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Robert Trigaux

21 Tampa Bay area attorneys disciplined in past year by Florida Bar for range of bad behavior



Supremecourtfloridalogo Wake up and good morning. With apologies to Shakespeare, the very "first thing we do is discipline the lawyers." It's apparently been a busy year for the Florida Bar, the "state's guardian for the integrity of the legal profession." The Bar, an official agency of the Florida Supreme Court, said the state Supreme Court in 2009 issued court orders disciplining dozens of attorneys statewide, disbarring and suspending plenty, and placing some on probation. Some attorneys received more than one form of discipline. Others were publicly reprimanded, and some were ordered to pay restitution. Here are the press releases from the Florida Bar for 2009.

Tampa Bay attorneys were well represented on the lists made public in 2009. Case files have been posted to attorneys' individual Florida Bar profiles and may be reviewed online at the Florida Bar's Web site. We've culled the lists for the 21 Tampa Bay area attorneys who got their knuckles rapped, or worse, in the past year for inappropriate behavior ranging from theft of client funds, depression and sheer incompetence to witness tampering, drug possession and simply failing to do the promised legal work:

* Richard Joseph Da Fonte, P.O. Box 6047, Clearwater, permanently disbarred, effective immediately, following a Sept. 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1982) Da Fonte was charged in court with 15 counts of theft. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution to clients. (Case No. SC08-1941)

* Leslie Denise Fortune, 1127 22nd St. S. St. Petersburg, disbarred effective 30 days from an Oct. 29 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) In the summer of 2007, Fortune began suffering with serious depression. It eventually became so severe that it interfered with her ability to represent clients. In June 2008, Fortune abandoned her law practice. (Case No. SC09-1123)

* Robin Peter Jung, 7194 Augusta Blvd., Seminole, suspended for two years, effective retroactive to July 15, 2009, following an Oct. 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) In February, Jung pleaded guilty in court to possession of cocaine, a felony. (Case No. SC09-1005)

* Vincent James Krocka, 2172 Tamarron Terrace, Palm Harbor, disbarred for five years, effective retroactive to May 4, 2009, following an Oct. 29 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) In March, Krocka was found guilty in court of 14 felonies including mail threats and witness tampering. He was sentenced to 121 months of federal prison, to be served upon the conclusion of his five-year state prison term. (Case No. SC09-790)

* John Stanley Morse, One Urban Center, Suite 750, 4830 W. Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, suspended for 91 days effective immediately, following an Oct. 29 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1969) Morse was suspended for 91 days in November, 2007. In January 2008, while suspended, Morse acted as an attorney and filed a motion on behalf of his son. Morse never responded to the Bar’s inquiries regarding the incident. (Case No. SC09-1122)

* E. Lebron Free, 4773 Berwyn Court, Palm Harbor, publicly reprimanded following a Sept. 17 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) Free is further ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,000 to one client and $3,500 to another client. Free accepted retainers to represent clients in separate cases. He did not perform all the work and he neglected to return several calls to clients. (Case No. SC09-643)

* Doreen M. Goldbronn, 687 Alderman Road, #203, Palm Harbor, suspended for six months, effective 30 days from an Aug. 13 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1984) Goldbronn made a misrepresentation to the court. (Case No. SC09-13)

* Thomas Edward Stringer, P.O. Box 7197, Brandon, disbarred for five years, effective immediately, following an Oct. 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1974) Stringer used fraudulent means to obtain a mortgage on a home in Hawaii.
(Case No. SC09-1451)

* Lydia Dempsey Wardell, P.O. Box 5028, Clearwater, publicly reprimanded following an Aug. 13 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1993) Wardell is further placed on probation for three years, effective retroactive to May 15. She was found guilty in court of DUI and leaving the scene of an accident with property damage. (Case No. SC09-846)

* Carl Roland Hayes, 308 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite E, Tampa, publicly reprimanded following a July 2 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) Hayes is further ordered to attend ethics school. Hayes failed to keep all trust account records as required by Bar rules. (Case No. SC09-645)

* R. Eric Rubio, 619 Stone Drive, Brandon, publicly reprimanded, following a July 16 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) Rubio failed to provide competent representation to clients in both bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings. He neglected to act with required diligence and he neglected to properly communicate. Rubio also failed to appear at a hearing on a motion for sanctions related to his conduct and he did not advise the court of his unavailability. (Case No. SC09-218)

* Joel Lee Sherman, P.O. Box 10244, Tampa, suspended for one year, effective 30 days from a July 2 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2003) In numerous instances, Sherman accepted retainer fees, often in the thousands of dollars, but neglected to communicate with the clients and failed to perform legal services. Sherman refused to respond to the several Bar inquiries. (Case Nos. SC08-1233 and SC08-2051)

* Andrew Stuart Forman, P.O. Box 47121, Tampa, suspended until further order, following a June 4 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1983) According to the emergency suspension order, Forman has caused serious harm to the public. He represented a small business lending corporation, receiving $308,000 in trust to be used to fund a bid at a foreclosure sale. The client was not the successful bidder, so the money was not used and should have been returned. Forman removed the money from his trust account and failed to return the funds to his client. (Case No. SC09-875)

* Dennis Hernandez, 3339 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, suspended for 90 days, effective 60 days from the date of a May 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) Hernandez is further ordered to attend ethics school and pay restitution in the amount of $19,766 to six clients. Hernandez did not adequately supervise his employees to ensure their compliance with rules of professional conduct. In at least two instances, a client met with an associate and a non-lawyer employee whom the client thought to be an attorney. On a section of his firm's Web site entitled “Our Attorneys,” Hernandez listed the names and biographies of several people who were not Florida lawyers. Hernandez may have also billed some non-lawyers on cases at the firm's attorney rates of $200 to $300 per hour. (Case Nos. SC07-973 and SC07-1262)

* Marvin Lee Stull, 1923 16th St. N., Saint Petersburg, suspended until further order, following a July 13 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) According to an emergency suspension order, Stull appeared to be causing great public harm. Stull used a deceased client's debit card. In June, he was arrested for failure to appear in court. (Case No. SC09-1183)

* Katherine Denise Crase, 2804 W. Aquilla St., Tampa, suspended effective 30 days from a Feb. 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1991) In July 2008, Crase was found guilty of seven felony counts of conspiracy and mail fraud. She was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (Case No. SC09-339)

* Rafael Gonzalez, 6309 Wild Orchid Drive, Lithia, suspended for three years, effective 30 days from an Oct. 2, 2008 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1991) Gonzalez was initially suspended for 14 days in September 2007 and violated the terms of the court's order by practicing law. (Case Nos. SC07-2314 and SC08-434)

* James Dean Wood, 870 115th Ave., Treasure Island, to receive a public reprimand, following a March 5 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1994) Wood received $25,000 to handle a case. He initially traveled from Pinellas County to Miami to meet with the client. After that, there is no evidence that Wood researched the case or communicated with the client. (Case No. SC08-1767)

* John K. Renke II, 7637 Little Road, New Port Richey, suspended for 60 days, effective 30 days from a Feb. 12 court order. Further, Renke will receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar Board of Governors. (Admitted to practice: 1980) Renke made illegal campaign contributions to his son, who was employed in his office from 1995 until he was elected to the bench in 2002. Renke also misrepresented the timing and nature of the payments he made to his son, in testimony before the Judicial Qualifications Commission. (Case No. SC07-2003)

* Khrystal Kay Hilton, 4100 W. Kennedy Blvd. Ste. 202, Tampa, disbarred effective 30 days from an Oct. 16 (2008) court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) Hilton was retained to represent clients in bankruptcy cases while ineligible to practice law, as a result of not having taken required continuing legal education courses. She filed petitions on behalf of some clients but neglected to attend subsequent hearings and provide legal advice. Hilton later abandoned her practice and moved out of state without notifying The Florida Bar, her clients or the courts. (Case No. SC08-249)

* Julian Stanford Lifsey, 324 S. Hyde Park Ave., Suite 375, Tampa, to receive a public reprimand from The Florida Bar's Board of Governors, following an Oct. 29 (2008) court order. Lifsey is further ordered to complete ethics school. (Admitted to practice: 1977) Lifsey made false and misleading statements to a judge. (Case No. SC07-747)

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:26am]


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