As expected, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday suspended St. Petersburg attorney Mark Stopa from practicing law although he quickly challenged the action.
In a motion filed by his attorney, Stopa said the Florida Bar had known about some of the new complaints against him for more than a year but never rendered a finding of probable cause or took other steps to resolve the allegations.
Moreover, the motion said, a judge took no action against Stopa even though she told the Bar she had "reason to believe’’ he had instructed a client to lie in a trial before her.
"It strains credulity that this subject raises an emergency justifying an ex parte suspension considering the lack of action taken by the circuit judge for over two years and similar inertia by the Florida Bar and Grievance Committee 6B for more than 16 months,’’ Stopa’s lawyer, Scott Tozian, said in the motion.
The motion also noted that 10 judges had "testified glowingly of (Stopa’s) superior legal abilities and ethical behavior’’ in hearings this spring on the initial complaints against him.
The Bar sought the emergency suspension on the grounds that Stopa, one of Florida’s best-known foreclosure defense lawyers, posed "great harm’’ to the public by continuing the kinds of misconduct that already had led to a recommendation he be suspended for a year.
Among the new allegations were that Stopa settled cases without the knowledge or permission of clients and that he failed to tell one client of his ownership stake in a company to which she deeded her house.
In the motion, Stopa asks the high court to dissolve the emergency suspension or appoint a referee to consider his request. As it now stands, he cannot accept any new clients and must stop representing existing clients within 30 days.
Stopa’s name will be removed from his law firm and other attorneys will take over his pending cases, which number in the hundreds.
"The firm can continue in the ownership of other people, and hopefully they can put their finger in the dike,’’ Tozian said. "There’s no question he’s the warhorse, and there are going to be transition pains.’’
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate