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Wesley Chapel lawyer suspended for misconduct

Five months after returning from a grueling combat tour in Iraq in 2005, Peter C. Richard II went back to practicing law and took on a client who needed help with her divorce.

Around the same time, he became romantically involved with her.

Over the course of their relationship, according to documents on file with the Florida Bar, Richard advised Jamie Diane Robinson to withhold child support payments for leverage in court, sent incendiary e-mails to her ex-husband and lied in loan documents when he and Robinson bought a home together in Riverview.

The Florida Supreme Court has now suspended Richard, 38, for nine months for "engaging in conduct involving lack of competence, dishonesty, misrepresentation to the court, and misrepresentation on loan documents."

It gave him 30 days from the March 4 court order to close out his practice.

Richard, of Wesley Chapel, essentially pleaded guilty to the allegations and agreed to the suspension. Reached Friday, he acknowledged his wrongdoing.

"I made a mistake and I will serve my suspension, and hopefully I will return to the practice of law," he said. "When it comes time for reinstatement, I think I'm putting myself in a good position to come back."

• • •

Richard met Robinson on a social networking site in April 2006, according to the Bar. Though they never made a written agreement that he would represent her, he sent a letter to her previous divorce lawyer saying that he was taking over the case.

Part of his legal advice to Robinson: to stop making child support payments as a tactic to seek more visitation. The Bar deemed that advice "not in accordance with the prevailing laws in Florida at that time."

Jamie Robinson could not be reached for this story.

While the divorce case lingered in court, Richard began exchanging e-mails with Tom Robinson, the ex-husband. Bar rules say Richard should have been corresponding only with Mr. Robinson's attorney, not the client.

The exchanges were personal and often ugly. On July 31, 2006, Richard wrote to Tom Robinson: "Thanks buddy...like I said...anytime you want to discuss it in person...pick a time and place... id be happy to."

That same month, Richard's own marriage was coming to an end. He was awarded his family's house and ordered to pay about $1,200 a month in child support for his three kids.

He and Jamie Robinson, in the meantime, were purchasing a house together on Pond Ridge Drive in Riverview. Hours after his divorce was finalized, Richard and Robinson headed to the closing on their new house. But Richard, the Bar says, didn't tell the loan officers there about his new financial obligations.

The Bar looked into a second complaint, alleging that Richard dealt dishonestly in a small claims case.

In 2007, Richard was sued over the rent and deposit on a home he rented out. The tenant prevailed.

County Judge William Sestak ordered Richard to pay the amount in dispute — $1,650 — plus more than $10,000 in attorney fees and costs to the tenant.

And because Richard had misrepresented who really owned the property, Sestak filed a Bar complaint against him and then recused himself from the case.

Tom Robinson said Richard's behavior took a toll on his family.

"It was just a lot of time spent and a lot of frustration," Mr. Robinson told the Times.

• • •

While he was serving in Iraq five years ago, Richard, an Army captain, wrote to the Hillsborough County Bar Association with a request. He wanted donations of clothing and shoes for the poor children living in Kirkush.

Hillsborough Bar members responded with more than 1,200 pounds of clothes and shoes, and the Florida Bar published a story about the effort in its newsletter.

"It is a wonderful feeling to bring a little joy to the lives of people who normally have a very difficult existence," Richard was quoted saying in the story. "This village lacks the most basic of human services. There is no running water, electric lines, sewer systems, telephones, or adequate roads. These people live in absolute squalor."

Bar documents say Richard participated in more than 110 counterinsurgency operations while deployed. The Army awarded him a Bronze Star and a combat action badge for his service. He showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence.

Richard, who emphasized he has received great help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he did struggle when he returned home. For one thing, he said, his wife served him with divorce papers two weeks later.

But he says none of that excuses anything he did.

"I was an officer in the United States Army," he said. "I don't like to make excuses for when I make mistakes."

He and Jamie Robinson broke up at some point during the case. The house they bought in Riverview went into foreclosure.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Wesley Chapel lawyer suspended for misconduct 04/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 10:07pm]

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