Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Legal Chutzpah In Florida

SunEthics (the best blog for Florida ethics information, in my view) has an interesting recent post:

 Lawyer and his law firm represented 77 plaintiffs in cases against a cruise line ("RCL"). RCL moved to disqualify Lawyer and the firm based on allegations that Lawyer paid an RCL employee "to provide insider information on the cruise line's claims files" so that Lawyer could use the information in negotiations. At the hearing on the disqualification motion Lawyer and the firm stipulated to withdrawal from all 77 cases. The trial court's order allowed the withdrawal and permitted the filing of charging liens for fees and costs, but specified that the merits of any such liens would be adjudicated at a future hearing.

Subsequently it came to light that Lawyer had entered into a "secret agreement with successor counsel" providing that Lawyer would be paid a portion of the funds recovered by successor counsel in the RCL cases. The court held a show cause hearing and thereafter entered an order of criminal contempt, "finding the agreement with [successor counsel] was 'a secret, self-serving and illegal arrangement intended as a means of evading this Court’s order concerning [Lawyer]’s claim to fees and costs from files which he abandoned.'” The court referred Lawyer to the Bar, and Lawyer was disbarred by order of the Florida Supreme Court.

Despite these events, Lawyer filed a motion with the trial court seeking disbursement of costs alleged to have been owed to him in cases that had not yet been settled at the time of the contempt hearing. The court denied that motion, and Lawyer appealed.

The Third DCA affirmed. The motion was legally insufficient, having failed to identify which of the cases on which Lawyer was seeking costs or the amount and description of the costs. Moreover, Lawyer's motion was barred by the trial court's earlier contempt order. The appeals court described Lawyer's conduct in even filing the motion as "a textbook example of legal chutzpah." In a footnote, the court observed that the classic definition of "chutzpah" was "that quality enshrined in a man, who having killed his mother and father, throws himself upon the mercy of the court because he is an orphan." (Citations omitted.) Wingate v. Celebrity Cruises, LTD, __ So.3d ___ (Fla. 3d DCA, No. 3D11-400, 2/8/2012).

(Mike Frisch)

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