January 10, 2008
The Florida Supreme Court rejected a referee's recommendation of a three year suspension and disbarred an attorney who had admitted twenty violations of ethics rules, including misappropriation. The attorney had been a public defender, in private practice and returned to the public defender's office. The misconduct involved numerous problem that occured in 2004-2005 while in private practice.
The attorney confirmed a problem with alcohol and painkillers. Her mother had died and she was diagnosed with melanoma in her leg "which further increased [her] reliance on alcohol and drugs." However, according to the court: "While we sympathize with the problems respondent had in her personal life, and understand the problems associated with substance abuse and what it can do to a person's life, we cannot condone respondent's behavior. We have a responsibility to citizens of this state. There is never a vaild reason for taking client funds or for completely abandoning clients." A concurring/dissenting opinion notes that the referee found that the misappropriation was negligent rather than intentional and would impose the three year suspension.
Given the referee's finding on the crucial issue of level of intent, this result seems unduly harsh. A three year suspension would not, under these circumstances, "condone" the misconduct in the eyes of an informed citizen of Florida. (Mike Frisch)
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