Trinity attorney Chuck Kalogianis must attend ethics school and face a public reprimand from the Florida Bar after it found he did not keep in touch with clients who had retained his firm and employed a legal assistant who did the tasks of a licensed attorney.
In addition, the Bar directed Kalogianis to change the name of his business — Kalogianis & Associates — because it implied that more than one attorney worked at the law firm.
Reached Wednesday, Kalogianis, a former congressional candidate and one of the founders of the West Pasco Democratic Club, said he changed the name three years ago to Kalogianis Law Firm because of the fallout from the legal assistant who caused the trouble.
He called that former employee, Miguel Perez, "a menace in the community" who had a history of practicing law without a license, and he said the Bar knew about it.
The Bar first investigated complaints about Perez in 1998. The next year Perez signed the Bar's "cease and desist" affidavit, outlining in detail that he was not authorized to practice law, and that he would face severe penalties if he did.
"The real issue is that the Florida Bar needs to do a better job of enforcing their (unlicensed practice of law) cases," Kalogianis said.
The Bar now has a pending complaint against Perez for the unlicensed practice of law involving three Kalogianis clients. A petition filed with the state Supreme Court seeks a penalty of $2,500 in fines, five months in prison and about $9,000 in restitution.
All three clients met with Perez, believed him to be an attorney and decided to hire the firm, according to the Florida Bar.
Perez advised one woman to max out her credit cards before filing for bankruptcy; he told a man facing foreclosure to send his mortgage payments to Perez's Foreclosure Remedies company, which never forwarded the money to the bank; and he told another woman he was an attorney who used to practice in Puerto Rico, the Bar complaint said.
The Bar complaint against Kalogianis involves the same three clients, who never received Kalogianis' services despite paying their retainer. The clients only met with Perez.
Kalogianis said he fired Perez once he discovered a problem, about September 2008.
"By then the damage had been done," he said.
He said he realized the full extent when more clients called asking for Perez and referred to him as an attorney.
Kalogianis said he urged the clients to report Perez to the Bar, knowing it might be harmful to him.
"I accept responsibility for the fact that I'm a boss and I hire employees and most of them are very good. Some of them just aren't that good," Kalogianis said. "The fact that it happened on my watch is enough that I have to accept some responsibility, and I do."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mollymoorhead.
State Bar announces 91-day suspension for New Port Richey attorney after pleas
The Florida Bar on Wednesday also announced the 91-day suspension of New Port Richey attorney Joshua Johnson Stewart after he pleaded guilty in criminal court to possession of oxycodone, a felony, and no valid drivers' license.
A criminal judge sentenced Stewart to 18 months of drug offender probation. He'll be on probation with the Bar for three years.
Stewart, 33, was already on probation for habitually driving with a revoked or suspended license when New Port Richey police officers showed up in February 2010 to arrest him for violating it. A report said he struggled with them on his front lawn, elbowing one officer in the ear.