Category Archives: Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism

Florida 4th DCA finds fee agreement arbitration clause unenforceable since the clause failed to comply with Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i)

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Florida 4th District Court of Appeal opinion which held that an arbitration clause in a fee agreement was unenforceable since it violated Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) by failing to advise the client to consider consulting independent counsel.  The case style is Lindsay Owens v. Katherine L. Corrigan & KLC Law P.A., No. 4D17-2740, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 9174 (Fourth DCA June 27, 2018) and the opinion is here: https://www.4dca.org/content/download/244172/2149993/file/172740_1709_06272018_09290264_i.pdf

According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a three-count legal malpractice action against the defendants alleging negligent representation in a dependency case, which caused her to lose custody of her children. The defendants moved to dismiss the litigation since the plaintiff had signed a fee agreement requiring her to submit the dispute to binding arbitration. The fee agreement included the following arbitration clause:

Any controversy, dispute or claim arising out of or relating to our fees, charges, performance of legal services, obligations reflected in this letter, or other aspects of our representation shall be resolved through binding arbitration in Broward County, Florida, in accordance with the Fee Arbitration Rule (Chapter 14) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, and judgment on the award may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof. [YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT BY AGREEING TO ARBITRATION YOU ARE RELINQUISHING YOUR RIGHT TO BRING AN ACTION IN COURT AND TO A JURY TRIAL.]

The trial court dismissed the litigation, finding that the parties had “entered into an agreement to arbitrate that was not waived.”  On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court’s order violated her right to due process by denying her a proper forum; the arbitration clause in the fee agreement was unenforceable because it violated Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) by failing to include the independent counsel notice required under the rule; and the arbitration provision was ambiguous as to whether it required arbitration of a legal malpractice claim.

The opinion addressed plaintiff’s Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) argument, finding it to be dispositive. The opinion stated that there are three elements for a court to analyze in deciding whether the arbitration of a dispute will be required: whether there is a valid written agreement to arbitrate; whether an arbitrable issue exists; and whether the right to arbitration was waived.

Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) prohibits lawyers from making an agreement with a client for mandatory arbitration of fee disputes without providing the written Notice required by the rule, which includes advising the client that he or she should consider consulting with another lawyer and obtaining independent legal advice. Rule 4-1.5(i) provides:

(i) Arbitration Clauses. A lawyer shall not make an agreement with a potential client prospectively providing for mandatory arbitration of fee disputes without first advising that person in writing that the potential client should consider obtaining independent legal advice as to the advisability of entering into an agreement containing such mandatory arbitration provisions. A lawyer shall not make an agreement containing such mandatory arbitration provisions unless the agreement contains the following language in bold print: 

NOTICE: This agreement contains provisions requiring arbitration of fee disputes. Before you sign this agreement you should consider consulting with another lawyer about the advisability of making an agreement with mandatory arbitration requirements. Arbitration proceedings are ways to resolve disputes without use of the court system. By entering into agreements that require arbitration as the way to resolve fee disputes, you give up (waive) your right to go to court to resolve those disputes by a judge or jury. These are important rights that should not be given up without careful consideration. 

The defendants argued that Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) did not apply since there was no fee dispute; however, the opinion rejected that argument and found that, although the arbitration clause might require arbitration of matters other than fee disputes, the clause clearly violated the Florida Bar rule by failing to provide the required notice.

The opinion held that the fee agreement violated Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) and was unenforceable on its face since it required mandatory arbitration of future fee disputes without giving plaintiff the required written notice that the client “should consider obtaining independent legal advice as to the advisability of entering into an agreement containing such mandatory arbitration provisions.”

Bottom line:  This Florida appellate opinion held that mandatory arbitration clauses in fee agreements must comply with Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(i) and, as a part of that notice, the client must also be advised in writing to consider consulting with independent counsel.  If the clause fails to comply with these requirements, it is rendered unenforceable.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Referee recommends that former Florida judge who accepted Tampa Bay Rays tickets be suspended for 90 days and placed on probation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Report of Referee which recommends that former Lee County Judge John Lakin, who was alleged to have improperly accepted tickets to Tampa Bay Rays baseball games, be suspended from practice for 90 days and be placed on probation for one year.  The case is The Florida Bar v. John Francis Lakin, SC17-542.  The June 25, 2018 Report of the Referee is here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4564632-Referee-Report-Lakin.html

The Judicial Qualification Commission charged the judge with misconduct in 2016 alleging, inter alia, that he had requested and received Tampa Bay Rays tickets from a law firm in 2015 while presiding over a pending case in which the law firm represented one of the parties.  A jury ruled in favor of opposing party; however, the judge subsequently reversed that verdict in favor of the law firm’s client.  Five of the tickets that the judge received were given to him the day before he reversed the jury verdict.  The judge denied that the receipt of the tickets influenced his actions and later retired from the bench and went into private practice.

The Florida Bar filed a Complaint in March 2017 alleging that the lawyer violated Bar Rules related to dishonesty, deceitfulness, misrepresentation and/or fraud.  The referee assigned to hear the Bar matter recommended that the former judge’s law license be suspended for 90 days, and that he be placed on supervised probation one year, complete the Bar’s practice and professionalism enhancement program, “speak to new judges” about the circumstances, and pay the Bar’s costs of $5,244.00.

Under the Florida Bar rules, the referee’s report will now be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, which will render a final disciplinary opinion.  The judge and The Florida Bar can file a petition with the Court to review the findings and file briefs.

Bottom line:  This former judge accepted tickets from lawyers who were representing a party before him on a pending case and, soon after receiving the tickets, made a ruling which favored that law firm’s clients.   Even if the tickets did not influence the judge’s decision, the circumstances would certainly seem to create an appearance of impropriety and an arguable violation of the Judicial Canons.  The referee has now recommended that the judge be found guilty of Florida Bar Rule violations and suspended from practicing law for 90 days.  The Florida Supreme Court will now decide whether the referee’s findings will be upheld.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Florida lawyer disbarred for soliciting and having sex with 2 clients while they were incarcerated in jail

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer who had solicited and sex with 2 clients in they were incarcerated in jail.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Blackburn, No. SC17-1514 and the opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc17-1514.pdf

The Florida Bar’s complaint alleged that the lawyer visited the 2 female clients in jail in Duval County on September 3, 2016.  He deposited money in one client’s bank account to pay for the sex and promised another client free or discounted legal services in exchange for sex.  The lawyer was arrested and pled no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge in the underlying criminal matter on May 25, 2017.

According to media reports, the lawyer showed the clients pornographic images before having sexual contact with them.  One of the clients said then made sexual advances towards her by touching her and forcing her to touch him.  Jail employees became suspicious when they noticed that the lights were out in the room. Criminal investigators also obtained a recorded telephone call that one of the clients made to her friend from the jail explaining what happened.

The Florida Bar and the lawyer entered into a consent agreement for an 18 month suspension with the conditions that the lawyer attend the Florida Bar’s Ethics School, contact Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. (FLA, Inc.) to schedule an evaluation and abide by all recommendations made by FLA, Inc., and pay the Bar’s costs of $1,688.51 before he could be reinstated.  The referee approved the agreement; however, the Court, in a unanimous opinion, disbarred the lawyer.  The lawyer had previously been suspended for 30 days in December 2014 for minor misconduct related to his handling of a child custody case.

The May 24, 2018 opinion states:

“Furthermore, the Court has moved toward imposing harsher sanctions, see Florida Bar v. Herman, 8 So. 3d 1100, 1108 (Fla. 2009), and has stated that it ‘will strictly enforce the rule against lawyers engaging in sexual conduct with a client that exploits the lawyer-client relationship.’ Fla. Bar v. Bryant, 813 So. 2d 38, 44 (Fla. 2002); see Fla. Bar v. Samaha, 557 So. 2d 1349, 1350 (Fla. 1990) (‘Even the slightest hint of sexual coercion or intimidation directed at a client must be avoided at all costs.’).

“In summary, evidenced by this Court’s case law, under no circumstances should an attorney representing a client expose that client to unwanted sexual relations of any kind. Respondent’s conduct, which exploited his clients’ circumstances for his own personal benefit, ‘breeds contempt and distrust of lawyers,’ ‘demonstrates severe moral turpitude,’ and such actions ‘are wholly inconsistent with approved professional standards.’ McHenry, 605 So. 2d at 461.”

Bottom line:  This lawyer engaged in highly improper and criminal conduct and consented to an 18 month suspension; however, the Florida Supreme Court disagreed with that agreement and imposed disbarment.

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, advice and representation of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

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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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida Bar’s Board of Governors considers rule revisions prohibiting misleading Google ad words and permitting credit charges to clients

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the Board of Governor’s review of potential revisions to Florida Bar Rules 4-7.13, which would prohibit misleading words and phrases in Google ad words, and revisions to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(h), which would permit lawyers to charge a client the actual cost of accepting a credit payment.

The Bar Board of Governor’s backup materials regarding proposed revised Bar Rule 4-1.5(h) indicate that the basis for the proposed rule change is a potential allegation of an improper restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The Bar’s recent summaries of the proposed rule revisions and their status in the BOG review process are below.

PROPOSED ADVERTISING RULE CHANGES 

The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics will be considering a request for a rule amendment (to Rule 4-7.13) that would state it is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the Internet or other media, including directly or through a group advertising program. For example, the proposal would ban the purchase of another lawyer’s name in Google ad words. The Board’s Citizens Advisory Committee also supports the amendment, stating that the practice is misleading, particularly to vulnerable consumers. 

FINAL ACTION ON CREDIT SERVICE CHARGES 

The Board will be taking final action on a proposed rule change that would delete the current prohibition against charging a service charge for client’s use of a credit plan and allow lawyers to charge the actual charge imposed on the lawyer by the credit plan. Rule 4-1.5(h) currently permits lawyers to accept credit cards to pay for fees and costs, but prohibits lawyers from charging the client the credit card fee charged to the lawyer as a vendor.

Bottom line:  Proposed revised Rule 4-7.13, which would prohibit misleading Google ad words, would be consistent with other jurisdictions that have considered the issue.  Proposed revised Rule 4-1.5(h), which would permit a lawyer to require the client to pay the actual credit card charges would reverse the prior rule, which specifically prohibited requiring the client to pay such merchant charges.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Federal magistrate sanctions New York lawyer for lying about family emergency after Instagram posts showed she was on vacation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent opinion of a U.S. District Court magistrate sanctioning a New York lawyer who claimed that she missed a deadline because of a family emergency but was apparently on vacation.  The case is: Siu Ching Ha v. Baumgart Café of Livingston, Civil Action No. 15-5530 (ES) (MAH), and the magistrate’s opinion is here:  Ha v. Baumgart Café of Livingston Instagram sanctions

The lawyer, Lina Franco, and her co-counsel, John Troy, filed for an extension of time to file 16 days past the deadline to file a motion for conditional class certification.  The lawyer said she had to leave the country for the family emergency and submitted a flight itinerary showing she had flown from New York City to Mexico City on Thursday, November 21, 2016 and stayed there until December 8, 2016.

Opposing counsel filed a motion objecting to the extension and for sanctions claiming that Instagram photos from Franco’s public social media account indicated that she was in New York and then Miami during that period.  Franco told the magistrate that she had gone to Mexico City earlier in November and that her mother’s medical diagnosis sent her “into a tailspin” that caused her to miss the deadline and submit an erroneous itinerary.

The magistrate found that “November 21, 2016 was indisputably a Monday, not a Thursday” and, although Franco was in Mexico City in early November 2016, she was apparently in New York City when she missed the Nov. 23, 2016 deadline to file a motion for class certification in a wage-and-hour suit.  The magistrate found that Franco deliberately had misled the court and her co-counsel and that her “misrepresentations to the court clearly constitute bad faith and were unreasonable and vexatious, not simply a misunderstanding or well-intentioned zeal.”   The magistrate granted the motion and imposed sanctions against Franco in the amount of $10,000.00.

Franco was local counsel in the lawsuit and her co-counsel, Troy, was admitted into the case pro hac vice. Troy told the magistrate that he had e-mailed the motion to Franco on the afternoon of the deadline and had expected her to file it and he was unaware of her alleged family emergency. He said he did not follow up with Franco to make sure the motion was filed because he had worked with her in the past and believed that she was reliable.

Both Franco and opposing counsel sought to have Troy held jointly and severally responsible for the sanction; however, the magistrate did not agree, stating that “(e)ven assuming, solely for the sake of argument, that Mr. Troy had a duty to supervise Ms. Franco and was somehow derelict in discharging that duty, such dereliction falls well short of the standard to impose sanctions”.  Opposing counsel requested $44,283.00 in attorney fees and costs; however, the magistrate found that amount to be “unreasonably high” and ordered sanctions in the amount of $10,000.00 to be divided among the three opposing counsel.

Bottom line:  This is a very clear example of a lawyer whose false statements in court documents and in a court proceeding were exposed because of social media posts, in this case Instagram.

Be careful out there in our digital social media world…oh and don’t lie and post pictures on social media exposing the lie.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, deceit, dishonesty, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer sanctions false statements and Instagram photos, Lawyer sanctions for lying and posting on social media, Lawyer sanctions lying in court document

Florida Supreme Court rejects Bar proposed rule amendment on resolution of extraordinary liens in contingency matters

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert update blog which will discuss the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection of a proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(f) which would have permitted a lawyer to retain and pay another lawyer (or non-lawyer entity) to resolve extraordinary liens in contingency matters and pay that lawyer’s fee from the settlement proceeds.  I previously blogged about the proposed revisions to Rule 4-1.5(f) in my 6/6/13, 9/5/13, and 12/14/15 Ethics Alerts.

The October 6, 2016 Florida Supreme Court opinion rejected the Bar’s proposed amendment to Rule 4-1.5(f) which would have specifically permitted the lawyer/client to retain an “extraordinary lien and subrogation lawyer” to resolve extraordinary liens and be paid a fee by the client beyond the contingent fee.  The Florida Supreme Court opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc16-104.pdf

In rejecting the Florida Bar’s proposed amendment to 4-1.5(f), the opinion stated:

On balance, we wish to reemphasize that lawyers representing clients in personal injury, wrongful death, or other cases where there is a contingent fee should, as part of the representation, also represent those clients in resolving medical liens and subrogation claims related to the underlying case. This should be done at no additional charge to the client beyond the maximum contingency fee, even if the attorney outsources this work to another attorney or non-attorney.

Although it may be true that, given the increased complexity of modern litigation, there will be some cases where the amount of work required to resolve a lien is more than initially anticipated, the notion of the percentage fee contract contemplates that there will be some cases that are profitable for the lawyer handling the claim and others that are unprofitable. That risk and reward is built into the contingency fee contract. 

If the circumstances of a particular case are such that the fee generated under the contingency fee agreement is expected to be insufficient for the work of resolving any outstanding lien, the attorney and client can seek leave of court pursuant to rule 4-1.5(f)(4)(B)(ii) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar to obtain an increased fee appropriate for the circumstances of the specific case.  (emphasis supplied).

Bottom line:  Pursuant to the language in the Court’s opinion, lawyers should be wary of participating in an agreement with a third party in which the client would pay a percentage of any reduction in the lien amount or any other payment for the reduction/resolution of the lien.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert blog is for informational purposes only, 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar’s Board of Governors considers Bar Rule amendment prohibiting lawyers from using Google AdWords to misdirect results

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 which would prohibit a Florida lawyer from using the name of another lawyer or law firm to trigger a search result that includes an Internet advertisement of the first lawyer.  The Florida Bar Board of Governors Agenda Item Summary of the proposed rule amendment is  here: file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/Board_Agenda_Item_20c_Board_Numbering_March_2018.pdf

The Board Review Committee of the Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) is considering the amendment to Bar Rule 4-7.13 which would prohibit the unauthorized use of a lawyer’s name in metadata or Google AdWords to drive search results to a different lawyer’s website.  The BOG previously rejected a Bar Standing Committee on Advertising (SAC) opinion that reached the same conclusion, voting 23-19 to withdraw the opinion on December 13, 2013.

According to the Bar summary, the BOG voted to withdraw the SCA opinion “because the purchase of ad words (such as Google ad words or other search engines such as Yahoo or Bing) is permissible as long as the resulting advertisements or sponsored links clearly are advertising based on their placement and wording, and because meta tags and hidden text are outdated forms of web optimization that are penalized by search engines and can be dealt with via existing rules prohibiting misleading forms of advertising.”

The proposed amendment to Rule 4-7.13 and proposed comment are below:

(c) Using Names of Other Lawyers or Law Firms in Internet Advertising. It is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the Internet or other media. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the lawyer directly uses the other’s name or does so indirectly, such as through participation in a group advertising program.

Comment

Use of Other Lawyers’ Names

The reputation of a lawyer or law firm is valuable and is personal to that lawyer or law firm. A lawyer’s name and reputation may be the lawyer’s greatest professional asset. Principles of professionalism, as well as the bar’s interest in protecting the public by preventing deceptive advertising, dictate that a lawyer’s name should not intentionally be used by another lawyer in an Internet advertising scheme or campaign. A lawyer’s intentional use of another’s name as keywords or search terms in order to attract prospective clients to the lawyer’s advertising is a misuse of the other’s name and reputation and is inherently misleading or deceptive.

Bottom line:  The proposed amendment will again be on the BOG agenda at its next meeting in May 2018.  If approved by the BOG and implemented by the Florida Supreme Court, this Bar rule amendment would prohibit a lawyer from purchasing internet search engine or other key words which misdirect (or redirect) users who search for one lawyer’s name to another lawyer’s website.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

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