Thursday, October 28, 2021
The Florida Supreme Court has rejected a referee's proposed sanction of a one year suspension for an attorney's misconduct in his divorce
Notwithstanding Mr. Koepke’s long membership in the Florida Bar and lack of prior disciplinary history, we conclude that his actions in this matter demonstrate so purposeful and considered a violation of his oath of attorney as to require disbarment. We therefore disapprove of the referee’s recommended sanction and order instead that Mr. Koepke be disbarred.
The attorney was admitted in 1965.
He divorced in 1990 and was in arrears on alimony in 2014 when he scored a $400,000 contingent fee.
His conduct regarding disclosure of that fee led to a contempt proceeding
The order also laid out findings from which the trial court inferred Mr. Koepke’s intent, including: he was not paying alimony in the years that the alimony issues were pending before the court; the delays in alimony payment favored him; his explanation for not disclosing the settlement agreement was not credible when the discovery requests, the trial court’s order, and the subpoenas for trial were very clear, and the title of the document was “Settlement Agreement at Mediation”; and during the delay in disclosing the
personal injury case settlement, Mr. Koepke “researched, planned, and executed a diversion of the attorneys’ fees to an irrevocable trust” that protected these earnings from the former wife.
The domestic relations court referred the matter to the Bar and imposed a 20 day jail sentence for contempt.
Here, the court concluded that a one year suspension was insufficient
The disbarment clause applies, rather than the suspension clause, when the attorney caused serious, rather than nonserious, interference with a legal proceeding or when the attorney knowingly violated a court order for his benefit. Mr. Koepke abused the legal process in a way that resulted in a serious interference with his alimony proceedings. Representing himself as both attorney and client, he dodged discovery requests from his former wife’s counsel and refused to answer questions truthfully. The trial judge “conservatively” estimated that Mr. Koepke’s actions cost “100 or more hours of attorney time and hours upon hours of court time to resolve.”...Moreover, Mr. Koepke used the delay occasioned by his failure to comply with the discovery order to hastily settle a trust to put his contingency fee funds out of reach. This was deceitful abuse of the process by someone who knew better.
A concluding comment
In reaching the conclusion that Mr. Koepke must be disbarred, we are mindful that divorce proceedings can bring out the worst in people. Yet even at one’s worst, we expect a lawyer’s oath to mean something. Indeed, we expect the oath to mean something then especially.