ST. PETERSBURG -- For months, embattled foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa fought for the right to keep practicing law.
Stopa now says he never wants to practice again — but can't retire because the Florida Bar won't let him.
In an unusual petition filed this month with the Florida Supreme Court, Stopa is seeking "permanent retirement'' with no leave to apply for readmission to the Bar. The move is aimed in part at heading off a Jan. 22-24 hearing on several new Bar complaints against him that include allegations of fraud.
"Since July 27, 2018, Petitioner has made clear, in every way he knows how, that he no longer desires to be a member of the Florida Bar,'' Stopa wrote. "Unfortunately, even at this late date, the Florida Bar has provided no response to the petition for Permanent Retirement nor has it given any indication when a response can be expected.''
Allowing him to resign from the Bar, Stopa added, would "avoid more unnecessary time, expense and judicial labor, and put these matters to bed.''
Stopa, who represented more than 7,000 homeowners facing foreclosure, has been indefinitely suspended since last summer when a court-appointed referee found him guilty of violating several rules of professional conduct. Among the findings: He failed to tell clients of bank settlement offers and exhibited boorish behavior before certain judges.
In August, agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement raided Stopa's St. Petersburg office after receiving an anonymous dossier detailing cases in which Stopa allegedly acquired millions of dollars worth of property from clients through fraud and deception. The allegations in that dossier are among those to be heard in the hearing scheduled later this month before a Hillsborough judge serving as referee.
Stopa's petition reveals that the Bar is considering several other complaints against him, among them that he tried to block service of process on a company linked to his wife; that he charged a prohibited fee; that he cursed at a client; and that he "acquired an interest adverse to a client without the required disclosure and informed consent.''
In his petition, Stopa, 42, said he has tried for months to resign from the Bar but was told that there were problems with the forms he submitted. He also noted that Bar rules say a lawyer needs the executive director's permission to retire but that permission had not been forthcoming in his case.
"Where Petitioner joined the Florida Bar voluntarily,'' Stopa wrote, ''he cannot be made to remain a member of the Florida Bar involuntarily.'' He is asking the state Supreme Court to either let him retire or declare that the rule on permission has unconstitutionally deprived him of his freedom of association.
Last year, Stopa sold his law practice, which has since filed for bankruptcy.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.