Seven South Florida lawyers have been disciplined by the state Supreme Court over the past month, according to the Florida Bar. Overall, 20 lawyers in the state were on the discipline list.
In alphabetical order:
▪ Pembroke Pines’ Marcy Abitz (University of Miami School of Law, 2002) has been disbarred and ordered to pay $375 a month for 24 months to Cypress Insurance Group. When an e-check from the Cypress for $8,961.35 got sent to Abitz’s practice in March 2015, she allegedly cashed it and used the money. The Bar said after answering an initial e-mail from Cypress, Abitz fell silent. The check is the subject of her still pending grand theft charge. Six months after Abitz got the check, she was charged with possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, oxymorphone and drug paraphernalia. Her no contest plea earned her probation and a suspension from the Bar.
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▪ Miami’s Dennis Bedard is, essentially, disbarred until at least May 25, 2022, after receiving a disciplinary revocation. Bedard has been under suspension since Nov. 16 when he didn’t fully comply with a subpoena for financial records having to do with former client Eugenio Marrapodi, who claims Bedard misused money. Two former business partners who Bedard represented have a dispute about how trust fund money was distributed. And there’s a contempt proceeding from the suspension. Bedard asked for the disciplinary revocation, which takes away his ability to practice law for five years but also settles the discipline matters without Bedard officially admitting guilt.
▪ Lauderdale Lakes’ Phillip Brutus, a former state representative, is suspended until June 3, 2018, and will be on probation until June 3, 2020. During a divorce proceeding in which Brutus’ represented the outgoing wife, he made a premature disbursement of funds from his law firm’s trust account to his client and himself (for fees). This would be declared settled in the mediated marital settlement. But once Magistrate Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum heard about it, she asked the Florida Bar to check it out.
The Bar found Brutus handled his firm’s trust account with the carelessness an avuncular relative jingles a change pocket. Entrusted with a client’s $32,583 for nine months, the balance in the trust account fell beneath that eight times. He occasionally mixed his earned fees in the account with client money. Also, the account had been overdrawn three times between July 30, 2010, and Sept. 14, 2010, the first time when Brutus wrote a $2,000 check with $31.15 in the account.
▪ Fort Lauderdale’s Joseph Cichowski (Nova Southeastern Law, 1999), like Bedard, went for disciplinary revocation. He is disbarred until at least May 11, 2022, when he can apply for reinstatement to the Bar. Cichowski has been suspended since Jan. 20 for, among other things, pleading guilty to grand theft auto after writing a bouncy check to buy a used car in 2014. He was sentenced to two years’ probation.
▪ Coral Gables’ Aura Olivas (Nova Southeastern Law, 2002) has been suspended until further notice since May 3, when she was found in contempt of the Florida Supreme Court. Olivas blew off some official Bar inquiries and ignored a subpeona for her trust account records. Investigating eyes wanted to see that paperwork after Claudia Solano claimed Olivas, as her lawyer in a gas station sale, owed her $405,305 but had ponied up only $100,000. Bank records the Bar obtained despite Olivas ignoring their requests say over $1,013,262.50 safely went from the buyer’s attorney to Olivas on Dec. 1, 2014. Olivas sent that $100,000 to Solano on April 18, 2016. So, there should have been at least $305,305 in the trust account Olivas uses for clients. But by Oct. 31, those five trust accounts were light by a few hundred thousand: total balance, $492.27.
▪ Fort Lauderdale’s Peter Stamas (Nova Southeastern Law, 2007) has gotten into more trouble for his handling of a misdemeanor petit theft case than his client could have under the law. Stama suspended last winter for trying to okeydoke a Broward Circuit Court by lying about a deal reached with his client. That suspension, which lasted until Jan. 6, wasn’t Stamas’ first connected with that his fib. In 2015, when the case was new, Stamas failed to respond to the Bar inquiry into his actions. That earned him a contempt citing and a suspension from the Bar. Ignoring communication from the Bar, Stamas didn’t know he was suspended until a coworker told him. He stopped accepting new clients. He told his current clients they had to find new counsel. Stamas went to court to tell his lawyer adversaries, trial judges and some clients of his suspension. That was a problem. Though Stamas didn’t do anything lawyerly regarding his client’s cases, the Referee “specifically found that these actions were in derivation of the Supreme Court’s Order of Suspension and constituted contumacious conduct warranting a disciplinary sanction. So, for that, Stamas is suspended from the Bar until May 4, 2019.
▪ Miami’s Paul Woods (University of Miami School of Law, 1983) has one open discipline case in which his actions as an escrow agent in a fraudulent transaction are getting a long look. Another discipline case concerns actions so fraudulent in a civil case, Woods received civil sanctions while the other side received attorney’s fees. So, Woods petitioned for disciplinary revocation. He can apply for bar reinstatement in May, 2022.