Florida Appeals Court To Foreclosure Defense Firm: Quality Of Legal Work In One Case "Disturbing" & "Resulted In A Waste Of Judicial Resources &, Perhaps, An Injustice To The Litigants"
In Orlando, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports:
- When Emmett B. Hagood III's foreclosure case came before a judge last year, his Orlando lawyers were nowhere to be found. The judge promptly ruled against Hagood, and his home was eventually auctioned off by Wells Fargo & Co.
Now an appeals court has fined KEL law firm partner Craig Lynd and staff lawyers Richard W. Withers and Angela Domenech, citing them for "multiple acts of professional negligence," according to a recent ruling from the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Though it found no intentional misconduct, the court's order on June 28 stated the lawyers had shown "systemic flaws in internal procedures, a lack of understanding of substantive law and rules of procedure, and a lack of supervision by senior lawyers."
They were fined a combined $1,000.
"The quality of the legal work performed by KEL's attorneys in this case is disturbing," the court said in a preliminary opinion in May. "It resulted in a waste of judicial resources and, perhaps, an injustice to the litigants."
It was the latest legal snag for the Kaufman, Englett & Lynd law firm, known for its high-volume foreclosure defense, bankruptcy and loan-modification practices. The firm has been the target of a number of client complaints to the Florida Bar alleging impropriety or ethical violations. Some have been resolved in the firm's favor, while others are still being investigated.
The Hagood case, however, was an embarrassment and "one of those 'perfect storm' circumstances not likely to be repeated," said KEL attorney Richard Withers, the case's lead counsel.
"The fine was, fortunately, modest. I've practiced for 40-plus years without being criticized or sanctioned by a court," he said in an email. "So it still stung. We learn from it and keep working."
The errors in Hagood's case began with a clerical scheduling mistake that caused KEL's lawyers to miss the final foreclosure hearing, according to court records. After the trial judge ruled for Wells Fargo, KEL argued "excusable neglect" in a motion to dismiss the judgment. The trial court rejected KEL's motion, setting the stage for the appeal.
Things got worse at the appellate court, where KEL argued its lawyers had never even received notice of the final foreclosure hearing – a point refuted by the record, according to the court. Though KEL later realized its mistake, the lawyers failed to acknowledge that to the appellate judges and instead launched a new set arguments against the lower court ruling.
Withers said the situation was caused by a communications breakdown between himself and Domenech, who was working remotely at the time. Lynd's name was added to the appeal only as a formality and he was not directly engaged in the case, though that drew the judges' criticism as well.
Withers said the firm has now established new protocols to prevent the mistakes from happening again.