ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Jim Kennedy, a lawyer by trade, will attend an "ethics school" after a client complained about his handling of her divorce case to the Florida Bar.
The step is not considered discipline against Kennedy, and it does not appear on the Florida Bar's website. The Bar said in a letter that the ethics class is "designed to enhance the respondent's ability to practice law and thereby allow future clients to receive more professional service."
The complaint was made by one of Kennedy's former clients, Cheryl Hughes-Crumbley, who filed for divorce in 2008. It was a complicated, drawn-out case. In addition to the divorce, Crumbley's former husband, William, was arrested in Pasco County in 2011 and charged with operating a pain management clinic without a license. Cheryl Crumbley pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, after initially being charged with misdemeanor stalking. She also faced misdemeanor charges in 2012 of making harassing phone calls, but the charges were dropped.
Crumbley made numerous complaints about Kennedy in 2012, but the one the Bar cited in a letter to her last January related to a mortgage that she signed.
Crumbly said in her complaint that she had signed a mortgage on her Redington Shores waterfront house "under duress" to pay legal fees to Kennedy.
A grievance committee of the Bar said an investigation showed there was "insufficient evidence" that Crumbly signed the mortgage under duress. However, the committee also said Kennedy "did not advise complainant to seek independent legal advice prior to her signing the mortgage." For that reason, the committee recommended the ethics school, also called a "practice and professionalism enhancement program."
But it also noted that "there was no client harm from the transaction."
Crumbley also complained that Kennedy had her child support and spousal support checks deposited into his trust account and that he used some of that money for his legal fees. But the committee said Crumbly had agreed to let Kennedy use some of the support money for his fees.
"At the very least, I do not want anyone else to endure the treatment that I received from Mr. Kennedy," Crumbly complained to the Bar.
The Bar, in a letter to Crumbly, said that while the ethics class "cannot undo the circumstances which led to this complaint, it is felt that diversion now will prevent future misconduct and offer protection to the public."
Kennedy told the Times that he worked hard in his efforts to help Crumbly, and "it's one of those things where you go above and beyond, and no good deed goes unpunished."
He noted that he has been an attorney for more than 30 years and had an "unblemished record." Asked whether he considered this a frivolous complaint, Kennedy said, "Frivolous is a pretty good word."
He would not go into more detail.
Kennedy said he had not yet attended the ethics class but that he would soon.
Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. Follow him on Twitter @ckruegertimes.