SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINES 12 ATTORNEYS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 28, 2017
CONTACT: Public Information Department,
The Florida Bar
TELEPHONE: (850) 561-5666
Summaries of orders issued Jan. 27, 2017 – March 14, 2017
As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the 104,000-plus members of The Florida Bar. Key discipline case files that are public record are posted to attorneys’ individual online Florida Bar profiles. To view discipline documents, follow these steps. Additional information on the discipline system and how to file a complaint are available at www.floridabar.org/attorneydiscipline.
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. Disbarred lawyers may not re-apply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that rejects many who apply. It includes a rigorous background check and retaking the bar exam. Historically, less than 5 percent of disbarred lawyers seek readmission.
Marcy Elizabeth Abitz, 322 N.W. 103rd Terrace, Pembroke Pines, suspended until further order, effective immediately, following a March 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2002) Abitz pleaded no contest in court to four felonies and one misdemeanor, for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. (Case No. SC17-353)
Heather Aquafresca, 9 Whitcomb St., Apt. 2L, Webster, Mass., suspended for one year, effective immediately, following a March 8 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2008) Aquafresca was found in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of an Oct. 20, 2016, suspension order. Specifically, Aquafresca was required to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of her 91-day suspension, and provide the Bar within 30 days a sworn affidavit listing the names and addresses of all persons and entities that were furnished a copy of her suspension order. (Case No. SC17-66)
Lauren Elizabeth Bannigan, 1391 S.W. 82nd Ave., Apt. 1721, Plantation, suspended for 18 months, retroactive to Nov. 23, 2016, following a March 9 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2014) Bannigan is further to attend ethics school. She pleaded no contest to cheating, a felony, in connection with a “friends and family” kickback scheme at a company where she was employed as general counsel. (Case No. SC16-2102)
Cyrus A. Bischoff, P.O. Box 801222, Miami, suspended for one year, following a March 2 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) In representing a plaintiff in a federal case, Bischoff knowingly pursued frivolous claims, engaged in discovery-related misconduct, failed to comply with court orders, and made misrepresentations to the court about producing discovery and his reasons for failing to appear at a hearing. As a sanction, he was ordered to pay more than $77,700 in fees and costs, and ultimately his client’s lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. (SC14-2049)
William Robert Cohen, 505 S. Orange Ave., Unit 503, Sarasota, suspended until further order, effective immediately, following a Jan. 27 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Cohen appeared to be causing great public harm. A Bar investigation found that Cohen misappropriated at least $95,000 that should have been held in trust. (Case No. SC17-114)
Melissa A. Heaton, 12222 S.W. 51st Place, Cooper City, suspended for one year, effective immediately, following a March 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2007) Heaton was found in contempt for failure to comply with the terms of an Oct. 13, 2016, suspension order. Specifically, Heaton was required to notify her clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of her suspension and provide The Bar within 30 days a sworn affidavit listing the names and addresses of all persons and entities that were furnished a copy of her suspension order. (Case No. SC17-157)
Keirsten Klatch, 3334 Randall St., Jacksonville, suspended for three years, effective retroactive to June 16, 2016, following a March 9 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2011) Further, upon reinstatement, Klatch shall be placed on probation for three years. Without his permission, Klatch borrowed money she was holding in trust for a client who was serving prison time. She met him when she was a paralegal. At the time, Klatch was admitted to practice in New York and had passed The Florida Bar exam but had not yet been admitted. Over the years, she made disbursements as instructed by the client. The client subsequently filed a complaint with the Bar, saying he’d lost touch with Klatch, and he had no idea about the status of his money. Klatch replaced all the borrowed funds. (Case No. SC16-882)
Scott Lowell Podvin, 3921 Alton Road, No. 406, Miami Beach, suspended for 18 months, effective 30 days from a Feb. 16 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Podvin was the subject of multiple Florida Bar disciplinary matters. He waived the right to a probable cause hearing before a grievance committee and entered into a consent judgment for discipline. (Case No. SC17-115)
Sandra Lynn Sanders, P.O. Box 903, Arcadia, disbarred effective 30 days from a Feb. 23 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) After being retained, Sanders failed to diligently represent clients. In two instances, she cashed check, but failed to file paperwork. In another case, Sanders failed to advise the client of court dates and hearings. In all three matters, Sanders failed to respond to numerous phone calls and email inquiries regarding the status of the cases. Neither did she respond to Bar phone calls and written inquiries. (Case No. SC16-1191)
Tara Marie Warrington, P.O. Box 898, Cocoa, disbarred effective immediately, following a March 9 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2008) Warrington accepted legal fees, then failed to perform any useful services for her clients. The Bar filed a petition for emergency suspension on Sept. 15, 2016, after Warrington neglected multiple clients and abandoned her law practice. Warrington failed to appear at a deposition and produce subpoenaed records. She also failed to appear at a final hearing regarding discipline. (Case No. SC16-1625)
Laura Marie Watson, 6278 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, permanently disbarred, effective 30 days from a March 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1985)
Watson was previously removed from the bench in the 17th Circuit, for her actions as an attorney prior to being elected a judge. She violated numerous Bar rules, including failing to fully inform clients, not giving clients sufficient information to make decisions, and failing to provide closing statements and place disputed funds in escrow. Watson’s law office was among three firms representing healthcare providers in their case against Progressive Insurance Company alleging it had systematically underpaid providers on PIP claims. The law firms filed bad-faith claims for clients. After receiving a $3 million settlement from Progressive, Watson’s firm paid clients $361,000 and kept more than $2 million as attorneys’ fees. The bad-faith attorneys subsequently sued Watson and the other PIP attorneys and firms for unjust enrichment and fraud. (SC15-1761)
George John Francis Werner, 1016 E. 15th Ave., Tampa, to be publicly reprimanded following a Feb. 23 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1984) Werner was found in contempt for violating the terms of a Feb. 24, 2016, court order, when he was publicly reprimanded and placed on probation for one year. During the probationary period, Werner was required to abstain from drinking alcohol and enter into a contract with Florida Lawyers Assistance. He failed to timely enter into the rehabilitation contract. (Case No. 16-2270)
EDITORS: Please note The Florida Bar is not an association and "Association" is not part of our name. Proper reference is "The Florida Bar." Local bar organizations are properly termed "associations."