State High Court Gives Florida Attorney 90 Days In 'Penalty Box' For Representing Homeowner In Foreclosure Without Latter's Knowledge, Consent
- Tampa condo owner Alejandro Salazar was surprised to learn that Clearwater lawyer Bruce Harlan was representing him in a foreclosure case. Surprised because Salazar never met Harlan, didn't hire him and didn't even want the condo.
- But someone else did — Lori Polin, a real estate agent with a checkered past who paid Harlan $1,500 to delay the foreclosure because she hoped to buy Salazar's condo in a short sale.
- Because of Harlan's actions in the case, the Florida Supreme Court this month suspended him from practicing law for 90 days starting in mid December. "Even if Mr. Harlan had good intentions, his clients, Mr. Salazar and Ms. Polin, had adverse interests and Mr. Harlan was representing both of them at the same time,'' the Florida Bar said in finding Harlan guilty of a conflict of interest.
- The bizarre chain of events started in 2007 when Salazar's architectural design business foundered and he and his wife moved to her native Spain, defaulting on their mortgage and condo maintenance fees. The Westchase Community Association took title to the condo and deeded the unit to Polin after she paid the back fees.
- At the time, Polin was about to go into foreclosure on her own Westchase condo. She moved into the Salazars' unit and rented out hers, collecting more than $14,000 in rent, but not making payments on either property. Instead, Polin hired Harlan to delay the foreclosure on the Salazars' condo while she negotiated with the bank to buy it for far less than the $137,000 the couple then owed.
- When Salazar returned to Tampa for a visit in 2009, he called the bank to see why its foreclosure suit had dragged on for so long with steadily mounting fees. "Because,'' the bank told him, "your attorney has been fighting us for a year.''
- Salazar pieced together what happened and complained to the Bar.
See The Florida Bar v. Harlan for the Report Of The Referee Accepting Consent Judgment.