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June 15, 2009
Suspended lawyers may face stiffer requirements

Suspended lawyers who wait more than three years to seek reinstatement may soon face additional requirements before they can resume the practice of law.

The Board of Governors has received rule amendments that would require those lawyers to show their fitness and competence to again practice, including by taking CLE courses. In cases where the suspension has lasted five or more years, the lawyer would also be required to retake parts of the bar exam.

The board got its first look at proposed amendments to Rule 3-7.10 at its May 29 meeting. It is scheduled to vote on them at its July 17 meeting in Naples.

The board in May also gave final approval to rules for a disciplinary revocation of a lawyer’s license. That discipline is used in cases where a lawyer facing disciplinary investigation wishes to give up his or her license without admitting to the underlying charges.

Disciplinary Procedure Committee Chair Murray Silverstein said the suspension reinstatement rule came about because of concerns expressed by the Supreme Court over the competence and fitness of lawyers whose suspensions last more than three years.

Under Bar rules, lawyers suspended for up to 90 days are automatically reinstated. Those suspended for 91 days or longer (the maximum suspension is three years) must apply for reinstatement and undergo a Bar hearing where they, among other things, must demonstrate rehabilitation. In many cases, lawyers wait several years before seeking reinstatement.

Silverstein said the court was concerned that “if you’ve been suspended for a period longer than three years and you have been delayed in reapplying, you could go several years without having to demonstrate fitness and competence.”

In such cases, he said applicants would have to show they have taken 10 CLE credits for each year or part of a year they were suspended, and demonstrate they are current with changes in the law. Proof of compliance could be shown by working as a law clerk, paralegal, or teaching legal issues during the suspension.

In cases where the suspension has lasted more than five years, the rule provides the lawyer must retake and pass “the Florida portions of the The Florida Bar examination and the multistate professional responsibility examination.”

In disciplinary revocations, the board approved the committee’s recommendations for amending Rule 3-7.12 and related rules. The process is similar to what at one time was known as a disciplinary resignation, which was replaced by the disbarment on consent procedure. Some lawyers have been reluctant to use the disbarment on consent process because it requires them to admit to all underlying grievance charges, which can have consequences if they also face criminal charges for their conduct.

The disciplinary revocation process, which must still go to the Supreme Court, allows lawyers to give up their license without admitting to the underlying charges. The revocation must be for at least five years and also requires Board of Governors’ approval.

The board also approved the DPC’s recommendation to amend Standing Board Policy 15.75 to end having a board member acting as designated reviewer or a grievance committee review a Bar staff counsel’s decision to close a case for lack of merit. According to materials, that amendment addresses a problem from those who have filed meritless claims harassing the reviewers or grievance committees and demanding a review after a Bar counsel dismisses the case.

[Revised: 09-19-2014]