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Thieves, Drunks and Scoundrels. Florida Bar’s Lyin’ Lawyers (August 2021)

Florida Supreme Court disciplined 21 attorneys in Aug 2021. Stealing from clients along with alcohol and drug crimes dominated discipline.

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The Florida Bar: August 1, 2021 Disciplinary Actions

30 JULY, 2021

The Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 21 attorneys, disbarring two, suspending 10, revoking the licenses of one, and reprimanding six. Five attorneys were placed on probation and one was admonished.

Danielle Justine Butler, 1314 E. Las Olas Blvd., PMB 8, Ft. Lauderdale, suspended effective 30 days following a May 19 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001)

Butler entered a plea of no contest to one count of Grand Theft in the Third Degree, a felony.

The trial court entered an order of disposition, withheld adjudication and sentenced Butler to one year of probation.

(Case No: SC21-738)

Danielle Butler has rough seas ahead. The Florida Supreme Court suspended Butler, managing partner at the Luxury Law Group in Fort Lauderdale, from the practice of law,

after the maritime attorney pleaded no contest in separate criminal proceedings and as a result was sentenced to one year of probation for stealing money from a client.”

– Law.com,  May 21, 2021

The Florida yachting community has been shaken by the news that Danielle Butler, Luxury Law Group former managing partner, has been suspended by the Florida Supreme Court (effective Friday, June 18th). The Fort Lauderdale-based maritime attorney pleaded no contest in separate criminal proceedings which accused her of grand theft in the third degree and, as a result, was sentenced to one year of probation for the intent to try to steal money from a client.

There is an opportunity to rehear the case according to the Florida Supreme Court. However the filing of a motion to rehear, should it come, will not alter the effective date of the suspension. Butler told Superyacht Investor: “I have been and am working with my team of attorneys to resolve all criminal and bar issues in my favour and clear my name.”

Butler states that all allegations are against her personally and not Luxury Law Group and/or Luxury Financial Group or its principals.

She further states that there are no allegations concerning the misappropriation of any client funds that were held in any of Luxury Law Group’s bank accounts.

The former client’s allegations concerned a cost invoice that was emailed to the client that was calculated incorrectly.

Butler, who has been a member of the Florida Bar since October 2001, co-founded Luxury Law Group back in 2014 and, until recently, she was a principal at Luxury Financial Group since 2017.

Butler is also the former chairwoman of the board of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Jan L Jacobowitz, founder, Legal Ethics Advisor, told SYI that the specific allegations against Butler are rare.

“Which is probably why the coverage has been greater than the more common misconduct that occurs when attorneys mishandle client funds via their trust accounts.”

Jacobowitz adds:

“As the Florida Bar has often explained to my students. The bar is not out to prosecute lawyers – just don’t lie, cheat, or steal – other ‘honest’ mistakes can often be resolved without any significant detriment to your licence.”

Damien Aranguren (who’s been featured on LIF before), 725 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Suite 1, Ocala, suspended for 18 months and probation for one year then following reinstatement, Aranguren is further placed on probation for one year. Aranguren is currently suspended; therefore, this suspension is effective, nunc pro tunc, to the effective date of his felony suspension, March 30 following a June 10 court order. (Admitted to Practice: 2009)

On or about March 10, Aranguren entered pleas of nolo contendere to three felony counts of Grand Theft (Statutory Theft) and two misdemeanor counts involving trespass.

The court withheld adjudication as to all counts and sentenced Aranguren to two years of conditional probation as to the felony counts and to credit for time served as to the misdemeanor counts. (Case No: SC21-468)

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Bryon R. Aven, 400 South Street D, Titusville, public reprimand effective immediately following a May 27 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2008)

During his unsuccessful judicial campaign in Marion County, Aven made misleading and damaging statements concerning the incumbent judge.

Aven expressly and intentionally implied that the incumbent judge favored criminals, disfavored law enforcement, disfavored the state attorney and that he, as a candidate, would do differently.

(Case No: SC19-1879)

Abraham Elmazahi, P.O. Box 78023, Orlando, suspended for 90 days and probation for three years with attendance at the Professionalism Workshop and Ethics School effective 30 days following a June 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2018)

Elmazahi, while employed as an assistant state attorney in Orange County created a conflict of interest when he engaged in a consensual romantic relationship with the victim in a domestic violence case in which he was the assigned prosecutor.

(Case No: SC21-781)

Robert John Foy, 620 N. Walnut St., Murfreesboro, TN, disbarred effective July 5 following a June 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2006)

In September 2015, Foy agreed to represent a client in a personal injury case which resulted from a car accident.

The client’s case was settled in February 2018 for $40,000.

Foy knowingly and intentionally did not send a portion of the settlement funds to settle the client’s bills and did not provide any settlement funds to the client until she filed a disciplinary complaint against Foy.

In response to the complaint, Foy submitted bank records to the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee that were not accurate and were altered.

This is a reciprocal discipline action based on the Petition for Discipline dated November 7, 2019, and the Order of Enforcement from the Supreme Court of Tennessee dated August 17, 2020.

(Case No: SC20-1595)

Carl Roland Hayes, 308 E. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Suite E, Tampa, suspended for 60 days effective 30 days following a June 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992)

Hayes lacked competence and diligence in his representation of a client in an immigration matter.

The client hired Hayes to fight his pending deportation, which required the filing of an Application of Cancellation of Removal with the immigration court. Hayes failed to file an application by the deadline and instead filed an improper motion with the court. The court found the motion legally insufficient and deemed the application abandoned. The court ordered the client’s removal and an appeal was reserved.

Subsequently, the appellate court remanded the case and Hayes withdrew from the case. The client remained in detention throughout the appeal process.

(Case No: SC21-757)

Andrew C. Hill, (who’s been on LIF previously) 11916 Trevally Loop, Apt. 311, Trinity, suspended for one year effective 30 days following a June 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2007)

Hill was ordered to hold disputed frozen funds in his trust account until the final resolution of his client’s case or upon further order of the court. Hill did not have a trust account, and he failed to hold the funds in trust as ordered.

In addition, Hill failed to account for the funds when the matter concluded and failed to timely disburse the funds. Hill also failed to timely respond to The Florida Bar’s inquiries in this matter.

(Case No: SC20-1515)

Chinagozi Ikpeama, 2820 Howland Blvd., Suite 6, Deltona, public reprimand and directed to attend The Florida Bar’s Trust Accounting Workshop effective immediately following a June 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2010)

While representing the husband in a dissolution of marriage case, Ikpema received funds representing attorney’s fees and costs from the wife.

Ikpema failed to timely disburse funds paid by the wife for five itemized costs to his client.

Additionally, Ikpema failed to comply with The Florida Bar Rules Regulating Trust Accounts.

(Case No: SC21-755)

Lisa Jacobs, 7951 SW 6th St. Suite 200, Plantation, suspended for 30 days effective 30 days following a June 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999)

Jacobs tested positive for alcohol use on a few occasions after receiving diversion for reckless driving. Thereafter, Jacobs failed to notify The Florida Bar that she was adjudicated guilty to DUI with property damage/personal injury and refusal to submit to a blood/breath test.

(Case No: SC21-766)

Tarica C. LaBossiere, 301 S.W. 86th Ave., Apt. 205, Pembroke Pines, admonishment and probation for three years effective immediately following a June 10, court order. (Admitted to practice: 2018)

LaBossiere was arrested for driving under the influence after a traffic stop.

There, she plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence.

LaBossiere was sentenced to 12-months’ probation, a $1,000 fine and other conditions.

In March 2019, the grievance committee considered this matter and made a diversion recommendation with certain conditions. LaBossiere accepted the diversion.

Subsequently, LaBossiere failed to comply with all conditions of the diversion and the matter was returned to the grievance committee for further proceedings.

(Case No: SC21-786)

Allen Howard Libow, 4651 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton, public reprimand and attendance at The Florida Bar’s Professionalism Workshop effective immediately following a June 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1991)

Libow sent unprofessional emails to opposing counsel and made disparaging comments to the presiding judge.

In another matter, in which Libow sued a client for fees, he engaged in vexatious litigation.

(Case No: SC21-805)

Kelly Anne McCabe, 535 Central Ave., Suite 435, St. Petersburg, suspended for three years effective 30 days following a June 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004)

McCabe engaged in a pattern of misconduct over the course of litigation in two client matters.

McCabe failed to communicate and act with competence or diligence in her client’s cases and she failed to respond to the Bar in two separate matters.

(Case No: SC20-620)

Diane Marie McGuire, 42 Snapper Ave., Key Largo, indefinite interim probation effective immediately following a June 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990)

McGuire failed to participate in an agreed evaluation through Florida Lawyer’s Assistance, Inc.

(Case No: SC21-874)

Arthur J Morburger from Miami Beach, FL,

Age: 84 years old,

Residence; 5255 Collins Ave, Apt 5J, Miami Beach, FL, 33140-2577;

Foreclosure sale; March 2021, $400k, worth $950k

Arthur Joseph Morburger, 201 S. Biscayne Blvd., Miami, emergency suspended effective immediately following a June 16 court order (Admitted to practice: 1973).

Morburger was found to have misappropriated funds from his trust account. He also made misrepresentations regarding these funds in his sworn deposition testimony, as well as to the Bar in his written responses.

A petition for emergency suspension is granted by the Florida Supreme Court when The Florida Bar presents clear and convincing evidence that a lawyer appears to be causing great public harm (see Rule 3-5.2(a)) and also constitutes a formal complaint so that the matter is fully investigated and a final disciplinary action is ordered.

(Case No: SC21-900)

James C. Peterson, P.O. Box 428, New Smyrna Beach, public reprimand, probation for two years and completion of Trust Accounting Workshop, effective June 8 following a June 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2010)

Peterson’s father and grandfather were partners of the law firm, and he was an associate.

In 2015, Peterson became a signatory on the firm’s trust accounts and at the time, serious deficiencies existed in the way the firm maintained its two trust accounts including a shortage in one account.

Although his father corrected the shortage, Peterson was unaware of the issue until the Bar commenced its compliance audit of the firm’s two trust accounts.

When the Bar notified Peterson of the errors, he created a new law firm with his brother and took the necessary steps to ensure the new law firm’s trust account complied with the rules.

(Case No: SC21-758)

Dave Kumar Roy, (Deceased),  1665 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach, suspended for 10 days effective 30 days following a June 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1996)

Roy was hired to handle a wrongful arrest case and allowed the statute of limitations to run out, while also failing to advise the client that the case had been dismissed.

(Case No: SC21-810)

Todd Patrick Scholl, 2792 Duffer Road, Sebring, public reprimand effective immediately following a June 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2019)

On or about July 15, 2020, Scholl pled no contest to DUI, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to a one-year period of probation with conditions, fines, and costs.

In 2017, Scholl had a prior arrest for first-time DUI that was resolved with a guilty plea to Reckless Driving, a misdemeanor.

(Case No: SC21-279)

Mark Ellis Solomon, 4767 New Broad St., Orlando, suspended for one year effective 30 days following a June 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1983)

In two separate matters, Solomon failed to provide his clients with competent and diligent representation resulting in the dismissal of their cases with prejudice.

In the first matter, the court awarded attorney’s fees and costs against Solomon’s clients. Solomon personally paid the judgment entered against the clients. He also failed to maintain adequate communication during the representation.

In the second matter, Solomon filed a pleading that cast aspersions on the appellate court panel but filed an amended pleading after an order to show cause was issued by the court. Additionally, the appellee was awarded attorney’s fees against Solomon’s client.

(Case No: SC20-1816)

LIF and LIT has seen this frequently. Lawyers caught out with the ‘just wire this money and take a big commission’ scam email.

Mark Edward Tietig, 6065 South Tropical Trail, Merritt Island, disbarred effective immediately following a June 17 court order. (Admitted to Practice: 1997)

Tietig self-reported to the Bar an overdraft in his law office trust account resulting from fraud.

At the time of the overdraft, Tietig was holding client funds in the trust account.

Tietig was unable to recover the client funds and he failed to correct the shortage in the trust account.

Additionally, Tietig represented two clients in different civil cases where he neglected the cases, failed to communicate with the clients and ultimately abandoned the clients when he closed his law office without notice.

Tietig took no steps to protect his clients when he abruptly ceased practicing law.

(Case No: SC20-1436)

Michael Dennis Walsh, 3411 Powerline Rd., Suite 701, Oakland Park, public reprimand, effective immediately following a June 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999)

Walsh was held in contempt and publicly reprimanded for failing to timely respond to official inquiries of The Florida Bar.

(Case No: SC21-201)

Randall Albert Werre, 3645 Flintwood Circle, Pensacola, disciplinary revocation with leave to apply for readmission after five years effective immediately following a June 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1984)

Werre filed a Petition for Disciplinary Revocation based on his prior disciplinary history and another current case involving neglect of client and failing to respond to The Florida Bar.

(Case No: SC21-590)

As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the more than 108,000 members of The Florida Bar.

Key discipline case files that are public record are posted to attorneys’ individual online Florida Bar profiles.

Information on the discipline system and how to file a complaint are available at www.floridabar.org/attorneydiscipline.

Court orders are not final until time expires to file a rehearing motion and, if filed, determined. The filing of such a motion does not alter the effective date of the discipline.

Disbarred lawyers may not re-apply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that includes a rigorous background check and retaking the Bar exam.

Attorneys suspended for periods of 91 days and longer must undergo a rigorous process to regain their law licenses including proving rehabilitation. Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment.

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Florida

Disgraced and Disbarred: Why Are Former Judges and Lawyers Working as Mediators in Our Courts?

LIF questions the standards applied for allowing former disgraced and disbarred lawyers and judges to become mediators in Florida Courts.

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Ex Con and Disgraced Lawyer Steven Lippman is Working as a Mediator in Florida Courts

We detail Lippman’s criminal past and current employment in our Allan Campbell Pen Name Series here.

Greedy Former Judge and Lawyer Laura Watson is Working as a Mediator in Florida Courts and disavowing She was Ever a Judge On Her Linkedin Profile

Laura Watson was a Judge for a short time, most of it under investigation by the JCQ. She was officially on the bench from January 2013 until around June 2015. This is not shown on her Linkedin resume.

Laura Marie Watson was a Judge of the Seventeenth Circuit Court in Broward County, Florida.

She was elected in 2012 and began serving on the court in January of 2013.

She was removed from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court in June 2015

Reason: Finchin’ $2.5M of a $3M group settlement for herself and her former hubby, Darin Lentner.

No criminal charges were filed against either Watson or Lentner.

The Conflicting Mediator Resume for Laura Watson

LIF Commentary: If you’re lyin’ and hidin’ on your resume, you cannot be trusted, especially as a mediator in Florida courts.

Former Broward County judge disbarred for her conduct as attorney

Laura Watson removed from office in 2015

May 1, 2017

A former Broward County judge has been disbarred for her conduct before she wore a robe.

Laura Watson is no longer entitled to practice law in the state of Florida, the Florida Bar announced Friday.

Watson was removed from office by the Florida Supreme Court in June 2015 because of her actions as an attorney before she was elected judge.

The Florida Bar said Watson violated numerous bar rules, including failing to fully inform clients, not giving clients sufficient information to make decisions and failing to provide closing statements and place disputed funds in escrow.

A 16-page decision by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission said Watson “sold out her clients, her co-counsel and ultimately herself” while she was an attorney involved in insurance litigation involving Progressive, Gold Coast Orthopedics and her personal injury protection clients.

Watson was accused of secretly negotiating a settlement with Progressive that paid her firm $3 million, improperly cutting out fellow lawyers and shortchanging her clients, who received just $361,000.

The other attorneys sued Watson and won.

Watson was elected to the Broward County circuit court in 2012 and took office in 2013. She was first admitted to the Florida Bar in 1985.

Court Rules Ousted Broward Judge Can’t Sue JQC Members, Bar Prosecutors

July 31, 2017

Former Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson lost her case against members of the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Florida Bar lawyers whose work led to her disbarment.

Watson alleged the attorneys violated her constitutional rights and conspired against her in judicial and attorney disciplinary proceedings. She was removed from the bench in 2015 for unethical work during her private-practice days, and the Florida Bar permanently revoked her license earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke dismissed Watson’s lawsuit Friday, ruling JQC members and Florida Bar prosecutors are immune to lawsuits over work they do in those roles, just as judges and criminal prosecutors are.

Watson “does nothing to show that the JQC investigative panel members’ functions were not similar to the role of prosecutors, or that the defendants stepped outside their roles such that absolute immunity would not attach to that action,” Cooke wrote.

The former judge’s allegations that her rights were violated were not sufficient to pierce the veil of that immunity, Cooke added.

The discipline against Watson stemmed from her involvement in a secret insurance litigation settlement that didn’t designate any money for several other attorneys retained on the case.

Her firm, Watson & Lentner, was one of the recipients of a $14.5 million settlement from Progressive Insurance Co. on behalf of health care providers.

Watson & Lentner paid clients $361,000 and kept more than $2.5 million for itself, leaving out other attorneys who later sued Watson, her firm and anyone else who received attorney fees.

A judge then reallocated $3 million for the other attorneys at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain in Miami and two solo practitioners.

Stewart Tilghman attorney Larry Stewart filed complaints with the JQC and the Florida Bar, and the saga ended in disbarment for Watson, her ex-husband and former law partner Darin Lentner, and father-and-son attorneys Charles and Harley Kane.

In her lawsuit against the JQC members and bar prosecutors, Watson claimed Stewart exercised undue influence over the proceedings against her. His law partner was friends with a JQC lawyer, who then withheld emails from Watson that could have helped her defense, she alleged in the 99-page complaint that included 1,800 pages of appendices.

But Cooke ruled the emails are protected by prosecutorial immunity and did not appear to include exculpatory evidence.

“The emails certainly show that Mr. Stewart was immensely interested in [Watson]’s case before the JQC and constantly communicated with members of the JQC and the Florida Bar,” Cooke wrote. “However, the emails contain nothing about the underlying charges for which [Watson] was removed from judicial office being false.”

Tampa attorney Lanse Scriven, a partner at Trenam who is on the Florida Bar board of governors, represented the 19 defendants from both the JQC and the bar. He declined to comment on Cooke’s order. His Trenam colleague Anne Connelly Leonard also represented the JQC defendants, and Michael Moody of Greenberg Traurig in Tallahassee defended the Florida Bar lawyers.

Watson, who represented herself, did not respond to a request for comment.

The order closes a three-year battle that included a failed attempt by Watson to get her case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Bankruptcy

Married with Children, Foreclosure Defense Attorney Andrew John Manie’s Sexual Misconduct Privileged

During a criminal investigation, lawyer Manie was given immunity from criminal prosecution by the Statewide Prosecutor.

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From Manie’s Online Website

(Last Visited on Jun 2, 2022)

Attorney Andrew John Manie grew up in South Florida. After graduating from High School, he joined the United States Marine Corp.

After serving his country honorably, Attorney Manie attended Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida.

He obtained his certificate in trial advocacy as well as his juris doctorate degree.

Mr. Manie spent several years with private firms throughout Central Florida, representing clients in consumer bankruptcies, foreclosure defense, foreclosures, debt collection, debt defense, contract drafting and disputes.

Attorney Manie has been married for over 12 years to his wife and has two wonderful children.

CONDITIONAL GUILTY PLEA FOR CONSENT JUDGMENT

MAY 27, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 2, 2022

COMES NOW, the undersigned respondent, Andrew John Manie, and files this Conditional Guilty Plea pursuant to Rule 3-7.9 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

1. Respondent is, and at all times mentioned herein was, a member of The Florida Bar, subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida.

2. Respondent is currently the subject of a Florida Bar disciplinary matter which has been assigned The Florida Bar File No. 2021-30,486 (5A).

There has been a finding of probable cause by the grievance committee.

3. Respondent is acting freely and voluntarily in this matter and tenders this plea without fear or threat of coercion.

Respondent is represented by counsel in this matter.

EXHIBIT A

4. The disciplinary measures to be imposed upon respondent are as follows:

A. A six-month suspension from the practice of law with proof of rehabilitation prior to reinstatement.

B. Upon reinstatement to the practice of law, a four-year period of probation with Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. (FLA, Inc.) with the following conditions:

i. Respondent will participate actively in the program offered by FLA, Inc., by signing a rehabilitation contract with that organization within 30 days of the order of the Supreme Court of Florida recommending reinstatement. Respondent shall follow all recommendations by FLA, Inc. during the entire probation period.

ii. Respondent will pay a FLA, Inc., registration fee of $250.00 and a probation monitoring fee of $100.00 per month directly to FLA, Inc. The Florida Bar will monitor respondent’s compliance with his FLA, Inc. rehabilitation contract, including nonpayment of the monthly monitoring fees.

Should respondent fail to pay FLA, Inc., respondent’s failure to pay will be reported to The Florida Bar and the bar will follow up, with regards to respondent’s noncompliance, up to and including holding respondent in contempt for failure to pay the monthly monitoring fees.

iii. Payment of the bar’s disciplinary costs.

5. Respondent acknowledges that, unless waived or modified by the Court on motion of respondent, the court order will contain a provision that prohibits respondent from accepting new business from the date of the order or opinion and shall provide that the suspension is effective 30 days from the date of the order or opinion so that respondent may close out the practice of law and protect the interest of existing clients.

6. The following allegations provide the basis for respondent’s guilty plea and for the discipline to be imposed in this matter:

A. On January 15, 2021, during a criminal investigation, respondent was interviewed by agents of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation.

Prior to providing a statement, respondent was given immunity from criminal prosecution by the Statewide Prosecutor.

Respondent voluntarily admitted to the agents and the Assistant Statewide Prosecutor that, in September 2019, respondent responded to an advertisement posted on an escort website and committed a sexual act with a woman in exchange for money.

When respondent entered the escort website, the website displayed a message stating that you must be 21 years or older to enter the website.

B. During this time, the respondent was under severe emotional and mental distress.

The advertisement that respondent responded to stated that the escort in the picture was over the age of 18 years old, and the individual who the respondent visited appeared to be much older than 18 years old.

C. At the time of the act in 2019, respondent, who was 30 years old at the time, believed he was meeting with an escort that was over the age of 18, however, the individual, was in fact 17 years and 9 months of age.

When, during the interview of the respondent by the agents, the respondent was told of the victim’s age, he was so upset she was underaged, he broke down in tears.

The Assistant Statewide Prosecutor stated she believed the respondent was not aware of the victim’s age.

D. Pursuant to the grant of immunity, respondent was not criminally prosecuted for the offense.

7. The following Rules Regulating The Florida Bar provide the basis for the discipline to be imposed in this matter:

3-4.3 [Misconduct and Minor Misconduct];

3-4.4 [Criminal Misconduct];

and

4-8.4(b) [Misconduct].

8. In aggravation, although respondent was unaware at the time of his misconduct of both facts, the victim was vulnerable as she was a minor and was a victim of human trafficking [Standard 3.2(b)(8)].

9. The respondent offers the following factors in mitigation:

A. The respondent has no prior disciplinary record [Standard 3.3(b)(1)].

B. The respondent is an Iraqi War Veteran who served in the United States Marine Corps from 2007 until 2011 when he was medically retired due to debilitating medical conditions which arose during his service and are ongoing to the present time.

As a result of his military service, respondent endured physical and mental trauma and suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

In addition, respondent experienced significant and repeated trauma during his childhood, which in combination with his PTSD and ongoing health issues resulted in significant mental health issues which was a substantial contributing factor in the underlying misconduct [Standard 3.3(b)(3) and 3.3(b)(8)].

C. The respondent has provided full and free disclosure to the bar and demonstrated a cooperative attitude toward the proceedings and has cooperated with the Statewide Prosecutor’s office [Standard 3.3(b)(5)].

D. The respondent was inexperienced in the practice of law at the time of the misconduct [Standard 3.3(b)(6)].

E. The respondent has good character and reputation within the community.

Respondent honorably served his country in Iraq and mentors fellow Marines suffering through post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Respondent is a sole practitioner and also regularly provides pro-bono legal services to those in need [Standard 3.3(b)(7)].

F. The respondent has been undergoing independent and ongoing counseling and treatment for more than eight months and he entered into a rehabilitation contract with FLA, Inc. on November 17, 2021, [Standard 3.3(b)(10)].

G. The respondent is sincerely remorseful for his actions [Standard 3.3(b)(12)].

10. The proposed sanction is supported by the following dispositions in recent cases:

A. In The Florida Bar v. Patrick James Landy Jr., Case No. SC20-1578 (Fla. Nov. 12, 2020), a former Assistant State Attorney was arrested and charged by information with Aggravated Stalking, a third-degree felony, and with Threats or Extortion, a second-degree felony.

He created and used fake social media accounts, hiding his identity, to harass, stalk and threaten his former girlfriend, who was also a Florida Assistant State Attorney.

In the criminal case, Mr. Landy entered no contest pleas to two amended charges of misdemeanor stalking.

Adjudication was withheld and respondent was placed on probation for one year as to each count to run consecutive, for a total of two years of probation with special conditions.

In the bar case, the Florida Bar agreed to a Consent Judgment for a public reprimand, three years of probation and participation in FLA Inc., which was approved by the Court.

Like the respondent, Mr. Landy had multiple mitigation factors, including absence of a prior disciplinary record, personal or emotional problems, full and free disclosure to disciplinary board or cooperative attitude toward proceedings, inexperience in the practice of law, physical or mental disability or impairment or substance-related disorder, interim rehabilitation, and remorse.

B. In The Florida Bar v. Gregory John Hoag, Case No. SC21-1683 (Fla. Dec. 16, 2021), the respondent pled no contest to misdemeanor domestic battery in July 2019.

Adjudication was withheld, and respondent was placed on probation with conditions, including abstaining from consuming alcohol, submitting to random urinalysis screenings, and attending a 29-week domestic violence intervention program.

Respondent successfully completed the terms of his criminal probation in June 2020.

A Consent Judgment for public reprimand by publication and completion of three-year FLA, Inc. contract was approved by the Court.

Mitigation included absence of a prior disciplinary record, personal or emotional problems, full and free disclosure to the bar or cooperative attitude toward the proceedings, and imposition of other penalties or sanctions.

C. In The Florida Bar v. Juan Carlos Mercado Jr., Case No. SC21-1404 (Fla. Oct. 14, 2021), an Assistant State Attorney who engaged in a sexual relationship with a defendant who was pending prosecution by his office, provided confidential information to the defendant and offered her advice and assistance regarding her case, was suspended for six months.

Mitigation included inexperience in the practice of law, no prior disciplinary history, remorse, interim rehabilitation (counseling), good reputation in the legal community and community service.

D. In The Florida Bar v. Abraham Elmazahi, Case No. SC21- 781 (Fla. June 10, 2021), an Assistant State Attorney began a sexual relationship with the victim of a defendant he was prosecuting and filed additional charges against the defendant during his relationship with the victim.

The Court approved a Consent Judgment for a 90-day suspension with a three-year term of probation and attendance at a professional workshop and Ethics School.

Mitigation included absence of prior discipline, absence of dishonest or selfish motive, inexperience in the practice of law, cooperative attitude towards the proceedings and full and free disclosure to the bar, reputation and character in the community, the imposition of other sanctions, and remorse.

11. The Florida Bar has approved this proposed plea in the manner required by Rule 3-7.9.

12. If this plea is not finally approved by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar and the Supreme Court of Florida, then it shall be of no effect and may not be used by the parties in any way.

13. Respondent agrees to eliminate all indicia of respondent’s status as an attorney on email, social media, telephone listings, stationery, checks, business cards, office signs or any other indicia of respondent’s status as an attorney, whatsoever.

14. If this plea is approved, then respondent agrees to pay all reasonable costs associated with this case pursuant to Rule 3-7.6(q) in the amount of $1,376.00. These costs are due within 30 days of the court order.

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Lawyer Complaints

Florida Lawyer Brian O’Connell Borrowed Half a Million Plus and then Lied On His Tax Return

What else is being lied about? And will the Catholic Charitable Donations need a Few Hail Mary’s?

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COMPLAINT OF THE FLORIDA BAR

BRIAN MCKENNA O’CONNELL

MAY 24, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 1, 2022

The Florida Bar, complainant, files this Complaint against Brian McKenna O’Connell, respondent, pursuant to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and alleges:

1. The respondent is and was at all times mentioned herein a member of The Florida Bar admitted on November 10, 1980 and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida.

2. The respondent resided in and practiced law in Palm Beach County, Florida, at all times material.

3. The respondent was Board Certified by the Florida Bar from August 1, 1990 until July 31, 2020 in Wills, Trusts and Estates.

4. The respondent was an attorney with the law firm of Ciklin Lubitz, at all times material.

5. The Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee “I” found probable cause to file this complaint pursuant to Rule 3-7.4, of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, and this complaint has been approved by the presiding member of that committee.

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COUNT I – THE MISAPPROPRIATIONS

6. The respondent represented Nancy C. Brown, hereinafter referred to as “Brown.”

7. The respondent prepared the Nancy C. Brown Amended and Restated Revocable Trust, hereinafter referred to as “The Trust.”

8. Brown, as settlor, executed The Trust on February 6, 2009.

9. The respondent, together with Wachovia Bank were named as the trustees of The Trust.

10. Subsequent to the execution of The Trust, Wachovia Bank resigned as the corporate trustee leaving respondent as the sole trustee, as reflected in the First Amendment to The Trust, dated December 8, 2011.

(The Trust and First Amendment to The Trust are attached hereto and incorporated herein as The Florida Bar’s Exhibit 1.)

11. The First Amendment to The Trust required respondent, as the sole trustee, to distribute to the following beneficiaries, as specific devises:

The sum of ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED ($1,500) DOLLARS shall be distributed to JOHN OLSON, if he survives Settlor.

The sum of FIVE THOUSAND ($5,000) DOLLARS shall be distributed to SCHENELL M. FINN, if he survives Settlor.

12. The First Amendment to The Trust also required respondent, as the sole trustee, to distribute all the rest, residue and remainder of the residuary Trust Estate as follows:

[T]o such one or more charitable organizations qualified under Section 501(3)(c)(sic) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, as the Trustee, in the Trustee’s sole discretion, shall determine”.

(See The Florida Bar’s Exhibit 1, page 2 of the First Amendment.)

13. Brown died on January 28, 2014.

14. The respondent administered Brown’s estate and The Trust.

15. On or about March 6, 2014, respondent represented The Trust in the sale of Brown’s home, with the sales proceeds of $538,342.73, disbursed at closing to The Trust.

16. On or about March 7, 2014, respondent caused the proceeds of $538,342.73 to be deposited into the trust account maintained at IberiaBank, Account ending in 9513, which respondent opened on or about the date of the sale of Brown’s residence.

17. The respondent opened the IberiaBank account ending in 9513, on or about March 7, 2014, despite the existing account at Wachovia Bank, entitled “Nancy C Brown Rev Trust.”

18. The respondent’s personal bank account was also maintained at IberiaBank.

19. Ciklin Lubitz did their banking primarily at Wachovia Bank and Citibank, at all times material.

20. The respondent was the sole signatory on the IberiaBank Account ending in 9513 for The Trust.

21. A federal tax lien was filed in June of 2012 in the combined amount of $1,006,240.00 against respondent’s former residence located at 132 Cortez Road in West Palm Beach, Florida.

That combined lien was finally paid and satisfied in 2021.

22. Multiple tax liens were also levied on properties owned by the respondent in Berrien County, Michigan by March of 2014.

23. From March 7, 2014 through June 4, 2014, in thirteen separate transactions, respondent misappropriated a total of $506,455.30 from Brown’s trust proceeds held in IberiaBank Account ending in 9513.

24. The following dates and amounts of the respondent’s misappropriations are listed below:

03/07/2014 $42,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

03/27/2014 $40,575.00 (withdrawal for “Berrien County Treasurer”)

03/30/2014 $36,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

04/02/2014 $19,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell

04/14/2014 $250,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

05/02/2014 $40,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

05/09/2014 $3,188.50 (withdrawal for “Zazz Events”)

05/09/2014 $10,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

05/19/2014 $40,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

05/30/2014 $15,000.00 (payable to Brian O’Connell)

06/02/2014 $2,500.00 (payable to Flagler Bank)

06/02/2014 $6,691.80 (payable to Flagler Bank)

06/04/2014 $1,500.00 (phone/in-person transfer)

Total $506,455.30

25. All of the thirteen separate withdrawals made by the respondent from the IberiaBank Trust Account ending in 9513 were for the personal benefit of the respondent and not for the interests of the beneficiaries.

26. Not a single one of the thirteen separate withdrawals from The Trust account was for the interests of the beneficiaries.

27. On or about June 10, 2014, a paralegal with the Ciklin Lubitz Firm questioned the withdrawals from The Trust’s Account ending in 9513 with an email to the respondent with the subject line

“The Brown Trust Account is down to $30,000”

which stated:

“What is going on with all of these checks and withdrawals?”

28. On or about June 14, 2014, the managing partner of the Ciklin Lubitz Firm and others met with the respondent and confronted him concerning the withdrawals from The Trust’s account at IberiaBank ending in 9513.

29. During the June 14, 2014, meeting the respondent told those present that he had “borrowed” the funds.

Brian McKenna O'Connell

Brian M. O’Connell is a member of O’Connell & Crispin Ackal, PLLC, where he focuses his practice primarily on estate planning and administration as well as probate litigation. Located in Palm Beach, Florida, he provides representation to clients throughout the area.

30. The respondent did not have any right or basis to “borrow” funds for his own personal benefit and not for the interests of the beneficiaries.

31. But for the intervention of the Ciklin Lubitz’ Firm’s paralegal, the respondent’s misappropriations would have gone undetected.

32. The Ciklin Lubitz Firm hired an attorney who concentrates his practice handling matters concerning ethics.

That attorney advised members of the Ciklin Lubitz Firm that if the respondent replaced the misappropriated funds, the firm was not required to report the misconduct to The Florida Bar.

33. The respondent repaid the misappropriated funds, plus interest, over a six-month period. The first payment of $252,294.53 was paid by the respondent on June 19, 2014.

The final payment of $265,604.87 was paid by the respondent on December 31, 2014.

34. The fact that respondent eventually paid back the misappropriated funds with interest does not excuse or mitigate the misconduct.

35. After several years, another member of the Ciklin Lubitz Firm filed a bar grievance after learning of the respondent’s misappropriations and deceptions.

36. In his November 26, 2019 and July 14, 2020 responses to The Florida Bar, respondent claimed for the first time that his right or authority to “borrow” $506,455.30 from The Trust for his personal benefit and not for the interests of the beneficiaries was permitted under sections 11.1 (A) and
(D) of the trust.

Those sections are set forth below:

(A) With regard to both real and personal property, for the purpose of obtaining funds for payment of taxes, claims and the costs of administration of Settlor’s estate, if authorized, and for making distributions, conversion into cash, management of the property, and for every other proper purpose, they may acquire, invest, reinvest, exchange, lease, sell, borrow, mortgage, pledge, transfer and convey in such manner an on such terms without limit as to time as they may deem advisable, even for terms beyond the expected term of the estate or any trust, and no purchaser or lender shall be liable to see to the propriety of the transaction, nor to the application of the proceeds.

(D) To cause any property, real or personal, belonging to the trust to be held or registered in the Trustee’s name or in the name of a nominee or in such other form as the Trustee deems best without disclosing the trust relationship.

37. Section 11.1 of Brown’s trust absolutely does not provide the respondent any right or authority to “borrow” funds from The Trust for his personal benefit and not for the interests of the beneficiaries.

38. In his November 26, 2019 and July 14, 2020 responses to The Florida Bar, respondent claimed for the first time that his right or authority to “borrow” $506,455.30 from The Trust for his own personal benefit was also derived from the following Florida Statutes:

736.0802(2)(a) Subject to the rights of persons dealing with or assisting the trustee as provided in s. 736.1016, a sale, encumbrance, or other transaction involving the investment or management of trust property entered into by the trustee for the trustee’s own personal account or which is otherwise affected by a conflict between the trustee’s fiduciary and personal interests is voidable by a beneficiary affected by the transaction unless:

(a) The transaction was authorized by the terms of the trust;

736.0814(1) Notwithstanding the breadth of discretion granted to a trustee in the terms of the trust, including the use of such terms as “absolute,” “sole,” or “uncontrolled,” the trustee shall exercise a discretionary power in good faith and in accordance with the terms and purposes of the trust and the interests of the beneficiaries.

A court shall not determine that a trustee abused its discretion merely because the court would have exercised the discretion in a different manner or would not have exercised the discretion.

736.0815 General powers of trustee. —

(1) A trustee, without authorization by the court, may, except as limited or restricted by this code, exercise:

(b) Except as limited by the terms of the trust:

1. All powers over the trust property that an unmarried competent owner has over individually owned property.

736.0816(19) Make loans out of trust property, including, but not limited to, loans to a beneficiary on terms and conditions that are fair and reasonable under the circumstances, and the trustee has a lien on future distributions for repayment of those loans.

39. Those statutes do not provide the respondent with any right or authority to “borrow” funds from The Trust for his own personal benefit and not for the interests of the beneficiaries.

Brian McKenna O'Connell (Fl. Bar Profile)

COUNT II – THE DECEPTIVE CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS AND INCOME TAX RETURNS

40. The charitable contributions were ultimately paid by respondent as follows:

6/19/14 Cardinal Newman – contribution to art room – $75,000.00

6/19/14 Catholic Charities Elder Affairs Program $175,000.00

12/30/14 Cardinal Newman High School $199,588.03

12/30/14 St. Juliana Catholic School $40,000.00

12/30/14 University of Florida $20,000.00

12/30/14 Rosarian Academy $15,000.00

41. On or about December 30, 2014, the respondent forwarded a $20,000.00 check to the University of Florida as a Law Review pledge on a starter check from the Trust’s IberiaBank Account ending in 9313.

The check was sent without a cover letter.

42. The respondent’s file at the Ciklin Lubitz firm did contain a cover letter, which clearly identified the pledge as being a charitable contribution from the Trust.

(The cover letter and check maintained in the Brown file is attached hereto and incorporated herein as The Florida Bar’s Exhibit 2.)

43. The respondent caused that $20,000.00 check to the University of Florida to be considered as his own personal contribution to the Law Review, as opposed to a contribution from The Trust.

44. After being confronted by The Florida Bar through its investigation, the respondent took action to “change” the name of the benefactor from his own name to the actual contributor – Nancy C. Brown concerning the contribution to the University of Florida.

45. Respondent’s conduct of misrepresenting the $20,000.00 bequest to the University of Florida as his own charitable contribution was dishonest, deceitful and a misrepresentation.

46. Consistent with respondent’s misrepresentation to the University of Florida as to the true contributor, the respondent additionally took the $20,000.00 bequest by Brown to the University of Florida as a charitable deduction on his own 2014 tax return.

(A copy of the relevant pages of Brian O’Connell’s 2014 tax return provided by him to The Florida Bar upon request is attached hereto and incorporated herein as The Florida Bar’s Exhibit 3.)

47. When an individual submits his or her income tax return, he or she does so allege under penalties of perjury that he or she has examined the return and to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, the return and accompanying schedules are true, correct and complete.

48. Respondent’s conduct of misrepresenting the $20,000.00 bequest to the University of Florida as his own charitable contribution qualifying as a deduction on his 2014 Federal Income Tax return was not, “true, correct and complete”, rather it was clearly dishonest, deceitful and a misrepresentation.

By the conduct set forth above, respondent violated R. Regulating Fla. Bar 3-4.3

[Misconduct and Minor Misconduct.

The standards of professional conduct required of members of the bar are not limited to the observance of rules and avoidance of prohibited acts, and the enumeration of certain categories of misconduct as constituting grounds for discipline are not all-inclusive, nor is the failure to specify any particular act of misconduct to be construed as tolerance of the act of misconduct.

The commission by a lawyer of any act that is unlawful or contrary to honesty and justice may constitute a cause for discipline whether the act is committed in the course of the lawyer’s relations as a lawyer or otherwise, whether committed within Florida or outside the state of Florida, and whether the act is a felony or a misdemeanor.];

3-4.4 Criminal Misconduct.

A determination or judgment by a court of competent jurisdiction that a member of The Florida Bar is guilty of any crime or offense that is a felony under the laws of that court’s jurisdiction is cause for automatic suspension from the practice of law in Florida, unless the judgment or order is modified or stayed by the Supreme Court of Florida, as provided in these rules.

The Florida Bar may initiate disciplinary action regardless of whether the respondent has been tried, acquitted, or convicted in a court for an alleged criminal misdemeanor or felony offense.

The board may, in its discretion, withhold prosecution of disciplinary proceedings pending the outcome of criminal proceedings against the respondent.

If a respondent is acquitted in a criminal proceeding that acquittal is not a bar to disciplinary proceedings.

Likewise, the findings, judgment, or decree of any court in civil proceedings is not necessarily binding in disciplinary proceedings.];

4-8.4(b)

[A lawyer shall not commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.];

4-8.4(c)

[A lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, except that it shall not be professional misconduct for a lawyer for a criminal law enforcement agency or regulatory agency to advise others about or to supervise another in an undercover investigation, unless prohibited by law or rule, and it shall not be professional misconduct for a lawyer employed in a capacity other than as a lawyer by a criminal law enforcement agency or regulatory agency to participate in an undercover investigation, unless prohibited by law or rule.]

and 5-1.1(b)

[Application of Trust Funds or Property to Specific Purpose. Money or other property entrusted to a lawyer for a specific purpose, including advances for fees, costs, and expenses, is held in trust and must be applied only to that purpose. Money and other property of clients coming into the hands of a lawyer are not subject to counterclaim or setoff for attorney’s fees, and a refusal to account for and deliver over the property on demand is conversion.].

WHEREFORE, The Florida Bar prays respondent will be appropriately disciplined in accordance with the provisions of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar as amended.

Phillip D O'Connell, Jr.

Randi Klayman Lazarus,
Bar Counsel The Florida Bar
Fort Lauderdale Branch Office
Lake Shore Plaza II
1300 Concord Terrace, Suite 130
Sunrise, Florida 33323
(954) 835-0233
Florida Bar No. 360929
rlazarus@floridabar.org
smiles@floridabar.org

Patricia Ann Toro Savitz,
Staff Counsel The Florida Bar
651 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300
(850) 561-5839
Florida Bar No. 559547
psavitz@floridabar.org

CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

I certify that this document has been e-filed with The Honorable John A. Tomasino, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida, with a copy provided via email to Michael Edward Dutko, at michael@dutkoandkroll.com;

and to John R. Howes, Esquire, at johnrhowes@gmail.com;

a copy has been furnished by United States Mail via certified mail No. 7020 1810 0000 0813 8537, return receipt requested to Michael Edward Dutko, whose record bar address is Dutko & Kroll, P.A. 600 S. Andrews Avenue, Ste. 500, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301-2851;

and furnished by United States Mail via certified mail No. 7020 1810 0000 0813 8544 to John R. Howes whose record bar address is Howes Law Group, P.A., 633 S. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

and via email to Randi Klayman Lazarus, Bar Counsel, rlazarus@floridabar.org and smiles@floridabar.org, on this 24th day of May 2022.

Patricia Ann Toro Savitz Staff Counsel

NOTICE OF TRIAL COUNSEL AND DESIGNATION OF PRIMARY EMAIL ADDRESS

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the trial counsel in this matter is Randi Klayman Lazarus, Bar Counsel, whose address, telephone number and primary email addresses are The Florida Bar, Fort Lauderdale Branch Office, Lake Shore Plaza II, 1300 Concord Terrace, Suite 130, Sunrise, Florida 33323, (954)835-0233 and rlazarus@floridabar.org and smiles@floridabar.org.

Respondent need not address pleadings, correspondence, etc. in this matter to anyone other than trial counsel and to Staff Counsel, The Florida Bar, 651 E Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300, psavitz@floridabar.org.

MANDATORY ANSWER NOTICE

RULE 3-7.6(h)(2), RULES REGULATING THE FLORIDA BAR, PROVIDES THAT A RESPONDENT SHALL ANSWER A COMPLAINT.

Ciklin Lubitz Firm

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