Saturday, June 18, 2016

Florida Supremes Discipline More Attorneys

The Florida Bar recently published the latest issue of its periodic gossip sheet, in which it announced that the Florida Supreme Court disciplined 21 attorneys – disbarring three, revoking the license of one, suspending 12 and publicly reprimanding five. Six attorneys received more than one form of discipline. One attorney was ordered to pay restitution; five attorneys were also placed on probation.

Of those disciplined, the following seven attorneys were sanctioned for matters involving, at least in part, either alleged violations of rules governing trust accounts, or the alleged mishandling or misappropriation of client funds:
  • Joseph Bernstein, Fort Lauderdale, suspended until further order, following a March 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1977) According to a petition for emergency suspension order, Bernstein appears to be causing great public harm by misappropriating client funds. (Case No. SC16-403) [see Petition For Disciplinary Revocation - allegations include the pilfering of at least $164,000 from real estate closings, commingling of client funds with lawyer funds, failing to maintain minimum trust accounting records]

    Arthur Clifton Black, Orlando, suspended for 30 days, effective 30 days from a March 31 court order. Further, upon reinstatement, Black shall be placed on probation for one year and complete a trust accounting workshop. (Admitted to practice: 1972) A Florida Bar auditor found that Black was not in substantial compliance with Bar rules governing trust accounts during the audit period Dec. 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. (Case No. SC16-455)

    Stuart Carl Hoffman, Boca Raton, disbarred effective immediately, following a March 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) In two matters, Hoffman was paid for his services, but after being retained, he took little or no significant action. In a third matter, he abandoned the client’s matter. In all three matters the clients made attempts to contact Hoffman but he did not respond. Upon investigation, the Bar learned that Hoffman vacated the office space at his record Bar address. (Case No. SC15-1591)

    Natalie Aleta Jackson, Orlando, suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from a March 31 court order. Further, upon reinstatement, Jackson shall be placed on probation for two years and complete a trust accounting workshop. She shall also contact Florida Lawyers Assistance for an evaluation. (Admitted to practice: 2003) A Bar audit found that Jackson was not in substantial minimum compliance with the Bar rules governing trust accounts during the audit period Jan. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2015. (Case No. SC16-458)

    Leroy H. Merkle Jr., Tampa, to be publicly reprimanded and further, placed on probation for two years, following a March 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, Merkle failed to maintain all required trust records on his trust account and failed to perform the required monthly reconciliations to ensure that funds in his trust account were properly maintained. As a result, Merkle failed to keep the correct funds in his account at all times. (Case No. SC15-1686)

    C. Byron Stout III, St. Petersburg, to be publicly reprimanded by publication in the Southern Reporter, following a March 3 court order. Further, Stout shall complete ethics school. (Admitted to practice: 2003) Stout engaged in providing loan modification services predominantly to out-of-state clients. Stout entered into a business relationship with a staffing company to assist with handling mortgage modifications under his supervision. Stout’s representation and collection of fees from out-of-state clients did not fully comply with state and federal regulations regulating mortgage assistance relief services. (Case No. SC16-199)

    Horecia Ingram Walker, Miramar, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following a March 24 court order. Further, Walker shall pay restitution of $11,321.60 to one client. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Walker misappropriated client funds that should have been held in trust. A Bar audit revealed that Walker did not maintain minimum trust accounting records and procedures. She failed to respond to Bar inquiries regarding these matters and failed to provide requested records to a subpoena. (Case No. SC15-1573)
Source: Supreme Court Disciplines 21 Attorneys (Summaries of orders issued March 3, 2016 – April 11, 2016).

Note: Key discipline case files that are public record are posted to attorneys’ individual online Florida Bar profiles. To view discipline documents, follow these steps. Additional information on the discipline system and how to file a complaint are available at www.floridabar.org/attorneydiscipline.

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