Neglect runs through the violations that put eight Miami-Dade and Broward attorneys on the Florida Bar’s monthly report of discipline from the state Supreme Court.
One attorney’s client neglect caused the client to lose a job and move with his family out of the country. The neglect of another cost a client $192,000. An attorney neglected her guardian duty to seven children. And one attorney pleaded guilty to child neglect.
Eight attorneys in Miami-Dade or Broward are included in the discipline report.
In alphabetical order, with their law school:
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▪ Miami’s Angela Abell (Stetson University College of Law, Bar member since 1988) won’t be practicing law in Florida before 2022 after applying for and receiving disciplinary revocation. That’s a punishment that’s disbarment in effect, but allows the attorney to apply for reinstatement after five years.
Abell was suspended in July when she didn’t produce records subpoenaed by the Bar concerning a total of $141,123.72 of client funds that left her trust account. After a tragic car crash in 1997 killed two adults and left seven children, ages three months to eight years, Abell was the attorney and appointed guardian of property for the seven minor guardianship cases. In addition to “gross negligence” in her handling of duties, the Bar wanted to know about $7,123.72 an audit revealed was missing from her trust account.
The other $134,000 the Bar saw transferred from her trust account to her personal checking account, she claimed was from earned fees on other cases. But Abell produced no records to show that and the transfers were made long after the cases were done. Also, she has been practicing law under “Angela Marie Hill” and “Angela Abell Hill” for at least 20 years without changing her official Bar name (Angela Marie Abell). She didn’t comply when told about the violation in November 2016.
▪ Miami Lakes attorney John Michael Cruz II (Nova Southeastern, Bar member since 1986) has been suspended until Dec. 24 and ordered to pay $4,000 restitution to clients who paid him for bankruptcy and foreclosure services never rendered.
According to his Bar documents, in August, 2013, Cruz agreed to represent Salvador Arrom in a foreclosure action in exchange for Arrom painting his apartment. As for his end of this barter arrangement, Cruz failed to file timely pleadings. Most notably, after the sale, there was a $192,409.21 surplus from the sale. Arrom texted Cruz about it and got the reply, “I will get it.”
He didn’t get it. Nine months later, one of Arrom’s regular text messages asked if Cruz had filed a motion to get the funds. Cruz said he had and would send Arrom a copy of the motion, which he never did as he never filed such a motion. The $192,409 later was claimed by the attorney for surplus trustee, Nicholas Steffens. Steffens “misappropriated” the funds, pleaded no contest to four counts of grand theft and is now doing 10 years in prison. The Bar found Cruz had nothing to do with Steffens actions.
For his part, Cruz claimed Arrom never painted his house.
▪ Fort Lauderdale’s David Arthur Eagle (Nova Southeastern, Bar member since 1990) received a public reprimand for how he handled a case following serious health issues that put him in intensive care in 2011 even before a serious car crash in April 2012. Using paralegal and coverage counsel, Eagle did what he could, including helping his clients move their cases to other attorneys.
But one 2009 slip-and-fall case involving Radha Baggan slipped and fell between the cracks. Baggan believed Eagle always would be handling her case. In April 2013, Eagle believed he told a paralegal to draft a pro forma complaint to preserve the statute of limitations on the case. It never got filed.
▪ Miami’s Franklin C. Ferguson Sr. (St. Thomas University, Bar member since 1999) applied for and received disciplinary revocation. He can reapply for Bar reinstatement July 23, 2022.
In summing up his sins for the disciplinary revocation application, Ferguson wrote the misconduct he’s been accused of involves, “lack of competence; lack of diligence; lack of communication; excessive fees and costs; lack of candor toward the tribunal; communication with a person represented by counsel; conduct involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud or misrepresentation; and misappropriation of trust funds.”
▪ Miami’s Mark Gallegos (Georgetown Law, Bar member since 1983) will be serving a 91-day suspension until Nov. 9. Gallegos problems center around two immigration cases.
In May 2010, Antonio Discenza retained Gallegos to help him get his H1-B work visa and his wife’s H-4 spousal visa extended. Gallegos filed for the H1-B extension Sept. 23, 2010, days before it expired, but didn’t file for the H-4 spousal visa extension until Oct. 19, 2010, days after it expired. Also, Gallegos hadn’t filed a necessary ETA 9035E form with either petition.
So, on Aug. 29, 2011, USCIS rejected both requests and affirmed the decision in January, 2012. Gallegos told Discenza on Feb. 16, 2012, that he had filed a Motion to Re-Open. Discenza, his wife and their two kids went to their native Venezuela in March because, they said, Gallegos told them there would be no problem with re-entry. Gallegos denies he told them that.
And there was a problem with re-entry. Customs blocked Discenza and his family’s return to the United States. They were told Gallegos hadn’t filed a motion to reopen the decision on either visa. Unable to set foot on U.S. soil, the Discenza’s family returned to Venezuela.
Gallegos showed similar dereliction of duty with Virginia Yip, for whom he worked pro bono. Yip found Gallegos services weren’t worth the price.
The seminary student holding a F-1 student visa heard from Gallegos that he’d file an R-1 temporary nonimmigrant religious worker application on Yip’s behalf. On March 18, 2010, he told her it had been filed. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration said it didn’t get to them until May 5, 2010.
Yip’s F-1 status ran out April 12, 2010. Gallegos told Yip all this in June, 2012, when he told her she should file a Motion to Re-Open and Consider. She sent him the $630 filing fee. He never filed the motion. He did return her $630 — after she filed a grievance with the Bar.
▪ North Miami’s Benjamin Jacobi (University of Miami, Bar member since 1973) will get a reprimand in the Southern Reporter for violating rules of competence and conflict of interest, among others. After representing Nisha Patel to open a probate estate for the deceased Tarpan Patel, he filed a claim against the estate for a loan Tarpan received from his mother, Shobana Patel. Shobana was the one who retained Jacobi for her daughter-in-law.
▪ Coral Springs’ Stephanie Kraft (Nova Southeastern, Bar member since 1988) is suspended until June 22, 2019. That two-year suspension is the fallout from Kraft’s 2014 conviction on one count of threatening harm to a public servant or someone for whom the public servant cares. Kraft to five years’ probation and 20 hours a week community service.
▪ Davie’s Mitchell Silverstein (University of Miami, Bar member since 1988) is suspended until April 7, 2020, when he will still have a year and eight months left on his five-year probation. Though the Bar and the Department of Corrections site list Silverstein’s crime as “child neglect,” he was initially charged with five counts of child pornography possession, one count of using a computer for child exploitation and one count of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
But the change in charge to “child neglect” allowed Silverstein to plead no contest without being listed as a sex offender. Since the parameters for Silverstein’s probation were set Dec. 9, 2016, Silverstein’s lawyers have filed three motions to modiby it.
In granting the latest modifications, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Raag Singhal wrote, “The Defendant was not placed on probation for a sex offense, therefore, the standard sex offender conditions set forth on Pages 4 and 5 of the Order of Probation are not applicable.”
According to his arrest report, Silverstein was busted having at least five movies of girls age 7 to 12 (as estimated by the investigating Davie police detective) in sexual acts, sometimes with adult men.