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December 15, 2012
Letters

Aging Lawyers
I was encouraged to see in the November 15 edition of the News that the Bar is interested in the aging process of Florida’s attorneys.

The leaders of the Aging Lawyers Working Group should not fall prey to the fallacy that cognitive impairment is a normal process of aging. Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is a disease process for which there are or will be preventions and cures. Having lost my father to Alzheimer’s disease in 1998, I made it my goal to support the basic medical research necessary to prevent and cure cognitive diseases. As a member of the Florida House of Representatives, I convinced my fellow legislators and the governor to establish an Alzheimer’s research center at the University of South Florida, which is now the largest freestanding Alzheimer’s research facility in the world, though it is tragically underfunded by the state.

I urge the leaders of the working group to contact the USF-Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute for assistance in learning more about the causes and effects of cognitive impairment. I am sure that USF Professor Herkov as a member of the working group would find that the scientists at USF-Byrd Institute, especially the clinicians who are assessing and treating patients on a daily basis, would be more than willing to assist in this commendable effort to confront this vital issue.

Please encourage the Florida Legislature to invest in Alzheimer’s research, because it is a proven fact that slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease by only a few years will pay for itself by saving tens of millions of dollars in the state’s health care budget.

Johnnie B. Byrd, Jr.
Plant City

Scams
I have read with interest News’ articles in the past year or so concerning various cons, both successful and unsuccessful, targeting Florida Bar attorneys or using unwitting attorneys as part of their conspiracy.

We have also seen a rapid increase in this type of fraud both in our practice and personally over the past few years. I have dealt with four or five incidences of cons targeting my parents, who are elderly and susceptible to this type of abuse. In our tax practice, the number of identity thefts and people filing fraudulent tax returns to recover large refunds has become epidemic. I have personally been targeted or made an unwilling accomplice in three separate instances within the past three months.

The first involves calls we have received from individuals who purportedly received collection calls from our law firm of Johnson and Johnson, P.A., seeking collection on Aaron’s Rent To Own and various pay day advance companies.

The targets are threatened with criminal arrest and prosecution, and even deportation, unless they immediately wire funds via MoneyGram to the “Law Firm.” A check determined that the real business is not a licensed debt collector; and even if it were, it is clearly violating both the federal and state Fair Debt Collection Act provisions. We are currently receiving two to four calls per week, and many of the targets require convincing that we are not the initiating party.

The second occurred early October when I found an email from a purported assassin who indicated that he had been hired to eliminate me, but developed concerns that the person hiring him would also attempt to kill him. He invited me to initiate contact with him, which undoubtedly would have led to me transferring funds to cancel “the hit” and to kill his employer. I was given a short period of time to make contact or the assassin would carry out his assignment against me. The initial email was routed to my junk mail and I was out on vacation shortly thereafter, so I discovered the email well after the deadline.

The third is the classic situation where we were initially purportedly contacted by a California attorney who, when we checked, was on inactive status. The email message claimed she was leaving the country and was referring a collection case to us for handling. Since we are a tax firm, we immediately recognized it as a probable scam and “played along.” The progression proceeded exactly as we expected. We were informed that there was a large account receivable due to a California company. There were negotiations back and forth, but the company felt it needed local counsel to exert pressure on the Jacksonville company to pay the debt. The California company wished to retain us and to pursue legal action if necessary. Google Earth showed the company address as a house. Not surprisingly, the Jacksonville company purportedly provided us with a large certified check ($298,750) written on CitiBank. The only surprise was that we had expected the certified funds to be from a foreign bank, which would delay our ability to confirm that the check was fraudulent. Our bank was able to confirm the check was no good the same day, so we did not even bother depositing it.

The scams are endless, and some are very well done. Many of our corporate clients receive annual notices from a company each year implying that our clients may have legal problems if their company did not have corporate minutes. For a nominal $125 fee, the company will prepare the minutes, and there is an implication that the company is a government or quasi-government entity. For the fee, the clients receive useless boilerplate minutes that are spit out by a word processor.

Tax clients who have notices of federal tax liens filed against them receive an official-looking notice, which they are led to believe has been issued by the IRS. When you call the number, you find out it is one of these so-called tax relief organizations, which are excellent in marketing their services but not so good in obtaining any relief or benefit for the clients.

As a state with an elderly population, we also see extensive targeting of retired persons, many of whom have diminished cognitive skills and are easily influenced by these hucksters. At some point, the law enforcement community needs to step up and take an active interest in locating and prosecuting these individuals.

We recognize that state and local authorities may be limited, since many of the perpetrators are located out of state or even out of the country, but there are plenty of local swindlers and con artists to be prosecuted.

Keith H. Johnson
Jacksonville

Continuing Education
CLE has been mandatory for active (as opposed to inactive) Florida Bar members for decades. The Bar has facilitated this by conducting countless classes in all aspects of the practice of law. What concerns me is that this is a huge money-making endeavor, when it should be done fee-free to all active dues-paying members, as part of their dues (or a very nominal increase in everyone’s dues).

Considering the current active membership of The Florida Bar is around 93,000 members whose dues generate about $24 million, why aren’t the CLE courses an included benefit of our Bar membership? If that were the case, and courses were fee-free, it would encourage members to take many more courses, which would better serve the concept for which CLE was truly designed. CLE should not be fee-generating (or at the very least a nominal bump-up of dues by $25 per member would raise more than $2 million, which should cover much of the cost of the lecturers, materials, and presentation sites).

I urge you to poll the membership on this important issue, perhaps with an online poll conducted by the News, or a question to be answered on the annual fee statement. The Bar should be interested in inquiring whether members believe that we receive full value for the annual fees we pay, and whether CLE should be handled in a manner suggested herein. After all, part of the Bar’s mission is to properly serve its attorney membership. I’d like to see further discussion of this issue.

Arthur A. Cohen
Pembroke Pines

[Revised: 11-15-2013]