Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Playing Fast & Loose With Trust Account Cash Common Charge Running Through Recent Attorney Disciplinary Orders From Florida High Court

From a recent news release from The Florida Bar:

  • The Florida Bar, the state's guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, announces that the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 22 attorneys; disbarring five, suspending 13 and publicly reprimanding four. Three attorneys received more than one form of discipline. Two were placed on probation and one was ordered to pay restitution.
The following Florida attorneys have been disciplined for playing fast & loose with their clients' money sitting in the lawyers' trust accounts, among other things:
  • G. Walter Araujo, 102 E. 49th St., Hialeah, suspended for 30 months, effective 30 days from a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) Araujo admitted to the Bar that for numerous years he’d accepted clients from and shared fees with a non-lawyer. Additionally, Araujo did not maintain proper trust account records. A review of his trust account records as of March 31, 2010, showed a shortage of approximately $8,497. He also improperly solicited a client who had sustained injuries in an automobile accident. Araujo sent a representative to the woman’s house offering legal services, even though she had not contacted anyone seeking such services. (Case No. SC11-1998)

    Jacqueline Jeannette Bird, 254 E. 6th Ave., Tallahassee, suspended for 18 months, effective retroactive to March 4, 2011, following a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Bird was hired by a client to represent her in a personal injury matter. Bird failed to negotiate subrogation reductions for the client with her insurer, but falsely stated that she had done so. On a number of occasions, Bird refused to respond to the client’s attempts to receive her settlement funds until a complaint was filed with The Florida Bar. She also commingled personal and trust funds. (Case No. SC11-818)

    Jeffrey A. Blau, 213 E. Davis Blvd., Tampa, suspended until further order, following a Feb. 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1978) Blau was found in contempt for repeated failure to respond to a trust account subpoena and failure to show good cause for non-compliance. (Case No. 12-2518)

    Mark F. Dickson, 10940 N.W. 15th St., Pembroke Pines, disbarred effective immediately, following a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) Dickson was found guilty of engaging in multiple offenses of misconduct. In at least seven legal matters, Dickson was involved in misappropriation of more than $1.6 million in client funds for personal use, forgery and false notarization. He entered into numerous settlements without client authorization or knowledge, failed to keep proper trust accounting records, failed to communicate adequately with clients, and gave false testimony to The Florida Bar. (Case No. SC12-683)

    Chaz Robert Fisher, P.O. Box 93, Hudson, N.H., suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Fisher is also a member of the New York and Massachusetts state bar associations. When approached by a client’s father to represent his severely disabled child, Fisher accepted the job and became the successor corporate co-trustee of a trust for the child, while the father was designated as the individual trustee. In his handling of the trust matters, Fisher violated Rules Regulating The Florida Bar regarding competence and diligence, performed duties that were a conflict of interest and failed in safekeeping property by not segregating funds deposited and retained in a trust account. (Case No. SC12-1189)
  • Brian Eldon Gray, 1040 Bayview Drive, Suite 610, Fort Lauderdale, suspended until further order, following a Feb. 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Gray appeared to be causing great public harm by misappropriating client trust funds. In multiple instances, Gray did not apply funds entrusted to him for specific purposes but used them in a matter similar to a Ponzi scheme. (Case No. SC13-149)
  • Ronald James Kurpiers II, 707 N. Franklin St., Sixth Floor, Tampa, to be publicly reprimanded by the Board of Governors, following a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) Kurpiers failed to follow trust accounting rules in the handling of an estate and he falsely said he witnessed a document being signed regarding the estate when he had not. (Case No. SC12-1696)

    Albert Richard Meyer, 200 Knuth Road, Suite 101, Boynton Beach, suspended for 60 days, effective 30 days from a March 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) In the course of handling foreclosure defense and loan modification cases, Meyer became associated with two separate non-legal entities, who engaged in improper solicitation of clients. Meyer also shared legal fees with non-lawyers. (Case No. SC12-515)
  • Lafe Rainier Purcell, 1403 W. Colonial Drive #A, Orlando, suspended until further order, following a Feb. 20 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Purcell misappropriated client funds and abandoned his law practice. Numerous payments from Purcell’s trust account were made for his personal benefit or that of his law firm. He also commingled trust funds with his law firm operating funds. Purcell failed to respond to a request from the Bar to produce his trust account records. A Bar investigator learned that Purcell broke his lease and moved out of his law office without giving notice. (Case No. SC13-151)
  • Mark David Swanson, 1521 Alton Road., 684, Miami Beach, disbarred effective immediately, following a March 11 court order. Further, Swanson shall pay restitution of $10,000 to one client. (Admitted to practice: 1984) Pursuant to the terms of a retainer agreement, Swanson accepted $10,000 from a client in a pending criminal appeal, but failed to take any action on the client’s behalf. In another case, he never responded to a request to release guardianship funds for a minor who had become of age. (Case No. SC11-1478)
For The Florida Bar news release, see Summaries of orders issued between Feb. 15 – March 11, 2013.

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