The Florida Bar is seeking the immediate emergency suspension of St. Petersburg attorney Mark Stopa, saying he appears "to be causing great harm" to the public by continuing to practice law.
In a petition filed with the Florida Supreme Court today, the Bar says Stopa has continued to engaged in the kinds of misconduct that already had led to a recommendation he be suspended for at least a year.
The petition is based on several new complaints against Stopa, one of Florida’s best known foreclosure defense lawyers. Among them are allegations that he settled cases without his clients’ knowledge; that he failed to disclose his ownership stake in a company to which a client deeded her house; and that he instructed one client to lie about the amount he had borrowed.
That client is currently facing felony perjury charges.
"Immediate action must be taken for the protection of (Stopa’s) clients and the public," the petition says.
After hearings this spring on prior complaints against Stopa, Pinellas County Judge Linda Allan, acting as referee, found him guilty on most counts. She indicated that Stopa — prone to angry outbursts against judges and others — "is in great need of professional psychological help and recommended he be suspended," the petition said.
Stopa, 41, had been expected to appeal Allan’s ruling. On Wednesday, however, he indicated he would accept the suspension and start a company to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
"I’m disinclined to be challenging the result of what happened," he said. "It is so time-consuming and expensive and I’m so excited about this new business venture."
Called Shining Armor, the company would help borrowers negotiate "short pays," a foreclosure alternative in which the bank agrees to accept a lower amount that what is owed. Unlike a short sale, though, the borrower would keep the house but with a new loan under more favorable terms.
Stopa said the new company would be backed by "many millions" of dollars but would not say where the money would come from.
The Bar’s petition includes these new allegations of misconduct:
• On April 18 — after Allan found him guilty in a similar matter — Stopa settled a California woman’s foreclosure case without her knowledge or authorization. The woman did not learn about the settlement until another attorney told her the lender had agreed to $7,000 in relocation assistance.
• In 2014, Stopa’s firm told client Beverly Mellow that an investor might be interested in buying her Tarpon Springs home. She executed a quitclaim deed that year to Quest Systems LLC, a company owned or controlled by Stopa. However, he "failed to explain the legal ramifications of signing the deed, failed to advise her to seek independent counsel concerning the transaction and failed to obtain her written informed consent," the petition says. Stopa has continued to fight the foreclosure on behalf of Quest Systems.
• Last year, in a trial before Judge Kimberly Sharpe-Byrd in Pasco County, Stopa told client James Goeke to say he borrowed only $30,000 on a line of credit although Goeke had previously said in a deposition that he owed about $190,000. Stopa "knowingly encouraged or allowed his client to take the stand and provide false testimony," the petition says.
• In foreclosure cases involving certain limited liability companies, Stopa filed numerous motions that contained false statements, delayed litigation and had a "detrimental effect on the court system," the petition says. Stopa continued filing the motions despite warnings from Judge Sharpe-Byrd to stop the practice.
Under an emergency suspension, Stopa would immediately be barred from accepting any new clients. He could not withdraw money from any trust accounts or financial institutions related to his law practice nor could he transfer ownership in any property bought in whole or part with funds belong to clients.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.