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Clearwater attorney suspended for 30 days

CLEARWATER — A Clearwater probate attorney has been suspended from practicing law under an emergency order by the Supreme Court of Florida.

In a petition for emergency suspension, the Florida Bar said Bruce Gregory Kaufmann "appears to be causing great public harm" and referred to a pattern of "obtaining fees, controlling assets, enforcing individuals to 'pay him' before he resigns as Trustee."

The order prohibits Kaufmann from taking new clients and requires he quit representing current clients within 30 days of the order, which is dated Oct. 27.

In the petition for suspension, the Florida Bar stated that Kaufmann was asked by clients in two cases to resign as trustee of trusts and "refused to do so until more fees were promised or paid."

In one case, a family had in place a line of successor trustees, the petition states. When the first trustee died, Kaufmann prepared a document, which was signed by another family member, that falsely said there was no successor, according to the petition.

Reached Tuesday, Kaufmann said the allegations in the petition were false. He said the family member mentioned in the petition was one of the original grantors of the trust, who was well within her right to choose him as trustee after the original trustee died. Further, he said, there is nothing in state statutes that forces a trustee "to resign immediately just because a beneficiary wants to take over."

"It's a shame when the (Florida) Supreme Court enters a ruling based upon lies and misinformation that's intentionally presented to them by the Florida Bar," Kaufmann said.

The petition states that Kaufmann is currently the subject of several pending disciplinary cases, including four at the Supreme Court level appealing a report recommending disbarment.

This is Kaufmann's second suspension in less than a decade. In 2001, he was suspended for 30 days after he admitted to violating nine Florida Bar rules, eight of which stemmed from his handling of a Largo woman's trust account.

In the 2001 case, Kaufmann failed to move the woman's money into a guardianship account and instead kept it with his own money, a rules violation, according to court records.

Kaufmann said Tuesday he believes the complaint sent to the Bar in that case was forged by a nurse who was stealing from his client. In that case, too, the Bar did not fully investigate the matter, he said.

The Bar asked for the emergency suspension because Kaufmann "has caused, or is likely to cause, immediate and serious harm to clients and/or the public," according to the petition.

But Kaufmann, who joined the Florida Bar in 1988, said he was concerned about how his clients would be affected by his suspension.

"The (Florida) Supreme Court, if they get an unfounded allegation from the Florida Bar, they don't even investigate it. They just give you 30 days to shut down your practice," he said. "Think about the client that was counting on me being at their hearing 31 days from now."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Clearwater attorney suspended for 30 days 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 7:57pm]
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