Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Woman at center of Winters & Yonker law firm dispute testifies in Bar hearing

ST. PETERSBURG — Her office affair 10 years ago accelerated the breakup of one high-profile Tampa law firm and kick-started the birth of another.

Her testimony later helped convince a jury that William Winters and Marc Yonker — ''the aggressive lawyers" of TV ads — had behaved scurrilously in 2001, when they left Richard Mulholland's firm to start their own.

Now, with the Florida Bar taking aim at her onetime friends and bosses, Elizabeth Chapa, 39, is in the middle again.

Composed and matter-of-fact, she testified for three hours Tuesday in a Bar disciplinary hearing, rehashing her decade-old tale of legal intrigue.

Mulholland, once a pathfinder of high-volume personal injury law, was down to just two lawyers in 2001. Winters, now 51, ran day-to-day operations and handled trials. Yonker, now 34, worked up cases.

Chapa was Yonker's legal assistant and Winters' paramour.

On April 26, Mulholland ordered Winters to fire Chapa because of the affair. That night, she said, Winters and Yonker came to her house to say they were starting their own firm and wanted her to come along.

On the two lawyers' instruction, she said, she bought supplies, created a letterhead and turned her spare bedroom into an office, with phone and fax. Yonker brought her Mulholland client files at lunch so she could copy them. She never doubted that clients would switch to the new firm, she said, because Winters and Yonker did all the work.

Then, with Yonker's knowledge, she began hacking into Mulholland's computer, changing client phone numbers, she said.

The Bar contends Winters and Yonker told clients Mulholland was retiring or going bankrupt, but Chapa said she never heard such misrepresentation.

Yonker resigned in July 2001 — two months after Chapa was fired. Winters left about a week later. About 70 or so clients came along, Chapa said.

In 2005, Mulholland's office manager discovered the computer system had erroneous information about clients who had left for the new firm. A retired federal agent hired by Mulholland found that someone had used company passwords in 2001 to hack into the system.

By then Chapa and Winters had ended their affair and she had left for another job. But when Mulholland sued Winters and Yonker for civil theft and racketeering, Chapa swore under oath that she knew nothing about computer tampering.

Then she recanted.

She lied at first because she knew the tampering was probably illegal, she testified Tuesday. She hired an attorney who told her to come clean.

Mulholland agreed not to sue her or bring up her marital infidelities in court. The agent said he would ask prosecutors to leave her alone. So in a new deposition, she described the hacking scheme. Mulholland later paid the balance of her attorney's bill.

Her testimony Tuesday left one question hanging. Michael Sankey, the retired agent, had testified Monday that 29 client files were breached via four employee passwords, including Yonker's.

Chapa insisted Tuesday she used only one password, that of a co-worker out on maternity leave. Only 16 files were changed with that password, Sankey said.

Winters and Yonker have both denied any computer tampering.

The Bar hearing on charges of theft, misrepresentation and other violations continues today.

Woman at center of Winters & Yonker law firm dispute testifies in Bar hearing 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 10:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

    Blogs

    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  2. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  3. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  4. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  5. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]