Category Archives: Lawyer criminal conduct

Florida Supreme Court permanently disbars lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into former law firm, creating parallel firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court Order permanently disbarring a Florida lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into his former law firm and the firm’s storage unit, creating a parallel law firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Christopher Louis Brady, Case No.: SC19-39, TFB No. 2019-10,127(12B)(HES).  The July 11, 2019 Florida Supreme Court Order is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/2A42CACF97608E7785258439000C41B7/$FILE/_11.PDF 

According to the referee’s report, the lawyer was employed as an associate at a law firm and was fired in July 2018 after missing hearings and for exhibiting “odd and concerning behavior.”  Almost immediately after his firing, the lawyer began holding himself out as the owner of the former law firm even though there was one sole owner.  The Report of Referee is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/32070D97303477DA852583DF000AB0F1/$FILE/_19.PDF.  The lawyer justified his actions by claiming that the former law firm’s failure to use periods in “PA” when created as a professional association gave him the right to create a new firm of the same name by filing as a professional association with periods, so that it read “P.A.”.

The lawyer and his twin brother were also criminally charged with burglarizing the former law firm’s office in August 2018.  A videotape of the burglary apparently showed the lawyer and his brother backing a truck up to the law firm, tying a rope from the truck to the front door and using the vehicle to rip the door open. The video also showed the lawyer and his brother removing a safe and the law firm’s computer server.  A few days later, the lawyer and his brother burglarized the law firm owner’s storage unit using keys which were taken from a safe that was stolen during the law firm burglary, according to the referee.  The lawyer also stole a firearm during the burglary.

The lawyer filed several documents on behalf of the law firm and its clients without their knowledge or authority, and filed a false confession of judgment in his own favor.  He also filed more than 100 notices of liens for fees in the law firm’s pending cases “in an attempt to grab fees from cases to which he was not entitled.”

The law firm owner obtained an injunction which barred the lawyer from harassing him or interfering with his business.  The injunction also prohibited the lawyer from contacting the firm owner, his employees, his clients or his attorney. The lawyer violated that injunction multiple times and a court order was issued holding him in contempt for violating the injunction three times.

The referee’s report cited the lawyer’s refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct as one of the multiple aggravating factors and recommended permanent disbarment.  According to the referee’s report, “(the lawyer’s failure to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct) is perhaps the most profoundly implicated aggravator in this case”.  The lawyer “clings to his justification for his actions with a ferocity that is quite disturbing.”

Bottom line:  This case is certainly very bizarre and the lawyer’s conduct as set forth in the report of referee is extremely disturbing.

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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Ohio lawyer who passed $11.00 in cash to her jailed boyfriend faces six month stayed suspension

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Ohio Board of Professional Conduct report which recommends that an Ohio lawyer be suspended for six (6) months for passing $11.00 in cash under the table to her incarcerated boyfriend.  The case is Cincinnati Bar Association v. Virginia Maria Riggs-Horton, Case No. 2018-1757.  The link with the report and other documents in the case is here:  http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/Clerk/ecms/#/caseinfo/2018/1757

The lawyer was convicted of the misdemeanor of promoting (passing) contraband and was given a suspended jail sentence. She then self-reported to the Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kentucky Bar Associations.

The Ohio Supreme Court Board of Professional Conduct recommended the stayed suspension after the lawyer admitted that she passed the money to her boyfriend at a Kentucky detention center in August 2017 after he asked for cash for vending machines. The detention center rules prohibited money from being provided to prisoners without first being given to guards.  The lawyer stated that she was unaware of the prohibition.

The Ohio Supreme Court initially rejected the six month stayed suspension and remanded the case for a formal hearing.  A formal hearing was held before a Board panel on April 25, 2019, which again recommended the six month stayed suspension with conditions.  According to the report, the lawyer had no prior discipline and displayed a cooperative attitude in ethics proceedings. She also had a good reputation in the community.  The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct than adopted that recommendation in its report, which was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on June 14, 2019.

Bottom line:  This lawyer passed $11.00 to her boyfriend under the table while visiting him in the jail, which was a violation of the jail rules and constituted the illegal passing of contraband.  The lawyer was then prosecuted and plead guilty to a misdemeanor and self-reported.  This was a very unfortunate learning experience for the lawyer.

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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Disbarred Georgia lawyer convicted of stealing client money and scheduled to enter prison allegedly killed his mother and fled

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent voluntary disbarment of a Georgia lawyer convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of client money and schedule to enter prison, who allegedly stabbed his mother to death and fled the area.  The disciplinary case is: In the Matter of Richard v. Merritt, 302 Ga. 874 (1/29/18).  The link to the disbarment Order is here:  https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/s18y0387.pdf

According to media reports, the Georgia lawyer was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars of client’s money and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation after being convicted of stealing money from his clients and elder abuse. The lawyer was found guilty on more than 30 counts of theft, forgery and elder exploitation and given until the end of the day on February 1, 2019 to surrender and begin serving the sentence.

The lawyer had admitted to settling civil lawsuits on his clients’ behalf without their knowledge, forging signatures on settlement checks and documents, and keeping money intended for his clients.  As a condition of the sentencing, the lawyer was also ordered to pay $454,706.00 in restitution to clients.

The lawyer failed to surrender to enter prison on February 1, 2019 and, the day after the lawyer was required to surrender, his mother was found stabbed to death. Her car was also missing and the lawyer’s vehicle was found at the scene.  According to a statement by the U.S. Marshall’s Service: “The vehicle he may be driving is a 2009 silver Lexus RX350, bearing a Georgia tag CBV 6004.”  “He may have shaved his head or otherwise changed his appearance, and should be considered armed and dangerous. Do not try to engage him. If you see Merritt, please contact law enforcement immediately.”

According to the January 29, 2019 Georgia Supreme Court Order disbarring the lawyer after he filed a petition to voluntarily surrender his license, “(the lawyer) admits that in February 2017 he settled a client’s personal injury matter for $75,000, but failed to promptly disburse those funds to his client or her medical providers and failed to render a full accounting of the funds to his client. Merritt acknowledges that the above-described conduct violated Rule 1.15 (I) (c) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The maximum penalty for a single violation of Rule 1.15 (I) is disbarment.”

Bottom line:  This is quite a bizarre and unsettling case where a lawyer chose to steal thousands of dollars from his clients, was then convicted of the thefts and sentenced to 15 years in prison, and apparently killed his mother and has now fled at the time that he was scheduled to surrender and enter prison.

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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Louisiana lawyer is suspended after criminal battery conviction for chest bumping a prosecutor

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which suspended a lawyer after he was convicted of misdemeanor battery for chest bumping a criminal prosecutor.  The disciplinary case is: In Re: Felix DeJean, IV, NO. 2018-B-133 (1/30/18) and the link to the case is here:  http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2019/18-1333.B.OPN.pdf

According to the opinion, the incident occurred in March 2015 after a conference in a criminal case in the judge’s chambers. The criminal prosecutor alleged that the lawyer exchanged words with him, physically confronted him, and “chest bumped” him. The lawyer claimed that the prosecutor started the altercation and that he was acting in self-defense.

The incident led to a criminal charge of simple battery against the lawyer. The prosecutor testified at the trial, along with several other witnesses, including the judge, the judicial assistant, and the court reporter. The lawyer was found guilty in July 2016 and received a suspended jail sentence along with 18 months of supervised probation that required him to complete an anger management program.  Before the criminal trial, the lawyer had filed a civil suit for damages against the prosecutor related the incident and, according to the opinion, that lawsuit was still pending.

A Louisiana disciplinary hearing committee recommended a six-month suspension; however, after review, the Louisiana  disciplinary board had recommended the year-and-a-day suspension.  The Supreme Court opinion suspended the lawyer for a year and a day and the length of the suspension means that the lawyer will be required to apply for reinstatement and show his fitness to practice after the suspension is completed.

The opinion found that the lawyer violated Louisiana Bar Rules which prohibit the commission a criminal acts that reflect adversely on a lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.  The opinion also stated that the evidence supported the findings of a violation of the Louisiana Bar Rules and, although the lawyer’s conduct “caused no actual physical harm, it did impair the public reputation of the profession and the judicial system.”

The opinion further noted that this was the third time that the lawyer had been accused of violating the disciplinary rules due to overly aggressive or physically abusive behavior.  The lawyer’s prior disciplinary history is as follows: he consented to a two-year probation in 2006 for behavior caused by mental health issues and previous use of marijuana and alcohol, he was twice admonished by the disciplinary board in 2009 for failing to properly address fee disputes with clients, he agreed to a public reprimand in 2010 for relying on the “false representations of his client and (failing) to verify the identity of the parties who appeared before him” for a “notarial renunciation” and the lawyer received a public reprimand in 2013 for acting in an abusive and threatening manner during a settlement conference.

Bottom line:  This is another (somewhat strange) disciplinary case involving a lawyer who was disciplined for engaging in overly aggressive behavior, in this case, an unwanted chest bump and a criminal battery conviction.  Chest bumps may now be acceptable at sports events or on other occasions, but not as unwanted touching in a courthouse.  Things we learned in kindergarten…

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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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline criminal conviction battery chest bump, Lawyer discipline for criminalconviction, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions

Nevada lawyer suspended for 6 months and 1 day for displaying a gun at a deposition and other “appalling behavior”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 6 month and 1 day suspension of a Nevada lawyer for brandishing a gun at a deposition, using derogatory language and repeatedly making inappropriate statements, and other “appalling behavior”.  The case is In re: Discipline of James Pengilly, SC Case No. 74316.  The September 7, 2018 unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order is here:  file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/18-35030%20(1).pdf

The lawyer was representing himself as the defendant in a defamation lawsuit and the misconduct is related to the lawyer’s behavior during a deposition of the Plaintiff at his office in September 2016.  The lawyer used vulgarities while questioning the witness, called the deponent derogatory names (including “Dip Shit” and “Big Bird”), aggressively interrupted the witness and opposing counsel, answered questions for the witness, and repeatedly made inappropriate statements on the record.

At one point during the deposition, the lawyer put his hand near his hip and asked the witness if he was “ready for it”. The witness then briefly left the room and when he returned, the lawyer displayed a firearm he had in a holster on his hip to the witness and the opposing counsel.  The deposition was then terminated and the defamation litigation was put on hold.  The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Protective Order and Motion for Sanctions outlining the misconduct.  The Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions and exhibits are here: 9-29-16 Motion for Protective Order and Sanctions.  The lawyer was sanctioned for his misconduct in the litigation.

The unpublished Nevada Supreme Court Order states: “(h)aving reviewed the record on appeal, we conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the panel’s findings that Pengilly violated RPC 8.4(d) (prohibiting an attorney from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). Indeed, the deposition transcript, coupled with the testimony at the formal hearing, demonstrates that Pengilly displayed appalling behavior toward the deponent. Additionally, the record is clear, and Pengilly admits, that he displayed a firearm. Accordingly, we agree with the hearing panel that Pengilly committed the violation set forth above.”

“Pengilly argues that his conduct should be viewed under a negligence standard, but we agree with the panel that he acted knowingly as he was consciously aware of his conduct and knew his behavior was inappropriate. His conduct caused actual injury to the proceeding as the deposition concluded early and the discovery commissioner had to issue a protective order, causing the case to be delayed. Both the deponent and his attorney testified they were afraid Pengilly was going to shoot them, and their fears were documented: they immediately called the police, filed police reports the next day, filed for a TPO, and filed bar grievances. Further, there was the potential for serious injury to every one present—the deponent, his attorney, the court reporter, Pengilly’s office staff, and even Pengilly himself–because a deadly weapon was involved.”

Bottom line:  This case involves a lawyer who was clearly lacking in emotional control and anger management, to say the least.  In addition, he was representing himself, and we know how that can go.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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

 

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court disbars ex-judge who pled guilty to stealing cocaine held in court cases

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion disbarring a former judge who pled guilty to stealing cocaine, from an evidence locker in his courtroom for his own personal use for more than a year.  The case is Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Paul Michael Pozonsky (Case No. 123 DB 2015) (opinion issued January 18, 2018).  The opinion is here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/123db2015-pozonsky.pdf#search=%22Paul Pozonsky%22.

According to the disciplinary opinion, “the judge . . . presided over criminal trials, juvenile delinquency hearings, and also directed the rehabilitative disposition of drug offenders in that county’s Drug Court, which he founded. Using his position as a jurist, he directed police officers and court personnel to bring cocaine, which was evidence in the cases over which he was presiding, to an evidence locker in his courtroom; whereupon, for over a year, he stole quantities of this illegal drug from that locker and used it for his own recreational purposes, all while continuing to preside over criminal prosecutions and imposing sentences on defendants for committing crimes which he himself was contemporaneously engaging in.”

“After Pozonsky’s illicit activities were discovered, he resigned his judicial commission and was convicted for his crimes. After considering all the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding Pozonsky’s egregious misconduct while a commissioned judge, and taking into account the mitigating evidence he offered, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (“Disciplinary Board” or “Board”) issued a unanimous report detailing its factual findings and its recommendation that he be disbarred.”

The opinion further stated that “(t)here are few transgressions which more seriously undermine the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity of their judicial system, and which are as offensive to the high standards and principles which other members of the bench and bar strive so faithfully to uphold in the performance of their duties, than those committed by Pozonsky.”

The ex-judge pled guilty in 2015 to charges related to the theft of the cocaine, including misdemeanor theft, obstruction of justice, and misapplication of entrusted property and served one month in jail.

Oral arguments were held in April 2017 and the ex-judge stated in mitigation that he had accepted full responsibility for his conduct and engaged in community service, including working at a homeless mission and counseling others with addiction as mitigating factors in an effort to reduce the disciplinary sanction.  The court rejected the ex-judge’s argument that his addiction should be considered as a mitigating factor.

The disciplinary opinion concluded: “Because the evidence of record amply supports the Board’s findings and corresponding recommendation of disbarment, we order Pozonsky’s disbarment to both protect the public and to preserve the integrity of the legal profession.”

Bottom line:  This is an extremely egregious case of an apparently addicted judge who asked law enforcement to bring cocaine to his courtroom to “hold” in criminal cases (not sure how that would happen) and then stole the cocaine from the locker and used it for “his own recreational; purposes.”  A concurring opinion stated that disbarment was not automatic and mused that it was ironic that the ex-judge was not able to mitigate the disbarment by showing that he was addicted but agreed that disbarment was appropriate.

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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Wisconsin lawyer suspended for, inter alia, smuggling heavy toothbrushes and red pepper into prison for client

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion which suspended a Wisconsin lawyer for four months for, inter alia, bringing heavy toothbrushes to client in prison and failing to adequately communicate with a drunken driving client.  The case is In the Matter of Steven Cohen, Case No.: 2015AP1350-D and the opinion is here: https://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=202686

According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1996. He received a private reprimand in 2007 after his conviction for one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct which resulted from an dispute involving the lawyer and his wife.

One count of the disciplinary complaint alleged that, in 2013, the lawyer smuggled two heavy toothbrushes and red pepper to a client who was in prison after being convicted on homicide charges.  Prison authorities found the items in a search of the client after discovering a discarded white pastry bag containing a doughnut and an empty toothbrush package.  The authorities also said that the toothbrushes were heavier than the toothbrushes given to inmates and could be made into shanks (sharpened weapons), and that the crushed red pepper could be made into pepper spray.

The opinion states that: “(w)hen correctional officers interviewed Attorney Cohen about the items, he denied knowing anything about them.  Following additional investigation, Attorney Cohen was arrested for delivering contraband into the Columbia Correctional Institution. In February of 2014, the Columbia County district attorney filed a complaint charging Attorney Cohen with one felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate and one misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer.”

In November 2014, the lawyer pled no contest and was found guilty of a felony count of delivering illegal articles to an inmate, along with two misdemeanors.  Judgment on the felony charge was deferred.  The lawyer said that he brought the items to the prison after his client requested a toothbrush and some food and that his only motive was “from concern for the care of the inmate, and desire to serve.”

The second, third, and forth counts of the complaint alleged that the lawyer accepted a $2,500.00 fee from a DUI client without a written fee agreement and then failed to adequately communicate with the client.  When the client demanded a refund, the lawyer returned half of the fee. He denied that he failed to communicate with the client, but did not provide any documentation to support the denial.  The lawyer also claimed that he had e-mailed the client; however, the client said he did not have an e-mail address.

According to the opinion, the lawyer testified that he did not respond to the client’s telephone calls because he was not ready to speak with the client, which was “a normal trial tactic.”  He also said he did not respond since he tells his clients to call him on his cell telephone rather than his land line, and the client called on his land line. He also claimed his secretary does not take messages on the land line.

The lawyer was suspended for 4 months effective December 29, 2017 and required to pay $8,608.20 in disciplinary costs.

Bottom line:  This lawyer appears to have been attempting to provide an imprisoned client with the tools to injure other inmates, whether in self defense or otherwise.  Obviously, this was improper and the lawyer was suspended for 4 months for those actions, as well as his failure to communicate with another client and charging an improper fee.

Be careful out there.     

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert 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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