SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINES 18 ATTORNEYS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 27, 2017
CONTACT: The Florida Bar Public Information Dept.,
The Florida Bar
TELEPHONE: 850/561-5666; [email protected]
Summaries of orders issued April 13, 2017 – Aug. 30, 2017
The Florida Bar, the state’s guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, announces that the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 18 attorneys – revoking the licenses of four, suspending seven and publicly reprimanding seven. Four of the attorneys were also placed on probation; two were also ordered to pay restitution, and one was also placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution to clients.
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.
Angela Marie Abell (aka Angela Hill), 7950 N.W. 53rd St., Miami. The court granted Abell’s petition for a disciplinary revocation, with leave to seek readmission after five years, effective immediately, following an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment. Disciplinary matters pending against Abell included allegations of gross negligence in the handling of guardianship cases and misappropriation of client funds. She also practiced law for at least 20 years using two different names. (Case No. SC17-1316)
Steven Nathan Ainbinder, 23123 State Road 7, Suite 308, Boca Raton, to be publicly reprimanded by publication, following a June 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) In the handling of a case against an insurance company, Ainbinder endorsed a check to his clients but failed to hold in trust fees that were in dispute for another party involved in the matter. (Case No. SC17-18)
John Loring Bischof, 3909 Reserve Drive, Apt. 1211, Tallahassee, to be publicly reprimanded by publication, following an Aug. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999) Bischof was retained by clients in two separate cases. Bischof failed to communicate with the clients and closed his office without informing them or returning their fees. He subsequently refunded both clients in full. (Case No SC17-580)
Kevin Keenan Chase, 2525 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Unit 9B, Longboat Key, suspended for 45 days, effective 30 days from an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Further, upon reinstatement, Chase shall be placed on probation for two years. Chase was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol on Jan. 2, 2015, and pleaded no contest. (Case No. SC17-183)
William Robert Cohen, 505 S. Orange Ave., Unit 503, Sarasota. The court granted Cohen’s petition for a disciplinary revocation with leave to seek readmission after five years, effective retroactive to Sept. 22, 2016, following a June 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment. Disciplinary matters pending against Cohen involve trust account shortages. (Case No. SC17-696)
John Michael Cruz II, 6625 Miami Lakes Drive E., Suite 345, Miami Lakes, suspended for 91 days, effective 30 days from an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1986) Further, Cruz shall pay restitution of $4,000 to clients. Cruz failed to timely file pleadings, and after being notified, he failed to take any action to obtain surplus funds of more than $192,000 for a client. In two separate instances, Cruz accepted fees to handle a bankruptcy and a foreclosure, and thereafter, failed to communicate. (Case No. SC17-1420)
David Arthur Eagle, 700 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, to be publicly reprimanded following a June 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) When Eagle’s health began to decline, he hired a part-time paralegal and used coverage counsel for matters that needed to be addressed in court. During that time, his communication with clients suffered, and in one instance he said he directed his paralegal to draft a complaint to preserve the statute of limitations on a case. Eagle subsequently learned that the complaint had not been filed by his coverage counsel, and the statute of limitations had expired. (Case No. SC16-2286)
Franklin C. Ferguson, Sr., P.O. Box 692992, Miami. The court granted Ferguson’s petition for a disciplinary revocation with leave to seek readmission after five years, effective 30 days from a June 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1999) Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment. Disciplinary charges pending against Ferguson involved allegations of misconduct, including lack of competence and diligence, excessive fees and misappropriation of client trust funds. (Case No. SC17-596)
Mark S. Gallegos, 12651 S. Dixie Highway, Suite 318, Miami, suspended for 91 days, effective 30 days from an Aug. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1983) After being retained in two immigration cases, one pro bono, Gallegos failed to diligently and competently perform services. He failed to file documents, or did not timely file, and he failed to adequately communicate with clients. Unable to re-enter the United States, one client was forced to leave his job, and he and his family had to return to Venezuela. (Case No. SC16-1776)
John Richard Geiger, P.O. Box 860217, Saint Augustine, suspended for one year, effective immediately, following a June 23 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Geiger was found in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of a Nov. 16, 2016, suspension order. Geiger was required to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of his 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 his suspension order. The previously imposed probation is terminated. (Case No. SC17-619)
Benjamin R. Jacobi, 1313 N.E. 125th St., North Miami, to be publicly reprimanded by publication in the Southern Reporter, following an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1973) Following the death of her son, a longtime client retained Jacobi to represent her daughter-in-law client in a probate case. The court appointed the daughter-in-law personal representative of the estate in May 2012. Without her knowledge or consent, in May 2013, Jacobi filed a claim against the estate, for a loan that the mother-in-law made to her son prior to his death. The claim was initially filed in the wrong court and then later refiled in Broward County, where it was ultimately denied. (Case No. SC17-1411)
Stephanie Arma Kraft, 1440 Coral Ridge Drive #217, Coral Springs, suspended for two years, effective immediately, following a June 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) Prior to petitioning for reinstatement, Kraft is required to complete 30 hours of legal ethics and/or professionalism Continuing Legal Education credits. In December 2014, adjudication was withheld following a jury trial for official misconduct, a third-degree felony. Kraft was sentenced to five years reporting probation, 20 hours of community service per week at Legal Aid of Broward County and other fines and court fees. Kraft was suspended on April 17, 2015 upon her felony conviction, and remained suspended through the June 22 order. (Case No. SC15-486)
Eric Anthony Lanigan, 831 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park, to be publicly reprimanded by publication in the Southern Reporter, following an Aug. 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1976) Further, Lanigan shall pay restitution of $7,150 to two clients; attend ethics school and be placed on probation for two years. In three separate cases, Lanigan was retained by clients, then failed to diligently do the work. An audit found trust account irregularities. In all three instances, Lanigan did not clearly explain the nature and basis of his fee, and there was no signed agreement. He also failed to communicate with clients regarding the status of their cases. (Case No. SC17-195)
Debra Denise Newman, 15310 Amberly Drive, Suite 250, Tampa, suspended for 15 days, effective 30 days from an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1980) Further, Newman shall attend ethics school and a professionalism workshop, and upon reinstatement, be placed on probation for six months, or until completion of the ethics school and professionalism workshop. In the course of representing plaintiffs in a civil action, Newman issued a misguided and threatening letter to a law firm. She later apologized and blamed her conduct on personal family and health matters. (Case NO. SC17-1424)
Nishit Virendra Patel, 34 Peachtree St. N.W., Suite 750, Atlanta, Ga., to be publicly reprimanded by publication in the Southern Reporter, following an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2007) Further, Patel shall be placed on probation for three years. Patel pleaded no contest and was adjudicated guilty in court in 2015 for DUI. He was previously adjudicated guilty for DUI in 2014. Patel also neglected a client’s case and failed to timely respond to The Florida Bar regarding the matters. (Case No. SC17-322)
Justin Rickman, 780 Almond St., Clermont, publicly reprimanded by publication, following an April 13 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2003) For nearly two years, Rickman employed disbarred attorney Mark V. Morsch as a paralegal. Rickman did not file the required notice of employment and sworn information reports with The Florida Bar as required. Morsch had direct contact with clients. (Case No. SC16-2196)
Mitchell E. Silverstein, 10252 N. Lake Vista Circle, Davie, suspended for three years, retroactive to April 6, following an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988) In December 2016, Silverstein pleaded no contest to six counts of child neglect, third-degree felonies, and one count of possession of cannabis, a misdemeanor. (Case No. SC17-374)
Giorgio Vallar, P.O. Box 2248, Oldsmar. The court granted Vallar’s petition for a disciplinary revocation, without leave to seek readmission, effective 30 days from an Aug. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) Disciplinary revocation is tantamount to disbarment. Disciplinary matters pending against Vallar included allegations of wrongdoing in handling two residential property closings, and trust account violations. (Case No. SC17-1288)
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."