Miami lawyer convicted of looting trust fund avoids prison time in judge’s controversial decision
07/18/2014 2:14 PM
07/18/2014 2:25 PM
Guy Bailey, a once-prominent Coconut Grove lawyer, stole $700,000 from his clients – but he won’t be going to prison.
Instead, the 76-year-old disbarred attorney must serve six years' probation and pay back the looted funds, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled Friday in a decision that outraged prosecutors and victims.
In a nine-page ruling, Hirsch insisted that Bailey – who once “stood at the very pinnacle” of local commercial litigation lawyers – could not pay back the money while behind bars.
“Guy Bailey committed his crime, not with a gun and a mask, but with a law license,” Hirsch wrote, adding later: “What pride can a just and a decent society take in a criminal justice system that tosses an ailing septuagenarian in jail to rot while making no provision for his victims?”
Said prosecutor Colleen Dunne: “I’m disappointed for the victims. To them it was not about the money, but what Mr. Bailey did. He was their attorney and abused that relationship and stole from them. It breaks my heart.”
Bailey was once considered one of the top commercial lawyers in South Florida. He once represented CenTrust Chairman David Paul, the former multimillionaire Miami power broker who did nine years prison for bank and securities fraud in the 1980s.
Most recently, Bailey’s firm represented Murray Levrant in a lawsuit over a contested life insurance policy for his dead son. Levrant’s other son, Seth, was also a party to the suit.
Eventually, Bailey won a settlement for the life insurance payout, and the money went into a trust account lawyer controlled by the lawyer. After much cajoling, he paid Murray and Seth Levrant in checks – which promptly bounced.
Miami police arrested Bailey in September 2010.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office recused itself from the case because of Bailey’s longstanding ties to the local legal community. Gov. Rick Scott assigned Monroe prosecutors to handle the case.
In March 2014, Bailey went to trial, taking the stand in his own defense while claiming the money was actually a loan to be paid back later. Jurors nonetheless convicted him in March of first-degree grand theft.
The verdict clearly surprised Hirsch, a former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, law school professor and author of a book on Florida criminal trial procedure.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Hirsch said shortly after the verdict, expressing hesitation to jail a man “who had been practicing law for longer than I have ... excuse me, I am not going to do it.”
Bailey faced up to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors and the Levrants – who believe they’ll never get a cent in restitution – wanted 21 months prison, the bottom of the sentencing guidelines.
In an order that ruminated extensively on the goal and meaning of punishment, Hirsch quoted Shakespeare, Plato and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in deciding against prison time.
“If ever a criminal case cried out for restitution in lieu of incarceration, this is that case,” he wrote. “Certainly, Mr. Bailey will be in a position to make no restitution from behind prison bars.”
A judge since 2010, Hirsch has never hesitated to wade into controversy.
In 2012, Hirsch ruled that prosecutors could not say a fingerprint found at a crime scene was a controversial match, a decision later overturned by an appeals court. Later that year, the same appeals court ruled that he should have recused himself from a murder case after he criticized the victim’s family from the bench.
When a Tampa federal judge ruled in 2011 that Florida's drug law was unconstitutional, Hirsch was the only local state judge to follow suit. He tossed out more than two dozen cases, but Miami's appeals court later reversed Hirsch's decision.
On Friday, Bailey’s defense lawyer, Roberto Pertierra, said his client got the judge’s message.
“He’s going to try and back every cent in this matter,” he said.
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