyer for soliciting over the internet and representing clients in states in which she was not admitted, lack of diligence and communication, making false statements, and failing to respond to the allegations.  The case is: The Florida Bar v. Alma C. Defillo, Case No. SC15-593 (August 28, 2015).  The Order is here: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/4C69AF1FB7B03A1285257EB4000922AC/$FILE/_27.PDF.

According to the Report of Referee, which is attached, The Florida Bar filed a 6 count Complaint against the lawyer and a Request for Admissions on March 31, 2015.  The lawyer failed to respond and the referee entered a default and “the matters pled in the Bar’s Complaint became the substantive facts in this case by operation of law.”

“(R)espondent, despite being only a member of The Florida Bar, also maintained offices in North and South Carolina given her immigration practice. As a result of respondent’s significant misconduct in South Carolina (detailed below), the South Carolina Supreme Court permanently debarred respondent in that state. In order to protect the interests of respondent’s South Carolina clients, the South Carolina Supreme Court appointed a Receiver. The Florida Bar was able to track down some of respondent’s files and has been cooperating with the Receiver to provide the files of respondent’s South Carolina clients that are in the Bar’s possession.”

The Report states that the lawyer represented various clients who were residents of North Carolina and South Carolina in immigration/INS matters.  The clients complained that the lawyer failed to communicate with them, lacked diligence, and did not perform any services on their behalf.  In addition, according to the Report:

On November 1, 2013, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) of the Supreme Court of South Carolina charged respondent with violations of their Rules.

Although respondent is not admitted in South Carolina, she maintained a law office, advertised, and offered legal services there.

The ODC charged respondent with writing to state judicial officers regarding her South Carolina clients’ criminal cases in violation of Rules 7.1 and 7.5(a)&(d) South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct (“SCRPC”) and Rule 407 South Carolina Appellate Court Rules (“CSACR”).

Respondent’s letterhead and advertisements also failed to clarify that she was not admitted in South Carolina in violation of  Rules 5.5(b)(2), 7.1, and 7.5(a)&(b) SCRPC.

Similarly respondent’s website, available to residents of South Carolina and referencing her office in Greenville, contained misrepresentations and omitted facts necessary to make the contents considered as a whole not materially misleading in violation of Rule 7.1(a) SCRPC by failing to state that she was not admitted in South Carolina.

Additionally, respondent’s website advertised her experience in both criminal and family matters and offered to “analyze the facts of [her prospective client’s] cases by applying current … State Laws” in violation of Rules 5.5(b)(2) and 7.1(a) SCRPC.

Respondent’s website misleadingly referred to “lawyers” and “attorneys” when in fact, respondent was a sole practitioner in violation of Rules 7.1(a) and 7.5(d) SCRPC.

Respondent’s website compared her services to other lawyers in a way that could not be factually substantiated in violation of Rule 7.1(c) SCRPC.

Respondent’s website used “specialist” and “expert” in violation of Rule 7.4(b) SCRPC despite not being certified by the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Respondent’s business cards and other print advertisements, regarding her Greenville office, failed to disclose that respondent was not admitted in South Carolina in violation of Rules 5.5(b)(2) and 7.1(a) SCRPC.

Respondent’s radio advertisements, disseminated in South Carolina, failed to disclose that respondent was not admitted in South Carolina in violation of Rules 5.5(b)(2) and 7.1(a) SCRPC.

Respondent, despite initially cooperating with the investigation in South Carolina, then failed to respond in violation of Rule 8.1(b) SCRPC.

Based on respondent’s failure to respond, the ODC noticed respondent for an interview. Respondent failed to appear in violation of 8.1(b) SCRPC.

In respondent’s initial response to ODC, she misrepresented that her practice was limited to immigration law and that she had not communicated otherwise in any way in violation of Rule 7(a) Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement (“RLDE”).

By virtue of the foregoing respondent also violated Rules 7(a)(1)&(3) RLDE and Rules 407 & 413 SCACR by violating or attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct and failing to respond to a lawful demand from a disciplinary authority.

On July 29, 2014, based on the charges filed by ODC, the Supreme Court of South Carolina entered its Order permanently debarring respondent from seeking any form of admission to practice in South Carolina and from advertising or soliciting business in South Carolina without first seeking leave of that Court. The Court also ordered that respondent complete the South Carolina Bar’s Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School and Advertising Workshop before asking leave of the Court to practice or advertise.

The Report further states:  “Respondent is currently serving a one-year suspension in SC14-1419, TFB File Nos. 2012-00,321(4B) and 2013-00,832(4B). Additionally, Respondent was recently held in contempt for her failure to respond to the two initial grievances herein and was therefore also suspended indefinitely in SC15-293, TFB File No. 2015-00,468(4B).”

After considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances, case law, and the Florida Standards for Lawyer Sanctions, the referee recommended permanent disbarment and payment of the Bar’s costs.  The lawyer did not request review of the recommendation and the Supreme Court adopted the Report of Referee and permanently disbarred the lawyer.  The Supreme Court approved the Report of Referee and permanently disbarred the lawyer.

The lawyer was also permanently barred from practicing law in South Carolina in 2014 and my blog on that case here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/south-carolina-supreme-court-prohibits-another-florida-lawyer-from-practicing-law-who-solicited-over-the-internet-made-misrepresentations-and-represented-clients/

Bottom line: This lawyer was advertising for clients in immigration matters on the internet and made misrepresentations regarding the scope and location of her practice.  The lawyer also was negligent, failed to communicate with clients, and failed to perform services.  This shows how the internet can be misused by a lawyer to obtain clients in other states in which the lawyer is not admitted to practice.

Let’s be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, dishonesty, Florida Bar, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer lack of communication with client, Lawyer lack of diligence, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer permanent disbarment, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer sanctions for unlicensed practice of law, Lawyer unlicensed practice of law, Unauthorized practice of law

Florida Bar will not prohibit non-certified lawyers from making “objectively verifiable” claims of specialization/expertise

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert update which will discuss the fallout from the September 30, 2015 Order and injunction by U.S. Northern District of Florida Judge Robert Hinkle finding that the Florida Bar Rule prohibiting truthful claims of expertise without certification is unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement.  The order is in Searcy et al. v. The Florida Bar et al., case number 4:13-cv-00664 (U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida).  The order is attached and is in Pacer here:  https://ecf.flnd.uscourts.gov/doc1/04914695967

As I reported in my December 23, 2013 and October 2, 2015 Ethics Alert blogs, the Florida law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. filed a federal lawsuit against The Florida Bar in December 2013 after the Bar found that language on the law firm’s website violated of Florida Bar Rule 3-7.14, which prohibits claims of expertise unless a lawyer is Florida Bar Board certified in that area of practice, whether truthful or not.

The Florida Bar advised the Searcy Denny law firm that it was prohibited from claiming that it “specializes or has expertise in mass-tort or unsafe-product cases, or even in personal-injury cases, even though the firm undeniably has expertise in these areas.”  The Order also stated: “ Nor can any individual attorney claim to specialize or have expertise in mass-tort or unsafe product cases, even if the attorney handles only cases of that kind, and even if the attorney has successfully handled many such cases.”

According to an article in the October 15, 2015, Florida Bar News by Gary Blankenship, “As a result of Hinkle’s ruling, the Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department, which reviews lawyer ads, has announced it will no longer find noncompliance for claims of specialization or expertise from non-certified lawyers.  ‘Instead, the Bar will point out to the filer that the advertisement makes claims of specialization or expertise, and the filer may use them only if the filer can objectively verify those claims’, Bar Ethics Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert said in a letter to Bar officials.”

Bottom line: The Florida Bar apparently has decided (at this point) to concede that a lawyer may claim that he or she specializes or has expertise in an area of practice even if the lawyer is not certified to practice in that area, with the important caveat that the lawyer must be able to “objectively verify” the claim of expertise or specialization (i.e. prove that it is truthful).

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2013 Florida comprehensive advertising rule revisions, Attorney Ethics, Florida 2013 advertising rules federal lawsuit, Florida 2013 comprehensive lawyer advertising rules, Florida Bar, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising specialties and certification, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism

Florida Supreme Court permanently disbars lawyer for “defiant and contemptuous conduct”, and practicing while suspended

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the October 8, 2015 Florida Supreme Court opinion which permanently disbarred a lawyer for contempt of his previous 2 year suspension order, threats to Bar counsel, and “unrepentant attitude”.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Jeffrey Alan Norkin, Case Nos. SC11-356 and No. SC13-2480.  The opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2015/sc11-1356.pdf

The lawyer was serving a two-year suspension which began in 2013 for “appalling and unprofessional behavior” during litigation over a dispute between business partners. He also received a public reprimand administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston in 2014.

According to the October 8, 2015 opinion, in the previous disciplinary case:

Respondent made threatening and disparaging statements to a senior judge, who had been appointed to serve as a provisional director by civil trial Judge Dresnick. This misconduct violated Rules Regulating the Florida Bar 4-8.2(a) (a lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, mediator, arbitrator, adjudicatory officer, or public legal officer) and 4-8.4(a) (a lawyer shall not violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct). Respondent also demonstrated unprofessional and antagonistic behavior during numerous hearings in the civil case. Respondent’s behavior was offensive to both Judge Dresnick and successor Judge Valerie Manno Schurr. His conduct also disrupted the proceedings, in violation of rule 4-3.5(c) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal).  Finally, Respondent made approximately ten disparaging or humiliating statements to opposing counsel. Respondent yelled insults at opposing counsel in the hallway of a courthouse in front of other attorneys. Respondent shouted in front of a judicial assistant and other attorneys that opposing counsel was a liar. Such misconduct was in violation of rule 4-8.4(d) (prohibiting an attorney from engaging in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against other lawyers on any basis).”

My previous blogs on the 2 year suspension case are here:

https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/florida-supreme-court-suspends-lawyer-for-2-years-for-appalling-and-unprofessional-behavior-including-screaming-at-judges-and-opposing-counsel/

and here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/florida-supreme-court-issues-in-person-public-reprimand-to-lawyer-suspended-for-2-years-for-appalling-and-unprofessional-behavior/

The Florida Bar filed a petition for contempt and order to show cause in December 2013 alleging that the lawyer failed to provide the required affidavit attesting to his notification to clients, opposing counsel, and judges that he was suspended.  The Bar filed an amended contempt petition in January 2015 alleging that the lawyer had practiced law after he was suspended by e-mailing opposing counsel regarding a pending case, discussing the results of a hearing, and preparing a pleading for his former client.

The amended contempt petition also requested that the lawyer be sanctioned for sending three offensive and threatening e-mails to Bar counsel and pointed out that the lawyer showed his contempt for the Court through his facial expressions and body language during the public reprimand.  The video of the lawyer’s 2014 public reprimand is here: http://www.wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/viewcase.php?eid=2129

According to the opinion, “(a)t the hearing on the motion for sanctions, the referee questioned Norkin about the e-mails and his behavior during the public reprimand administered by this Court.  In response, Norkin asserted his ‘right to speak freely and to express his beliefs in the manner of his choosing,’ and freely admitted that during the public reprimand, he intentionally smirked and stared down each Justice one by one.”

The referee granted summary judgment on the issue of the lawyer’s alleged practice of law while suspended and failure to notify clients, opposing counsel, and judges that he was suspended, found him in contempt.  For that and other misconduct, including “knowingly or through callous indifference disparaged, threatened, and humiliated bar counsel” by sending threatening e-mails, the referee recommended that the lawyer be disbarred.

The opinion affirmed the referee’s findings that: “Norkin’s e-mails to bar counsel referred to bar counsel as ‘evil’ and ‘despicable’; called the proceedings against him ‘the most unjust act in judicial history’; stated that bar counsel had no conscience; and stated, ‘I’m preparing the lawsuit against you. Keep an eye out.’”

The opinion further stated: “Given Norkin’s continuation of his egregious behavior following his suspension and during the administration of the public reprimand, we conclude that he will not change his pattern of misconduct.”  “Indeed, his filings in the instant case continue to demonstrate his disregard for this court, his unrepentant attitude, and his intent to continue his defiant and contemptuous conduct that is demeaning to this court, the court’s processes, and the profession of attorneys as a whole.”  The opinion affirmed the referee’s recommendation and permanently disbarred the lawyer.

Bottom line:  This opinion (presumably) concludes the very long saga of this lawyer’s prosecution by The Florida Bar and makes it clear that this lawyer continued to engage in extreme and outrageous behavior and practiced law after he was suspended and failed to comply with the suspension terms, which resulted in his permanent disbarment.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Lawyer Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer abusive e-mails, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer permanent disbarment for contempt of suspension order, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer threats and discipline, Lawyer unauthorized practice of law while suspended, Lawyer unlicensed practice of law, Lawyer violation of court order

Florida Supreme Court issues order to show cause and immediately suspends judge who cursed at and fought with public defender

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the October 6, 2015 Florida Supreme Court order which rejected the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) recommendation of a 120 day suspension for a judge who cursed at and fought with a public defender and ordered the judge to “show cause why removal from office is not the appropriate sanction in this case” by October 26, 2015.  The order also immediately suspended the judge without pay pending the disposition of the proceedings.  The JQC disciplinary case is Inquiry Concerning a Judge, Re: John C Murphy, Case No. SC-1582 (Fla. SC).  The Court’s October 6, 2015 order to show cause is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_10-06-2015_Order_to_Show_Cause.pdf#search=John C. Murphy

The judicial disciplinary charges resulted from a June 2, 2014 hearing in which the judge became upset with assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock after the lawyer refused to waive speedy trial for a client.  The judge told the lawyer: “You know if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of this. I don’t need your help. Sit down.”  The lawyer stated, in response: “I’m the public defender. I have a right to be here, and I have a right to stand and represent my clients.”

According to the JQC’s May 19, 2015 Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations, the judge “loudly commanded” the attorney to sit down and told him, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”  The public defender accepted the judge’s challenge and he and the judge left the bench and met in the hall.  To that point, the exchange was captured on courtroom video and audio recordings; however, the hall confrontation was not recorded on video.

The judge was audio recorded making “an even more profane remark” as he confronted the lawyer.  Sounds of an altercation could be heard, followed by the lawyer asking for the judge to be arrested for grabbing and punching him; however, the report concluded that there was no clear and convincing evidence that the judge struck the lawyer and noted that a woman who took the lawyer’s photo the following day testified that she saw no evidence of injury.  The report also noted that the lawyer had a reputation at the courthouse for being rude and unprofessional and that he was “defiant, defensive, evasive and at times testified inconsistent with what he had earlier reported” at the JQC hearing.  The report concluded that the lawyer was not a credible witness.

The JQC Findings state that the judge was well-liked among other judges and that he was endorsed by lawyers who said he was a good judge and expressed surprise at the situation. The judge also took responsibility for his actions and “expressed profound remorse”; however, the incident created “a remarkable national embarrassment” for Florida’s judiciary and its citizens.  The report recommended a three-month suspension, a $50,000 fine, costs of the proceedings, and a public reprimand.  The JQC Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations are online here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_05-19-2015_Findings_Conclusions_Recommendations.pdf

After the commission filed its Findings, the Supreme Court issued an order to show cause on May 21, 2015 as to why the recommendation should not be granted.  On June 25, 2015, the judge filed a response through counsel stating that he would not contest the recommendations; however, he called the sanctions harsh and possibly unprecedented and pointed out the burden his suspension would place on his colleagues.  The response stated that the judge immediately took responsibility for his actions, apologized for his mistake, and did not publicly respond to the lawyer’s allegedly false claims that he struck the lawyer.  The response referred to letters from lawyers and the public stating that he is “a good man and an excellent judge,” as opposed to the lawyer, who “left a trail of judges offended by his behavior.”

The judge’s response further states: “The sanctions recommended by the JQC indeed are harsh. Judge Murphy accepts them while recognizing how difficult it would be emotionally — being off the bench for four months — and financially. As for public scrutiny and ridicule, he knows it is of his own making, and he is shamed. Judge Murphy will not quarrel with the JQC recommendations.  Dozens of endorsements through this process identify Judge Murphy as a good man and a good and fair jurist. This one moment in time should not be allowed to define his life and career.”  The judge’s response is here:   http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_06-25-2015_Response_Order_Show_Cause.pdf#search=John C. Murphy

The JQC filed a reply on June 30, 2015 which states: “again, as he did at trial, (the judge) expends quite a bit of effort to deflect responsibility for the situation upon attorney Andrew Weinstock, minimizing the impact of his improper language and the aggressive physical confrontation in the hallway outside the courtroom directed at Mr. Weinstock. Compounding his misconduct he proceeded to handle the cases of seven separate clients of Mr. Weinstock after the confrontation in the hallway, including persuading five of them to waive speedy trial, the very act that Mr. Weinstock had steadfastly refused to do. Finally, he makes much of the fact that the Hearing Panel did not find that blows were actually struck, which is irrelevant under these circumstances.”

The JQC reply concludes: “A truly contrite Judge Murphy would avoid heaping blame on others, would accept without reservation the discipline proposed by the hearing panel in this matter, and would be grateful that removal was not recommended”.  “Instead, what we see is a grudging acceptance and a continued, major effort to deflect his own responsibility onto someone else for his egregious wrong.” The JQC reply is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_06-30-2015_JQC_Reply_Response_Show_Cause_Order.pdf#search=John C. Murphy

Bottom line: This incident was, of course, widely publicized in the media and the judge was both criticized and ridiculed (as well as the judiciary as a whole).  The JQC Findings recommended a 4 month suspension; however, the JQC reply was extremely critical of the judge’s response and stated that it was part of “ a continued, major effort to deflect his own responsibility onto someone else for his egregious wrong.”  I suspect that the Supreme Court was not happy with this incident in the first instance and this “deflection of responsibility” may have been a major factor (if not the main factor) in the Court’s order immediately suspending the judge and ordering him to show cause why he should not be removed from judicial office.  Stay tuned…

…and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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