May 3, 2007
Secret Settlement Deal Condemned
The Florida Supreme Court decided a disciplinary case today that rejected a referee's report that proposed a public reprimand, probation and denying the Bar's request for fee forfeiture. Rather, the court suspended the lawyer for two years and ordered disgorgement of the fee to the Clients' Security Fund. A related case decided today rejected a proposed 60 day suspension and imposed disbarment against another firm lawyer who was the lead actor in the misconduct.
The lawyers were shareholders in a firm that represented 20 clients who sought to sue DuPont for damages allegedly caused from Benlate, a fungicide "suspected of causing severe crop damage and..recalled from the market in March 1991." Four firm lawyers were charged with misconduct involving entering into a secret agreement with DuPont for their own financial benefit. DuPont agreed to pay the firm almost $6.5 million in exchange for an agreement not to pursue future claims and "for the firm to possibly perform future work for DuPont on an hourly basis." The court held that disgorgement was an appropriate remedy for a prohibited fee.
The D.C. Bar prosecuted a similar case a few years ago that is cited by the Florida court. I wonder if any disciplinary action is contemplated against the DuPont lawyer/lawyers who made the offer. (Mike Frisch)
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