first_imgLawyers who repeatedly take cases they are not qualified to handle and who repeatedly fail to pursue cases they take on will be disbarred, the Florida Supreme Court has said in a disciplinary case.In an April 29 opinion (Case No. SC02-1687), the court ordered the disbarment of an attorney who took on several cases and then did little or nothing to pursue the matters. The attorney also engaged in several acts to cover up his failures, including in one case preparing 24 false property titles.The case also provoked a strongly worded concurring opinion from Justice Fred Lewis, in which Justice Kenneth Bell concurred.Lewis wrote that the attorney deserved disbarment alone for taking cases he was apparently not qualified to handle. But that was compounded by the lawyer’s failure to diligently pursue the cases and keep his clients informed, which in turn was compounded further by his lying to the clients about the status and outcome of cases and attempts to cover up his inactivity, which included preparing the fake titles.He quoted the referee’s findings: “Respondent harmed his clients by incompetent action, he expressly lied about it to his clients, and thereafter he continued to affirmatively lie and attempt to cover up the lies. Significant consideration must be given to the fact of multiple incidents of such conduct by the respondent, involving several clients. There is no way to interpret the respondent’s deliberate actions in a light favorable enough to him to accept his suggestion that he meant no harm. He is not a competent lawyer. More egregious, however, is the defect he refers to as one of personality. It is more; it is a defect, if not an absolute absence of honesty, integrity, and ethical judgment.. . . The Bar has an obligation to protect the public and to maintain reasonable standards of professional and ethical responsibility. [The respondent] has not and cannot meet those standards, and thus is not qualified to practice law and represent members of the public.”According to the opinion, the attorney was hired to handle a property case in Georgia but never filed to appear pro hac vice or a notice of appearance, and did not appear at the trial. After the resulting adverse ruling, the attorney prepared but never filed a motion to set aside judgment, and lied to the client about the status. The actions cost the client about $29,000 in the lost value of the property.A condominium association hired the lawyer to handle foreclosures on timeshare units where taxes or assessments were outstanding. Five years later, when asked about 24 cases that had not been finalized, the attorney gave the association falsified certificates of title, even though the foreclosures were not final. Some units were sold based on those titles, which resulted in multiple owners claiming the same unit, which created additional legal expenses for the association.In another case where the association brought suit against an owner, the attorney failed to comply with discovery requirements after the unit owner countersued, which resulted in an $18,000 judgment against the association. The attorney paid that from his own funds, but didn’t tell the association about the settlement until after the fact.At one point, the attorney signed a letter acknowledging his failure to act on cases for a client and promised to do better in the future. But he then failed to pursue two other cases he was hired to handle, and was ultimately fired by the client.The lawyer had sought a one-year suspension, but the court noted under the Florida Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions 4.41 (failure to perform or neglect), 4.51 (lack of understanding of fundamental legal doctrines or procedures), and 4.41 (engaging in intentional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation that adversely affects the lawyer’s fitness to practice), disbarment was appropriate. “In light of the multiple instances of misconduct involved and the nature of the misconduct in this case, we approve the referee’s recommendation. . . , ” the opinion said.In his concurring opinion, Justice Lewis added: “[T]his court must not hesitate to affirm the powerful message of the referee — that misconduct as egregious as that demonstrated in the instant matter will result in disbarment.” June 1, 2004 Regular News Don’t take cases you are unqualified to handlecenter_img Don’t take cases you are unqualified to handlelast_img

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