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Florida Supreme Court disbars Riverview lawyer

TAMPA — A Riverview lawyer has been disbarred after a court referee found she failed to act on several cases and withdrew more than $50,000 without permission from a man's account.

In addition to that finding, the Florida Bar announced Thursday that the state Supreme Court also disciplined three other lawyers in Hillsborough County.

A referee looking into the accusations against Jessica Ann Bennett of Riverview found that in 2009 she had made unauthorized withdrawals totaling $50,800 from the account of a man involved in a divorce.

In the divorce proceedings, the man had been ordered to pay Bennett about $11,000 in legal fees. But days after that determination, Bennett started wrongly withdrawing money using his credit card "far in excess of the amount awarded to be paid to her," the referee found.

Three other clients complained they had paid Bennett to work on their cases, but that she did not follow through.

Court records show that Bennett had been suspended from practicing law for 91 days in 2011 for similar complaints that she had neglected clients.

The Bar said Thursday she was disbarred immediately and would have to repay the $50,800 before being considered for readmission in the future. Court records show that the wrongful withdrawals were criminally investigated, but prosecutors declined to file charges.

The Bar said these lawyers were also disciplined:

• John D. Hooker of Dover, suspended for a year retroactive to Nov. 9, then placed on two years of probation. Upon receiving nearly $2 million in settlement funds, the Bar said, Hooker made disbursements — including to himself — without having his clients sign a closing statement.

• Rolando Jose Santiago of Apollo Beach, reprimanded. The Bar said that in one instance he had been paid to represent a couple, then didn't adequately communicate with them.

• Joseph Dan Turner of Tampa, suspended for a year. Turner was held in contempt for failing to comply with terms of an October 2011 suspension order, the Bar said.

Florida Supreme Court disbars Riverview lawyer 05/31/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 31, 2012 11:20pm]
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