I HAVE HAD MY SHARE OF BAR COMPLAINTS by Bob Smith 
Monday, April 19, 2010, 11:31 AM
Posted by Administrator
Editor's Note: Retired lawyer Bob Smith writes from his cabin in Northern Wyoming. The opinions expressed below are solely his. Any relationship between the characters described below and real people are solely the result of the reader's imagination.


I think that the Florida Bar...at least that part of the Florida Bar that diciplines lawyers who have done wrong... requires that we keep complaints made to them about Florida lawyers a secret. Or, maybe it is a secret if the complaint is dismissed but not a secret if the lawyer is diciplined. Or, maybe the other way around. Who knows? I try to follow the rules but I'll just take a chance on this one.

I) MY FAVORITE BAR COMPLAINT....

Years ago, a criminal defendant complained about me. He said that I was ignoring his case and I was not returning his phone calls....
I wrote back to the Bar giving my explanation:
1) I was not the man's lawyer.
2) He had just gone to trial with the man who actually was his lawyer...and the jury had returned a verdict of not guilty.
The Bar dismissed his Complaint.

II) COMPLAINTS I HAVE MADE AGAINST OTHER LAWYERS...

Really, the only time I formally complained about another lawyer was because I followed the rule that a lawyer on the Bar's Ethics Hotline told me about: Lawyers are not ethically required to report another lawyer unless they have reason to believe that the other lawyer's conduct could be harmful to clients or to the administration of justice in the future.

I have had a lot of lawyers do crappy and unethical things to me and my clients:
-Contact my client directly about the case instead of going through me (there is an ethical rule about that);
-Make untrue statements in court (there is a rule about that);
-Not give me copies of things that they are sending to the Judge (there is a rule about that);
-Be "unavailable" for hearings and depositions for some made-up reason (there is a rule about that)...
But, this kind of thing typically doesn't rise above the level of annoyance. (And, yes, I imagine I've been guilty of some stuff, too.)

But, here is what the lawyer I complained about did:

He notarized a Power of Attorney, naming his friend as the attorney-in-fact for an elderly woman.... and giving his friend the power to do whatever he chose with the woman's bank accounts and all of her other assets. The lawyer notarized the document without ever meeting the woman. He told a police detective (who was investigating several things the lawyer's friend did with the woman's accounts)that his friend had shown him the woman's driver license. ....and that he talked to the woman on the phone (Though he had never met her and wouldn't really know if it was her on the phone.)

Oh, also, the lawyer had two people sign as witnesses to the woman's signature....even though they hadn't witnessed her sign anything.

I thought that this was dangerous behavior and that the lawyer was likely to do the same thing in the future. Notaries, I thought (even lawyers who were acting as notaries), were only allowed to notarize the signatures of people who were standing in front of them; who they witnessed signing the document they were about to notarize; and who properly identified themselves. The Bar, however, thought that what this lawyer did---notarize the signature of a woman he had never met because he friend asked him to----- was just fine.

III) A REAL EXCELLENT RULE REGARDING BAR COMPLAINTS

Lawyers can't tell people that if their lawyer---for example--- won't return their phone calls----- that they should leave a message with the lawyer: "If you won't call me back...and I have been calling for a long time....I will call the Florida Bar and ask them about the problem."

If a lawyer were to tell someone to do that, it would be an ethical violation.

I guess I could tell someone....after their lawyer has done them wrong...that NOW they should complain to the Bar. But, really, I'm not so sure about this either.... Now that I think about it, I will make this statement:

I am fairly confident that (were I not retired and living in Northern Wyoming), I would get sanctioned for so much as mentioning the words "Florida Bar" in front of a client who was having a significant problem with their lawyer's behavior.

Free speech? Not here.

IV) GOOD THINGS ABOUT BAR COMPLAINTS

Lawyers here in Florida are frequently disbarred for stealing client's money; suspended for ignoring cases or taking things on that they were not competent to handle; reprimanded for making mis-statements in Court. They are disbarred for felony convictions; suspended for not keeping good trust account records; reprimanded for taking money and not doing anything on the case or for doing a whole lot on a case but charging an exorbitant fee; suspended and investigated for drug use if they make a habit of not showing up in court.

V) OKAY, ONE MORE COMPLAINT AGAINST A LAWYER

When I was a very young man, a woman came to me. Her lawyer, she said, had thousands of dollars of her money in his trust account and he wouldn't give the money to her. I don't recall whether the money came from a personal injury case or a real estate transaction or what. The usual reason for a lawyer not giving you your money that he/she has deposited in his/her trust account is that they stole the money/or spent it/or "borrowed it" and just haven't been able to pay it back yet.

I called the Bar.

The Bar sent an investigator who tracked the lawyer down in an elevator. The investigator gave the lawyer a summons for all of his trust accout records. Later that day, I got a call.

The call was from another lawyer who was that lawyer's lawyer. He said he had a check for my client. I told him to meet me in my office with the check. We sat down across from each other. He took a check out of his briefcase and he said "I will give you this check if you call the Bar and tell them it was just a misunderstanding."

I called the Bar and told the investigator that the whole thing was just a big mistake. He handed me the check.

The lawyer's lawyer then left my office. As soon as he was out the door, I called the Bar and talked to the investigator and told him that the whole thing was not a big mistake and that the only reason I had called before is before the lawyer's lawyer told me that was the only way he was going to give me my client's money.

The Bar's investigator said "Yeah, I know. This kind of thing happens all the time."



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