TAMPA — William Winters and Marc Yonker, personal injury lawyers who have long advertised themselves as "the aggressive attorneys," were suspended Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court for being illegally aggressive when they tried to raid clients from their former boss to start their partnership 11 years ago.
"Justice has finally been served," said lawyer Richard Mulholland, the former employer, who the Supreme Court said was the victim of theft in 2001 when Winters and Yonker left his firm.
Winters has been suspended for 91 days, and Yonker for 60 days, for "professional misconduct." On Thursday, both declined to comment.
In ordering the suspensions, justices rejected a referee's recommendation in 2011 to find them not guilty of the most serious charges, including commission of a criminal act and conduct involving dishonesty, and find them guilty of only technical violations.
In 2010, the Florida Bar had charged Winters and Yonker with deceiving clients and stealing files.
Elizabeth Chapa, a legal assistant and Winters' girlfriend at the time, was accused of hacking into Mulholland's computer and changing client information. Yonker was said to have taken client files from the office during a lunch period to get them copied. Winters was accused of keeping "less than 10 files" when he left the firm. The Bar also accused Winters and Yonker of misleading new clients by claiming a third lawyer had joined their firm when he had not.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court wrote: "The Bar argues that Winters and Yonker's 'personal use' of the Mulholland firm's client files constituted acts of criminal theft. … We agree."
In 2008, Mulholland won a $2 million civil judgment. He said Yonker eventually paid him $750,000, but he was unable to collect from Winters "because of a technicality."
He said money was never the real issue.
"It was principle."
Thursday's order gave Winters and Yonker 30 days "to close out their practice and protect the interests of existing clients." The firm has other attorneys who were not sanctioned.
Yonker may resume his practice afterhis suspension-. Winters must apply for reinstatement because his suspension exceeds 90 days. For now, they are not allowed to accept any new business..
This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification: Yonker may resume practice after his 60-day suspension. Winters must apply for reinstatement because his suspension exceeds 90 days.
ohn Barry can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.