Tag Archives: Florida Bar

Ticket Clinic law firm and individual defendants file Motion for Sanctions for frivolous lawsuit against TIKD in federal lawsuit

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert Update which will discuss the recent Rule 11 Motion For Sanctions for Filing Frivolous Lawsuit filed by the Ticket Clinic Law Firm (Gold and Associates) and the individual defendants.  The case is TIKD Services LLC, v. The Florida Bar, et al., Case No. 1:17-cv-24103-MGC (U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida-Miami Division).  The Motion for Sanctions is available on the PACER federal document system here:  https://www.pacer.gov/login.html (subscription required).

As I previously blogged, TIKD Services, LLC filed the federal lawsuit against The Florida Bar, the Ticket Clinic law firm, and other individuals in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida on November 8, 2017.  The TIKD app is set up to allow an individual who has received a traffic citation to upload a photo of the citation and pay a fixed fee.  TIKD then retains an attorney to represent that individual and, if that individual receives points against his or her license, TIKD refunds the payment and also pays the cost of the ticket.  The TIKD business model is apparently based on the fact that contested traffic tickets are often dismissed or a lower fine is assessed and, since TIKD deals in volume, it can charge a lower price than a lawyer who is separately retained by the individual.

The Florida Bar issued a staff opinion finding that lawyers who work with TIKD and similar programs could be in violation of various Florida Bar ethics rules, including fee splitting and interference with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment; however, TIKD states that its services fully comply with Florida Bar ethics rules and that lawyers who represent the individuals receive a flat fee and are independent practitioners “over whom TIKD does not exercise any direction or control.”  A complaint was filed by members of the law firm with The Florida Bar alleging that TIKD was engaging in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).  That complaint is currently pending and the Bar has recommended further proceedings.

TIKD then filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging conspiracy, restraint of trade, tortious interference with business relationships, and antitrust violations.  The defendants include The Florida Bar, attorney Mark S. Good, who founded The Ticket Clinic law firm, and other individuals.  According to the Complaint, The Florida Bar advised TIKD that it was opening an unlicensed practice of law investigation into the company’s activities after the company was featured in a Miami Herald story.  A few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami law firm that handles traffic tickets, threatened to report two of TIKD’s lawyers to The Florida Bar if they continued to work with TIKD.

A state lawsuit was later filed and the parties reached a settlement in that matter; however, TIKD alleges in the Complaint that The Florida Bar and the Ticket Clinic law firm continued to make a “concerted effort” to put it out of business, and that the firm’s lawyers continued filing “baseless ethics complaints” against attorneys who represent TIKD customers.

The recent Motion for Sanctions alleges that the claims against the law firm and the individual defendants are baseless and fail to state a cause of action, that there is no subject matter jurisdiction, that The Florida Bar has immunity, which immunizes the individual defendants, that the individuals have immunity on other grounds, that the lawsuit is frivolous on other grounds, and that the lawsuit should be dismissed and the Plaintiffs should be sanctioned.

Bottom line:  As I have previously stated, this is one of the first cases filed in Florida (and possible in any jurisdiction) which directly alleges that a State Bar’s procedures violate the Sherman Antitrust Act in reliance upon the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission.  A Motion for Sanctions under Federal Rules of Procedure 11 has now been filed seeking sanctions against TIKD and the dismissal of the Complaint against the law firm and individual defendants.

Stay tuned…

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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The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors votes to approve charge of “litigation cost protection insurance” premium to clients

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert will discuss the recent decision of the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors to allow lawyers to pass-through the costs of “litigation cost protection” insurance to the client.

According to a recent article in the February 15, 2018 Florida Bar News, the Board of Governors (BOG) voted at its meeting on January 26, 2018 in Tallahassee to permit lawyers to charge the client with the cost of the “litigation cost protection” premium; however, the lawyer must obtain informed consent and make extensive disclosures.  The Bar News article is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Fba78355e43f4e50085258228004a94da

The insurance product, called “litigation cost protection” insurance, reimburses up to the insured amount of costs advanced by the lawyer to the client only if the case goes to trial and there is no recovery.  Supporters of the insurance state that it provides sole practitioners and smaller firms with the ability to go after deep pocket defendants.  Under the terms of the insurance policy that was considered by the BOG, the premiums would be 7 percent of the dollar amount of coverage, or $17,500.00 if the lawyer obtains the maximum coverage of $250,000.

After an intense debate, the BOG voted 23-17 to permit the lawyer to require the client to reimburse the cost of the insurance premium.  The BOG’s decision reversed a Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee (PEC) decision in 2017 which opined that a lawyer would be prohibited from charging the client for the cost of the policy.  The BOG directed Bar staff to issue an advisory opinion and the final proposed opinion states that the insurance premium pass through to the client is “a close question because the circumstances described create potential conflicts of interest between the lawyer and client throughout litigation.

The final BOG opinion listed eight conditions, including that the lawyer must: make “an objectively reasonable determination that the litigation cost protection insurance serves the client’s best interest”; inform the client that other attorneys may offer contingency fee arrangements without passing along the expense of the litigation cost insurance; fully explain the insurance and why it is in the client’s best interest; give the client a copy of the policy and advise him or her to have another lawyer to review it; and not allow the terms or availability of coverage to “adversely affect (the lawyer’s) independent, professional judgment, the client-lawyer relationship, or the client’s best interest.”

Bottom line:  Notwithstanding the BOG’s close vote, this decision will now permit lawyers to pass through the cost of the premium for litigation cost protection insurance to their clients without violating the Florida Bar Rules related to litigation expenses.

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.

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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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar Board of Governors opinion approving pass through of litigation cost protection insurance premium, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer costs charging client for litigation cost protection insurance

Florida lawyer who improperly advised clients regarding marijuana business resulting in their arrest and charged $799 for false marijuana card is disbarred

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion disbarring a Florida lawyer who, inter alia, incompetently advised a client regarding a marijuana growing business and charged individuals $799.00 for a falsified “patient identification card” he claimed could keep them from getting arrested for having or growing marijuana.    The case is The Florida Bar v. Ian James Christiansen (Case No. SC16-1081) (January 18, 2018).  The Supreme Court opinion is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1081.pdf

According to the opinion, The Florida Bar filed a complaint against the Jacksonville lawyer in 2016, which was assigned to a referee who held hearings.  The referee found that “in 2013, less than three months after being admitted to The Florida Bar, Respondent founded IJC Law Group, P.A., and began offering legal services and advice to clients.  At the time, Respondent had no training in the area of medical marijuana. Six months later, Respondent formed Health Law Services (HLS), and five months after that, incorporated Cannabinoid Therapy Institute (CTI). Respondent listed IJC Law Group, P.A., as CTI’s registered agent and nonlawyer Christopher Ralph—a self-professed expert in the medical marijuana industry— represented himself as CTI’s director. Ralph was also the ‘Legal Administrator and Consultant’ for HLS.”

The referee also found that the lawyer charged clients $799 for a doctor’s visit through CTI.  If the doctor found a medical necessity for the client to use marijuana, the lawyer, through HLS, provided the client with an “Official Legal Certification” and patient identification card stating that he or she had received a marijuana prescription.

The referee also found that the “doctor” to whom the lawyer referred three of the clients was not licensed to practice medicine in Florida (and the clients were not told of this”.  Two of the lawyer’s clients were provided with an “Official Legal Certification” and a “grow sign” to be posted at their residence which stated that medical marijuana cultivation was underway. The third client was provided an “Official Legal Certification” that identified one of the clients with the “grow sign” as his “authorized agent” to produce cannabis medically necessary to treat his debilitating condition.

According to the opinion, “(t)his ‘Official Legal Certification’ purported to advise law enforcement of the client’s right to cannabis as a medical necessity. Respondent advised his clients, and his clients believed, that based on Florida law, the clients had a right to possess, use, and grow cannabis due to medical necessity and that they were protected by the affirmative defense of medical necessity. Respondent did not tell his clients that this affirmative defense would not apply, if at all, until after the clients were arrested, charged, and prosecuted.”

The referee found that a number of the lawyer’s clients were arrested and prosecuted after following the lawyer’s advice.  Somewhat unbelievably, the lawyer refused to refund the fees that he charged after the clients were charged.  The lawyer was ordered to refund the fees when the trial court granted the clients’ motion for disgorgement of attorney’s fees; however, he failed to comply with the order and filed an untimely notice of appeal, which was dismissed. He also failed to respond to the trial court’s order to show cause and failed to appear at the show cause hearing. The court granted the motion for order to show cause and issued a warrant for his arrest.

“In January 2015, the police responded to the residence of the clients with the ‘grow sign’ pursuant to a 911 call.  The next day, the clients contacted Respondent to ask him if they needed to dismantle their growing operation, in expectation that law enforcement would return, and were told by Respondent they had nothing to worry about and that he or someone from his office would contact law enforcement  to discuss the situation. There was no record that Respondent ever did this. In February 2015, a fully armed SWAT team raided the clients’ home, and they were arrested and charged with manufacture of cannabis, possession of cannabis with intent to sell or deliver, possession of a place or structure for trafficking or manufacturing a controlled substance, possession of paraphernalia, and trafficking in cannabis in excess of twenty-five pounds. In response to their arrests, Respondent encouraged the clients to file an internal affairs report regarding the damage done to their home and belongings during the raid. The clients’ home, valuables, and vehicles were ultimately seized and detained for forfeiture.”

“The clients then hired a new attorney and accepted plea deals of three years’ probation, a $15,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service. One of the clients lost her nursing license of twenty-five years and the other lost his engineering job of fifteen years. In addition, their landlord sued them for damages to the home during the raid and lost rent. The landlord prevailed and obtained a judgment in excess of $25,000 against them.”

The referee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of violating multiple Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, be suspended for two years, and pay the Bar’s costs.  Neither the Bar nor the lawyer filed petitions for review of the referee report and recommendations; however, on July 26, 2017, the Supreme Court issued an order “requiring the lawyer to show cause why the recommended sanction should not be disapproved and a more severe sanction, including disbarment, be imposed.” The lawyer filed a response on August 10, 2017, and the Bar filed a reply on August 21, 2017.

After reviewing the response and reply, the Court found that disbarment was the appropriate sanction citing the lawyer’s incompetence and the extremely serious harm to clients. The opinion also noted that the lawyer “erroneously advised his clients and provided them with legally meaningless ‘Official Legal Certifications’ purportedly authorizing them to grow and use marijuana, based on determinations made by a physician not licensed to practice medicine in the State of Florida. Several clients who relied upon Respondent’s erroneous advice were arrested and criminally prosecuted, and their lives were devastated. Further, during the criminal proceedings pertaining to the clients and during the proceedings in this disciplinary matter, Respondent continued to insist on the correctness of his clearly erroneous legal positions, until he was ordered to show cause to this Court why he should not be disbarred. We will not tolerate such misconduct by members of The Florida Bar.”  The opinion disbarred the lawyer effective immediately.

Bottom line:  This is a quite egregious example of a lawyer’s incompetence (or worse) resulting in a nightmare of consequences for the clients, including a SWAT team raid and criminal charges and convictions.  As this case shows, a lawyer’s advice to clients regarding allegedly legal marijuana growing businesses is fraught with uncertainly and the wrong advice may result in extremely serious consequences for the clients (and the lawyer), particularly with the recent by the recent announcement by the U.S. Attorney General that the federal government will enforce federal criminal laws related to marijuana even if it is legal in an individual state.

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 Bar opposes lawyer initiated petition to make appeal court finding of frivolousness “conclusive” rule violation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Bar’s response opposing the Petition initiated by a Florida lawyer to amend Florida Bar Rule 3-4.3 which states that a final decision of the Florida Supreme Court, Florida appeals court, or federal appellate court determining prosecution of a frivolous claim“ constitutes a conclusive determination of guilt of misconduct by the lawyer(s) who prosecuted such frivolous claim or defense for violation of Rule 4-3.1.”    The matter is The Florida Bar Re: Petition to Amend Rules Regulating The Florida Bar 3-4.3, 3-5.3, and 4-3.1 (Case No. SC17-1965).  The Response is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2017/1965/2017-1965_response_49952_response.pdf

The proposed rule amendment would add a section to Florida Bar Rule 3-4.3 (misconduct or minor misconduct), providing that if the Florida Supreme Court or any Florida or federal appellate court has determined that a court action violated F.S. §57.105, Florida appellate Rule 9.410, or Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that “constitutes a conclusive determination of guilt of misconduct by the lawyer(s) who prosecuted such frivolous claim or defense for violation of Rule 4-3.1.”

The proposed rule would also require a lawyer who has had such a ruling against him or her to notify the Bar within 10 days with copies to opposing counsel.  Bar counsel would docket the case and “The Florida Bar shall prosecute the misconduct in accordance with the rules considering the conclusive determination of a violation of Rule 4-3.1.”

The BOG Disciplinary Procedure Committee (DPC) voted 7-0 to oppose the proposed petition in November 2017 and the BOG voted unanimously to file a response opposing the petition at its December 8, 2017 meeting.  The Bar filed its response opposing the proposed amendment on December 29, 2018.

Bottom line:  As I previously stated, this is rare member initiated petition to amend the Florida Bar rules.  The rule amendment appears to be well intended; however, it is problematic and ill advised.  The Bar’s Response sets forth the reasons that the Bar opposes the rule amendment, including the fact that a civil case involves different parties, different rules and statutes, different goals, and lower evidentiary standards.

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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The Florida Supreme Court rejects Bar proposed advertising Rule amendment on lawyers’ use of “expert” and “specialist”

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert update on the Bar’s proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 on lawyers’ of “specialization” and “expertise” in advertisements which was filed in response to the federal court opinion which found the rule unconstitutional.  The Bar filed an Omnibus Rules Petition with, inter alia, the proposed rule amendment with the Florida Supreme Court and the court issued an opinion on November 9, 2017 rejecting the proposed rule revisions.  The SC opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2017/sc16-1961.pdf#search=Bar

The proposed amendment would have prohibited a lawyer from stating that he or she is  “a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms” unless “the lawyer’s experience and training demonstrate specialized competence in the advertised area of practice that is reasonably comparable to that demonstrated by the standards of the Florida Certification Plan.”  If the lawyer’s area of expertise is an area in which the Bar approves certifications, the lawyer would be required to include “a reasonably prominent disclaimer that the lawyer is not board certified in that area of practice by The Florida Bar or another certification program.”  The court’s opinion states:

We decline to adopt the Bar’s proposal to amend Bar Rule 4-7.14 (Potentially Misleading Advertisements). The Bar proposes amendments to this rule in response to a decision from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which held, in relevant part, that provisions in Bar Rule 4-7.14(a) broadly prohibiting lawyers who were not board certified from making truthful statements that they “specialize in” or “have expertise in” a particular field of practice were unconstitutional.

In response to this decision, the Bar recommended amending the rule in subdivision (a) (Potentially Misleading Advertisements) to add a new subdivision (a)(5), which would prohibit lawyers from using in their advertisements the terms “specialist,” “expert,” or other variations of those terms unless the lawyer meets one of the four criteria established in subdivisions (a)(5)(A)-(a)(5)(D). The criteria in subdivisions (a)(5)(A), (a)(5)(B), and (a)(5)(C) are similar to those in other parts of rule 4-7.14. However, subdivision (a)(5)(D) would provide that a lawyer may identify as a “specialist” or “expert” if the lawyer’s “experience and training demonstrate specialized competence in an area of practice that is reasonably comparable to that demonstrated by the standards of the Florida Certification Plan set forth in chapter 6 of these rules”; if the area of claimed specialization or expertise is or falls within an area of practice under the Florida Certification Plan, the advertisement must include a reasonably prominent disclaimer that the lawyer is not board certified in that area of practice by the Bar or another certification program.

We are concerned that the Bar’s proposal here does not sufficiently address the district court’s decision, and that the language requiring that a lawyer’s experience be “reasonably comparable” to the Florida Certification Plan will prove to be problematic because it could lead to differing and inconsistent applications. Because we believe that this important issue requires further study, we decline to adopt the Bar’s proposed amendments to rule 4-7.14, and we refer this matter to The Florida Bar for additional consideration.

Bottom line:  I previously said that the proposed Bar rule amendment was problematic and may not comply with the federal district judge’s opinion finding that the rule violates the U.S. Constitution.  The Florida Supreme Court has declined to implement the revised rule and the Bar will now go back to the drawing board.

Stay tuned…and be careful out there.

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

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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Florida Bar’s Board of Governors finds that AVVO Advisor is a for-profit lawyer referral service and must comply with Bar Rules

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent decision by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors to approve a BOG committee’s conclusion that AVVO Advisor is a for-profit lawyer referral service and must comply with the Florida Bar Rules related to those referral services.

According to a recent Bar Board of Governors informational release and the January 1, 2018 issue of the Florida Bar News, the BOG Review Committee on Professional Ethics responded to a lawyer inquiry regarding the status of AVVO Advisor and unanimously recommended that the lawyer be advised that Avvo Advisor, which is described as “a private for-profit company’s online system for connecting potential clients to lawyers for 15-minute consultations for $39”, is a lawyer referral service under Florida’s rules.  The Board of Governors voted unanimously at its December 8, 2018 meeting to approve the committee’s recommendation and opinion. The January 1, 2018 Florida Bar News article is here: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2F3a1cd1f9be52b1f1852581fe004ede22.

As a for-profit lawyer referral service, AVVO Advisor will now be required to comply with Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22 or Florida lawyers will not be permitted to participate in the service.  Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22 requires that the services receive no payment that constitutes a division of fees, it must furnish or require lawyers to have professional liability insurance, it must affirmatively state in advertisements that the system is a lawyer referral service, and comply with the other requirements in the rule.   According to the BOG release, there are twenty-eight lawyer referral services which are current in their quarterly reports to The Florida Bar.

Florida Bar President-elect Designate John Stewart is quoted as stating: “This is a difficult question for this board, it’s going to set a lot of precedent for issues we are going to have to deal with that are related…The decision could affect a large number of our constituents. There are at least, anecdotally, a fair number of our constituents who participate in this program.”

The Florida Bar will provide a 90-day grace period on discipline under Rule 4-7.22 for lawyers who may be currently associated with Avvo Advisor. This would allow Avvo Advisor to file its first quarterly report and comply with Rule 4-7.22 or for the Florida lawyers to exercise other options if Avvo Advisor chooses not to follow Rule 4-7.22, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

The January 1, 2018 Florida Bar News, which went online on December 26, provides more information for Bar members about participating in Avvo Advisor.  The webpage “What you need to know about the Bar and AVVO Advisor” is here: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Fb5f5fefbce7ee680852581fe004f7f92.

Bottom line:  This decision by the BOG addresses only the Avvo Advisor service and it triggers the requirement that AVVO Advisor comply with Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22.  Those requirements include, inter alia, that there is no division of fees, that AVVO either have, or ensure that lawyers have, professional liability insurance, and that AVVO affirmatively state in any advertisements that it is a lawyer referral service.  If a lawyer is currently participating in this service, or is considering participating, he or she should act accordingly.

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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