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Bar suspends Pasco lawyer after guilty pleas

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Florida Supreme Court has suspended a Pasco County lawyer from practicing for three years, finding him guilty of failing to maintain personal integrity.

The court handed down the ruling after Joshua Johnson Stewart, 37, of New Port Richey was charged with grand theft in March 2013, accused of stealing an outboard motor and attempting to sell it on Craigslist, according to Supreme Court documents.

About a year later, the Stetson University College of Law graduate was charged with grand theft of merchandise from Best Buy. He was in possession of morphine and was further charged with possession of the drug, petty theft and resisting arrest without violence, records show.

He elected to go through drug court to have adjudication withheld, he said by phone Tuesday, but had to plead guilty to all charges, even though he didn't steal the motor but bought it from someone else on Craigslist. The drug court ordered him to attend a six-month inpatient rehabilitation program, and he received probation.

Stewart is living with his parents and is completing his criminal probation well, court documents said. The three-year Florida Bar suspension will run concurrent to his probation, which began in May 2014.

In the event he gets off probation early, he will be allowed to petition for reinstatement to the Bar, though he said he's uncertain he will.

Stewart requested a shorter suspension, stressing that his misconduct didn't injure clients or aid clients' illegal activity.

"Basically, when you have a situation with no professional misconduct, there's no client harm, and the misconduct is in connection with a substance abuse issue or a mental health disorder … that can be handled differently," he said.

Stewart hasn't practiced law since June 2011, when he was placed on a 91-day suspension after a guilty plea to a charge of possession of oxycodone and driving without a valid license.

He said he was weeks from filing a petition for reinstatement when he was charged with stealing the motor. Stewart had to withdraw the petition and said his mental health began to decline.

"Depression caused some significant problems for me that I did not handle in an appropriate manner," he said. "Trying to deal with depression with a medication called morphine that you don't even have a scrip for is absolutely insane."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @josh_solomon15.