If you're thinking bad thoughts about a judge, it's best not to put them in a motion the judge will read.
That's the lesson being learned by Mark Stopa, one of Tampa Bay's best-known foreclosure defense lawyers.
The Florida Bar says Stopa "impugned the integrity" of a Polk County judge in a blistering motion that he dictated to an assistant but failed to read and remove "inappropriate language" before it was filed.
Stopa, defending a Davenport couple in a 2012 foreclosure case, was angry that Judge William Sestak granted the bank's request to reset a trial date but denied Stopa's request for more time to amend an answer his clients had filed by themselves.
"The double standard here, respectfully, reeks," Stopa's dictated motion read.
In another section, Stopa complained that "this dynamic is terribly unfair to Defendants and, frankly, causes them to question the impartiality of this Court."
The motion also questioned "what exactly, does this Court perceive its role to be in this instance — a neutral and detached arbiter" or "someone who does whatever it can to ensure final (foreclosure judgments) are entered for plaintiffs as quickly as possible?"
Stopa, a licensed Florida lawyer since 2012, faces a public reprimand — a relatively light penalty in which he will be admonished in open court but can continue to practice. He also will undergo a psychological evaluation "to identify issues related to stress or other issues."
Widely quoted in the news media, Stopa, 37, has represented hundreds of homeowners facing foreclosure. He writes a blog that often criticizes the judicial system for seeming to favor banks over borrowers.
"In the years I've been doing foreclosure defense, I have tried to stand up for the little guy, and so a lot of people don't like that," Stopa said Friday. "It's a fine line between trying to fight the system and being so overly inflammatory that it (angers judges) so much that it gets the Bar involved."
Stopa, who lives in Largo but has offices in Tampa and Orlando, said he agreed to the reprimand because of the high cost of fighting it.
"It's time to put this behind me and move forward," he said.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.