Dear Readers,

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to the lives of everyone in Tampa Bay and to so many businesses in our community. Here at the Tampa Bay Times, we continue to provide free, up-to-date information at as a public service. But we need your help. Please consider supporting us by subscribing or donating, and by sharing our work. Thank you.

  1. News
  2. /
  3. Environment

Clearwater lawyer who shooed raccoon off boat needs ‘professionalism workshop,’ Florida Bar says

The workshop will cost Thomas Cope $750, but he won’t face discipline for the incident, which drew disgust on social media.
A viral video showing a man shooing a raccoon off a boat — leading to the animal's presumed death — triggered investigations by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Bar. Clearwater lawyer Thomas Cope posted the video to Facebook, where it went viral, and has since issued an apology for his actions. He was not charged after the Fish and Wildlife investigation, and the Bar recommended a "professionalism workshop." [Facebook]

Seven months after he came under fire for posting a video in which he shooed a stowaway raccoon off his boat and into open water, a Clearwater attorney will have to pay for a “professionalism workshop” to stay in good standing with the Florida Bar.

The Florida Bar issued the recommendation of diversion for Thomas Cope on Monday. The workshop will cost him $750, but as long as he completes it, he won’t face discipline for the raccoon incident.

The trouble for Cope began in May, when the lawyer posted a video on his Facebook page of someone — the Bar’s recommendation later confirmed it was Cope himself — yelling at a raccoon as the animal clung at the bow of his boat.

Related: Florida Bar opens investigation into Clearwater lawyer who shooed raccoon off his boat

“Get off my f------ boat,” Cope yells in the video. “We’re just going to have to push him off.”

The video shows Cope approaching the raccoon, which falls off the boat. It then zooms in on the animal as it tries to stay afloat.

“So long, sucker!” Cope says to the raccoon.

Viewers on social media were appalled at the video. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission quickly opened an investigation, and the Bar followed suit. Cope issued a public apology, saying that “the only realistic option we could think of in the moment was to get the raccoon off the boat.” Experts later said Cope should have tried other options, such as herding the animal into the boat’s cabin or trapping it under a cardboard box or ice chest until he could return it to shore.

Related: Lawyer who shooed raccoon off boat 'had a world of options' say experts

Cope did not respond to an email or a message left Tuesday at his firm, Cope, Zebro and Crawford, where he specializes in insurance disputes, personal injury cases and white collar crime, according to the firm’s website. Cope is also a former prosecutor for the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney’s Office.

According to the Bar’s recommendation, Cope “regrets his decision to record the incident and post the video on social media” and has since deleted all his social media accounts. Fish and Wildlife investigated the case and consulted with the State Attorney’s Office but declined to file charges because they could not establish jurisdiction, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said earlier this month.

The Florida Bar’s professionalism workshops were instituted in 2004, according to its website, and were for lawyers “whose conduct flirts with or just crosses the line into unethical conduct in violation of Bar rules.” It uses hypothetical scenarios and role-playing to help attorneys understand how the concepts of ethics and professionalism are distinct and how they overlap. It’s separate from other programs such as anger management.