November 1, 2008 Disciplinary Actions November 1, 2008 Disciplinary Actions Disciplinary Actions Prepared by The Florida Bar’s Public Information and Bar Services Department The Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 30 attorneys, disbarring six, suspending 18, and placing three on probation. Some attorneys received more than one form of discipline. Six attorneys were reprimanded and two ordered to pay restitution.The following lawyers are disciplined: Mark Jerome Albrechta, 15824 Hampton Village Drive, Tampa, suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1982) Albrechta served as the closing agent for a real estate deal. The buyer delivered a deposit to Albrechta for $300,000, but advised him that the check was not supported by adequate funds. Albrechta told the seller that the check had been received, but failed to release further details. When the transaction failed to close, the seller alleged that the buyer breached the contract and sought the deposit. Abrechta failed to turn over the deposit or say that he was not holding any funds. When the court entered a judgment against the buyer only then did Albrechta clarify that he was not holding any funds and offered to deliver the check to the seller. (Case No. SC08-176) Peter Stephen Baranowicz, P.O. Box 0668, Osprey, to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, following an August 21 court order. Baranowicz is further placed on probation for three years,effective immediately. (Admitted to practice: 1986) Baranowicz failed to promptly and diligent represent clients and failed to keep clients informed. In one instance, in August 2005, a client paid Baranowicz a nonrefundable retainer of $15,000 to represent her brother. Baranowicz met with the client twice in two months. After that, the client repeatedly tried to communicate with Baranowicz with no results. In Jan. 2006, Baranowicz spoke with the client and told her that she was not the client and he needed to seek permission from her brother before he could give details of the case. Baranowicz met with the brother in February and promised he would return. He did not meet with the client again and did not file the required motion or petition for writ of habeas corpus. In another instance, Baranowicz agreed to provide discovery to opposing counsel within 21 days in a defamation lawsuit. He did not provide the documents for five months, when a hearing on the motion to compel was held. As a result of not timely filing the required documents, the client was sanctioned with attorney fees.(Case No. SC07-2279) James Harutun Batmasian, 215 N. Federal Highway, Suite 1, Boca Raton, suspended effective 30 days from a July 31 court order. ( Admitted to practice: 1974) In the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, Batmasian pled guilty to one count of willful failure to collect or pay over tax, a felony. On July 14, Batmasian was sentenced to eight months in jail, followed by two years of supervised release and monetary penalties of $30,000.(Case No. SC08-1445) George Dean Cholakis, 1900 Purdy Ave., Apt. 1711, Miami Beach, suspended until further order effective 30 days from a September 4 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1989) In July, Cholakis pled guilty to two felony counts of reckless driving causing serious bodily injury. The court withheld adjudication and placed him on probation for four years. In addition, Cholakis was ordered to pay restitution and pay medical costs for the injured. (Case No. SC08-1668) David Noble Doss, 5209 Gulfport Blvd. S., Gulfport, suspended for one year effective immediately, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1986) In several probate matters, Doss delayed filing accountings and received orders to show why they were not timely filed. In one case, the judge found him in criminal contempt and fined him. In one estate matter, Doss signed documents or directed someone else to do so, without authority and took excessive fees. In another estate matter, Doss submitted an accounting to the court that did not accurately reflect actual estate assets.(Case No. SC08-240) Jacqueline M. Fernandez,9600 NW 38th St., Suite 301, St., Doral, suspended for 18 months, effective 30 days from an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999) Fernandez pled guilty to violations connected with two separate immigration-related cases. In one instance, Fernandez was hired in 2004 to represent a client and his family in immigration court proceedings relevant to their petition for asylum. After the petitions for asylum were denied, the family hired Fernandez again for the appeal. The appeal was later dismissed because Fernandez failed to submit it on time and neglected to tell the client. When asked several months later, she told the client that his entire electronic file had been destroyed in a hurricane. In another case, Fernandez never filed a legal brief on behalf of the family she represented. Fernandez was aware that the appeal would be dismissed by the immigration board if it was not accompanied by a legal brief. The appeal was dismissed and Fernandez never informed her clients of the board’s decision. (Case No. SC07-2283) Mark Fleming Fisher, P.O. Box 540233, Orlando, to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) In 2002, Fisher represented his wife’s aunt in a guardianship case. Fisher was required to turn over records being sought by opposing counsel concerning the ward’s assets by a certain date, or he’d be required to appear in court and show why he should not be held in contempt. Eventually, Fisher was removed as guardian due to concerns regarding the ward’s property. In another case, in 2004, Fisher failed to respond to The Florida Bar in a timely manner, regarding his representation of a pool and spa company in a civil suit to foreclose a construction lien. In 2005, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee instructed Fisher to enter into a rehabilitation contract with Florida Lawyer’s Assistance, Inc. Fisher subsequently became ineligible to practice law due to his failure to comply with several Florida Bar requests. (Case No. SC07-1684) Ralph Stanley Francois, 6453 Pembroke Road, Hollywood, suspended for 10 days,effective 30 days from an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) A review of bank records indicated that on numerous occasions, Francois deposited client funds in his operating account and personal funds in his trust account. Additionally, numerous payments relating to personal expenses were made from the trust account and trust account checks were returned for insufficient funds. (Case No. SC08-1277) Desmond Patrick Fitzgerald, 18 Tremont St., Suite 210, Boston, Mass., to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1996) Fitzgerald was retained in 1998 to represent a client in connection with an application for political asylum. After initial denial by the immigration court, on three occasions Fitzgerald failed to timely file the notice of appeal. They were all denied as a result. In 2002, the client was arrested by INS under a final deportation order. Fitzgerald field a motion to reopen the proceedings based on alleged changed circumstances in the client’s homeland. The appeal was denied. The client retained new counsel shortly thereafter, but the new attorney failed to get the case reopened. The client has since been deported. (Case No. SC07-2399) Martin James Hanna, 1515 N. University Drive, Suite 231, Coral Springs, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an August 21 court order. ( Admitted to practice: 1981) In 2005, Hanna was hired to represent a client in a dissolution of marriage. During the case, Hanna received fees, but failed to communicate with his client and provide other required legal services. He also failed to accompany the client to a meeting regarding child support; pay the joint debts to creditors from the sale of marital property, as agreed in the final judgment; and disburse the marital property sale proceeds to his client. He misappropriated proceeds of the sale and used the property of others for his own benefit. (Case No. SC08-32) Laura L. Hess, 210 N. University Drive, Fl 9, Pompano Beach, suspended until further order of the Court, effective Oct. 24, following an August 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2000) The Florida Bar petition for emergency suspension states that Hess has caused and continues to cause great public harm. Hess and her law firm have been appointed a receiver in Florida to protect the law firm’s assets due to her “deceptive trade practices” and for her “unscrupulous scheme to divert funds.” Hess is the subject of numerous civil investigations by three attorneys general, has lied to The Florida Bar during its investigation, partnered with a nonlawyer in the practice of law, and accepted millions of dollars in fees from clients whom she has subsequently neglected and failed to communicate with. (Case No. SC08-1389) Kesha M. Holmes, 4302 Hollywood Blvd. No. 336, Hollywood, suspended for three years, effective immediately, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) In June 2004, Holmes was charged with knowingly and willfully engaging in a scheme to defraud mortgage lenders by creating fraudulent documents and making fraudulent statements in order to obtain mortgages on three properties. In January, Holmes pled guilty to three counts of engaging in an organized scheme to defraud and obtaining property valued at less than $20,000, a felony. She was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay $30,000 restitution. (Case No. SC08-502) Kenneth Clarence Jenne II, 2601 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, disbarred for five years, effective retroactive to Dec. 27, 2007, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1972) In August 2007,Jenne pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and three counts of filing a false tax return, all felonies. In November 2007, he was sentenced to one year and one day imprisonment, with a year of probation upon is release. (Case No. SC07-2182) Vincent James Krocka, 2172 Tamarron Terrace, Palm Harbor, suspended for 30 months, effective retroactive to Dec. 7, 2007, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) In April 2006, Krocka was found guilty of child neglect and criminal mischief, both felonies, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was placed on the inactive list for incapacity in October 2004, and remains an inactive member of The Florida Bar. (Case No. SC07-2267) Randall Jeffrey Layman, 1437 N.W. 13th Terrace, Miami, to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995. Layman is further placed on probation for six months, effective immediately. Additionally, Layman shall attend and successfully complete The Florida Bar’s Professionalism Workshop and pay restitution in the amount of $1,300 to one client. In August 2005, Layman was retained to represent a client in a landlord-tenant dispute and paid $1,300. Shortly thereafter, the client attempted to contact Layman on numerous occasions but never heard from him again. To date, he has not returned the client’s money. (Case No. SC08-175) Edward Alan Lopez, 3440 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 415, Hollywood, to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, following an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) In Nov. 2006, Lopez was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for a fight in which he struck someone in the face with a bottle. In January, Lopez was sentenced to one year of probation, attendance at an anger management program, and evaluation for substance abuse. (Case No. SC08-1109) Oscar Summer Mayers, Jr., 902 Spring Knoll Drive, Herndon, Va., suspended until further order of the Court, following a Sept. 4 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1986) The Florida Bar petition for emergency suspension states that Mayers has caused and continues to cause great public harm by altering and falsifying evidence, making a false statement to a tribunal, and committing a criminal act. Mayers, also a member of the bar in the District of Columbia, was suspended for 18 months by the D.C. Court of Appeals. During a child support hearing brought by his former wife, Mayers submitted altered checks to the court and implied that he made more payments than he actually had. In a letter to the court, Mayers also denied that he was delinquent with his child support payments. A criminal investigation resulted, and in January 2005, Mayers pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge of failing to pay child support. (Case No. SC08-1637) Tommy Eugene McPherson, 1008 Avia Lane, Pensacola, disbarred effective retroactive to Nov. 28, 2007, following an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1974) In February 2007, McPherson was found guilty of two felony counts of bankruptcy fraud, making a materially false oath and statement in relation to a bankruptcy case, and fraudulently withholding information in relation to a bankruptcy case. He was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay a special monetary assessment of $300. (Case No. SC07-2185) Marlene C. Montaner, 1901 NW 17th Ave., Suite 115, Miami, to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, following an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Further, Montaner shall enter into a rehabilitation program with Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., and pay restitution of $1,300 to one client. In August 2006, Montaner was retained to represent a client on behalf of his company. An initial cash retainer was paid, but Montaner failed to file a required report with the court and the case was dismissed. The client attempted, but had no luck, in reaching Montaner by telephone or mail. (Case No. SC08-241) Norman Sanders Moss, P.O. Box 560665, Orlando, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) Moss was placed on Emergency Suspension by The Florida Bar in February. Moss worked for a company that assists people in recovering surplus funds from the registry of the court due to foreclosure sales and tax deed foreclosures. Moss received and then intentionally misappropriated funds totaling more than $107,000. The funds were to be held in his trust account and then disbursed to his company and its clients. (Case No. SC08-584) Gary Michael Murphree, 142 Beacon Blvd. No. A, Miami, suspended effective 30 days from an August 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Murphree was found guilty of one felony count of possession of cocaine and one misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use. (Case No. SC08-1534) Jill Beth Newman, 8615 Indian River Run, Boynton Beach, suspended for 10 days, effective 30 days from an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2000) Newman failed to respond in writing to The Florida Bar despite being aware of the complaint of a client and having requested an extension of time to respond. To date, she still has not responded. (Case No. SC07-2078) Charles Houston Richards, Jr., 1874 Piedmont Road N.E., Suite 595E, Atlanta, Ga., suspended until further order of the Court, effective immediately, following a Sept. 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1986) In July, The Florida Bar received notice that Richards had been disbarred from the practice of law in Georgia. The Florida Bar petition for emergency suspension states that Richards has caused great public harm by repeated intentional dishonest misconduct, including receiving funds and not disbursing them to the client, deducting more than the agreed upon fee, writing trust account checks with insufficient funds, and accepting representation of clients but failing to adequately communicate. (Case No. SC08-1611) Andrew Donald Robinson, 11635 NE 20th Drive, North Miami, suspended for 90 days effective 30 days from an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) Upon reinstatement, Robinson is further placed on probation for three years. As a condition of the probation, Robinson shall sign a rehabilitation contract with Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. In March 2004, Robinson drafted a mortgage deed and note for a real estate transaction, but he failed to timely record the mortgage, prejudicing the mortgagor. Robinson also drafted a will on behalf of the mortgagor and designated himself as the beneficiary. (Case No. SC08-1460) Scott Alan Salomon, 5944 Coral Ridge Drive, No. 218, Coral Springs, suspended for one year, effective immediately, following a Sept. 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) Further, Salomon shall pay restitution of $350 to one client. Salomon accepted fees from clients and did little or no work, resulting in one client losing a driver’s license and another spending time in jail. In August, Salomon was suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay restitution of $9,969.64 to another client. Salomon was placed on emergency suspension in June, and in April he received a public reprimand. (Case No. SC07-1683) Peter H. Schmidt, 5540 Eton Court, Boca Raton, disbarred for five years, effective 30 days from an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1982) In several instances, Schmidt was hired to represent clients, and he failed to communicate or take action. In one case, after taking initial steps to probate an estate, he failed to diligently administer it. Although he stopped taking action on the case, he neglected to inform the beneficiaries that he had abandoned it. Additionally, Schmidt wrote a check to his trust for $85,000 from an estate account, when that money was supposed to have been remitted to an investment trust. (Case No. SC08-29) Emmanuel Lorenzo Simon, 3810 Inverrary Blvd., Suite 102C, Lauderhill, disbarred for five years, effective 30 days from an August 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999) In numerous instances, Simon was hired to represent clients and he failed to communicate or follow through. In some cases, Simon was paid as much as $12,000 and failed to competently or timely prepare and file documents.(Case SC08-33) Michael M. Tobin, 9400 S. Dadeland Blvd., Ph. 5, Miami, suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1953) From May 1998 until the present, Tobin represented a client, the guardian of her minor daughter, in a guardianship case. Since the inception of the proceedings and every year thereafter, Tobin has failed to file the required annual guardianship report with the court in a timely manner. On at least three separate occasions, Tobin was found in contempt of court and assessed a fine, because of his failure to comply. Tobin has been reprimanded four times in the past. He was suspended for 45 days in 1996. (Case No. SC08-248) Robert Eugene Vest, 244 Pryor Street, Brooksville, suspended for 91 days, effective 30 days from an August 26 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1995) Further, Vest is ordered to pay Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. a registration fee and monitoring fee arrearages. Due to his noncompliance with the court’s order, Vest is held in contempt. In Jan. 2007, Vest received a public reprimand and was placed on probation for three years. Under the terms of his probation, Vest was ordered to contact FLA, Inc. to schedule an evaluation, enter into a rehabilitation contract, and follow all recommendations by LA, Inc., during the entire probation period. In April, the Bar was notified by FLA, Inc., that Vest had not seen or spoken with his therapist in two months and had failed to call in for his testing requirement for two months. (Case No. SC08-1313) Wadie Anthony Zacca, P.O. Box 970148, Miami, suspended for one year, effective 30 days from an August 28 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Zacca failed to properly supervise his employee and to comply with trust accounting rules and procedures. One of Zacca’s two real estate law offices was managed by his nonlawyer employee and close personal friend who also had a title agency. In Nov. 2007, Zacca’s employee admitted to misappropriating trust funds. Zacca fired him. A subsequent investigation showed Zacca’s employee had written checks for his personal use for significant sums of money. The majority of the misappropriated funds were connected with the employee’s personal mortgage transaction. A significant amount of the money was eventually paid by the former employee, but a shortage of client funds remains.(Case No. SC08-1461 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.