For the fourth time in four years, the Florida Bar has filed a complaint accusing prominent Tampa Bay lawyer Mark Stopa of professional misconduct.
The most recent complaint, filed July 27, says Stopa defied a judge's order in one mortgage foreclosure case and represented two people in another case without their knowledge or consent.
If found guilty, Stopa could face penalties ranging from a public reprimand to disbarment. The 40-year-old Stopa, who represented hundreds of homeowners during the foreclosure crisis and was often quoted in the media, called it "a shame'' to focus attention on a few complaints after he helped so many owners.
"One thing I've learned in this process is that the more good you do in this world, the more people emerge to try to take shots at you,'' he said in an email Monday.
In one of the cases cited in the current complaint, Stopa represented a Tampa couple, Kathryn and Robert Milliken, whose foreclosure case was set for trial in April before Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Gregory Holder. During the trial, the bank's lawyer called Kathryn Milliken as a witness but Stopa said he did not know if she was in the courthouse .
During a recess, Stopa found the woman in the hallway and told her — contrary to Holder's order — that she did not have to testify because she was not under subpoena. As she started to leave the building, the judge's bailiff retrieved her and took her into the courtroom.
By advising his client that she was under no obligation to testify, Stopa engaged in conduct that is "contrary to honesty and justice," the Bar complaint says.
In the second case, a Pinellas County woman, Nootan Patel, and her daughter said they were unaware that Stopa was trying to stop foreclosure on a home they no longer wanted to keep because Nootan's ex-husband lived there. During the course of the foreclosure proceedings, Stopa did not communicate with the women, yet he submitted defenses in their names that contained "factually inaccurate" statements' and affidavits that they purportedly had signed in the presence of a notary, the complaint says.
In reality, the women did not sign the affidavits and Stopa's conduct amounted to "making false statement of fact" to a court.
Stopa already faces a pending Bar complaint stemming from two separate cases in which his clients nearly lost their homes — one, when he failed to tell a Pinellas woman that he had made a cash-for-keys deal; the other, when he failed to tell an Orange County woman that she had been approved for a trial loan modification.
That complaint also accuses Stopa of ignoring judges' orders and "boorish" behavior.
In 2013, Stopa was publicly reprimanded for impugning the integrity of a Polk County judge and for failing to disclose in court that a company he represented had agreed to give back a house it bought in a foreclosure sale if the owner paid $12,500 in homeowner association dues. The agreement came to light only after Stopa moved to evict the owner even though he had made the payments.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate