Lawyer Complaints

Florida Bar’s Eleven Villains. No, We’re Not Talking about the Eleventh Circuit on This Occasion.

Eleven attorneys on the most recent Florida Bar discipline report made heavy usage of Lie and Steal, or Misappropriating Funds.

Lying to courts, stealing from clients: this month’s Florida Bar discipline report

By David J. Neal | NOVEMBER 19, 2020 | Republished by LIT: Nov. 26, 2020

Of the miscreant trinity “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” the 11 attorneys on the most recent Florida Bar discipline report made heavy usage of Lie and Steal (or “Misappropriating Funds.”)

The discipline is handed down by the Florida Supreme Court.

In alphabetical order:

Miami’s Eric Scott Brumfield, a Bar member since 2011, went for disciplinary revocation. He’s accepting, in effect, disbarment with the ability to apply for readmission in five years in return for the Bar grievance matters disappearing. Any criminal or civil cases connected to the actions in question aren’t affected.

Brumfield allegedly sent a check to his client from his operating account instead of his trust account and it bounced back to Brumfield. The Bar says Brumfield wire transferred the money to the client along with the $10 bank fee.

Another client allegedly paid Brumfield a monthly fee to handle a foreclosure action and a counter claim. After the counter claim got rejected a year and a half later, the client paid Brumfield an additional monthly fee to appeal the denial. That got denied, too, but the client still paid Brumfield for another two years.

Brumfield’s petition says health issues during this time have him in chronic pain. He points out no clients have complained of trust fund theft nor has he been criminally charged.

There’s no question Starke attorney Johnie Cooper ripped off a client for $53,097, according to the Florida Bar. Now, the question is how much punishment Cooper will get.

Professionally, Cooper gave up his law license via disciplinary revocation, according to the monthly Florida Bar discipline report. Disciplinary revocation makes any Bar discipline matters go away, but the attorney is, essentially, disbarred. Usually, the attorney requests and receives the option of applying for readmission in five years.

Cooper, 60 and admitted to the Bar in 1991, asked to be given no chance to reapply.

Cooper’s disciplinary revocation petition says he paid his victim back the $53,097 plus interest.

“I would hope that would result in some leniency,” Cooper’s attorney Robert Rush said Wednesday, “and he took that action before criminal charges were filed, I believe.”

Cooper was the attorney for George Browning when Browning tried to sell C&C Storage facility in Starke.

A potential buyer couldn’t complete the deal, thus losing his $75,000 in escrow, $53,097 of which was to go to Browning. Sunshine Title Company sent a check for Browning’s money to Cooper on Sept. 17, 2018, according to court documents and it was deposited that day in Cooper’s trust account.

“Browning stated that he contacted Cooper several times about the $53,097 and Cooper would tell him the judge had not released the funds yet,” the probable cause affidavit said.

Finally, on March 3, 2020, Browning contacted Sunshine about the money and the title company showed him the checks that had been issued. The next day, Browning was in Cooper’s office demanding his money, the affidavit said. Cooper asked for two weeks to come up with the cash.

Browning went to the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office.

Rush said he guesses this case will be resolved in three to six months.

Credit:  Miami Herald story from Nov. 4., 2020

Esmond Lewis of Fort Myers was admitted to the Bar in 2004 and requested a permanent disbarment by consent. A listing of the Bar’s allegations against Lewis sounds like a he’s ready for a divorce from the profession:

“[Lewis] neglected four separate client matters and failed to maintain reasonable communication with the clients. He failed to act with competence in two of the client matters.”

“In several of the cases, he failed to deposit retainers and costs deposits into his trust account and failed to promptly return unearned or unused fees and costs to clients.”

He didn’t supervise the work of his non-lawyer assistant in a matter that required it.

“He failed to protect the clients’ interests upon termination of the representation.”

Lewis also didn’t keep proper trust account records and was tardy answering Bar inquiries.

Lutz attorney Douglas Alan Lopp, who was admitted to the Bar in 1995, got a 30-day suspension in November 2019 for blowing off the Bar’s requests that he respond to two Bar inquiries.

After an attorney gets such a suspension, all clients, tribunals and opposing counsel must be told of the suspension by the attorney and the attorney has to let the Bar know everybody’s been told.

Lopp hasn’t done that in writing. So, he is suspended until Sept. 30, 2021.

Twice in 2019, Palatka’s Kevin Robert Monahan was appointed to represent defendants in criminal cases. Each time, Monahan failed to show. The longtime Bar member (admitted in 1982) served a 10-day suspension earlier this month.

Read the Florida Supreme Court Order and referee report on how Fort Lauderdale attorney Tracy Belinda Newmark, a Bar member since 1990, imitated an opposing counsel’s client online and earned a six-month suspension that started this week.

Jacksonville’s Omer Ors (admitted in 2014) got disbarred after six clients’ say he took their $17,989 and ran … apparently to the Middle East.

Aside from a condominium association, who said it gave Ors $1,779 for filing and process fees for cases Ors never filed, his clients came to him with immigration matters.

Ors allegedly strung along Baptist Health and a Baptist employee seeking a green card from 2017 until his disappearance in May 2019. His communication stopped. His office was empty.

Ors’ family told Florida Bar Staff Investigator Camille Burban that he’s in Turkey. Her messages to have him call her have gone unreturned.

St. Johns’ Giancarlo Ricard, admitted to the Bar in 2016, got a public reprimand for taking on two clients’ matters, being unable to complete them and having poor communication with clients.

Weston’s Paul Silverberg, a Bar member since 1998, lied to the court about being available for hearings in a 2015 case and was too hands-free in letting his staff handle certain scheduling matters. He began serving a 91-day suspension on Oct. 30.

West Palm Beach’s Steven Allen Smilack, admitted in 1997, will start serving a three-year suspension on Nov. 27.

Smilack represented Richard Elie, a friend and co-owner of an office condominium, for free in a civil case from 2009 through 2014. In depositions under oath for a related case, Smilack said, “I never charged Mr. Elie fees,” “Mr. Eli, of course, always knew that I was never going to charge him” and, indeed, didn’t hold any of the settlement back for fees.

By the time 2014 began, their relationship resembled sour cream forgotten at the back of the refrigerator. Smilack sued Elie over condo expenses, then threw in an amended complaint for $200,000 in legal fees for the aforementioned civil case. He’d state under oath in this case that he always intended to be paid in the civil case.

The first court called Smilack’s claiming of fees “incredible and frivolous” after previous statements about payment. The Fourth District Court of Appeal said Smilack’s testimony was “self-serving and false.”

Furthermore…

“It was clear from the testimony of Richard Elie and [Smilack] that animosity arose (and continues) between Elie and [Smilack] regarding [Smilack’s] belief that Elie reneged on his responsibilities to share office expenses. A verbal dispute and shouting match between the two, culminated with [Smilack] physically and bodily removing Mr. Elie from the premises.”

The referee in this disciplinary matter wrote that Smilack’s “continued willingness to perjure himself before this Referee calls into serious question his fitness to practice law.”

So, he’s being made to sit in timeout for three years.

Tampa attorney Jeffrey Thibault got disbarred nine years after being admitted for stealing $20,287 from one client and getting money for nothing from two other clients.

As the referee’s report details, in January 2019, Thibault’s clients in a bankruptcy case received a $22,910 award after a case was dismissed. The money hit Thibault’s trust account in April. Minus his fee, Thibault’s clients should have received the aforementioned $20,287. They also should’ve received notification their case was dismissed and they had cash coming their way.

They received neither.

Thibault ignored the Bar’s inquiries in that matter. He did the same with the Bar’s inquiries in the case of a couple who paid Thibault $1,000 to help them deal with back tax issues and found they’d paid money for nothing. Failing to answer the Bar that time got him suspended for a couple of months, until he replied properly.

Those clients might not have chosen Thibault had they known that in 2017, he did the same thing to a client with the same tax problems, only it cost that client $2,500.

Though the referee believed the bankruptcy client, who testified that he and his wife haven’t seen a cent of the refunded money or unearned fees, the referee and the state Supreme Court put Thibault on the hook for only $3,500 in restitution to the two tax clients.

An online check of Pinellas and Hillsborough County courts shows no criminal or civil cases filed over the “misappropriated” $20,287.

Florida Bar’s Eleven Villains. No, We’re Not Talking about the Eleventh Circuit on This Occasion.
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