A disbarred former judge and a few felons on list of punished lawyers


Twelve lawyers have been disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court, according to a list published this month, including six from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

They are, in alphabetical order:

▪ Pembroke Pines’ Marcy Abitz (University of Miami School of Law, 2002) is accused of cashing a check for $8,961.35 mistakenly sent to her solo practitioner office in March 2015. She is facing grand theft charges. Abitz has been suspended since March 3 after being convicted by a no contest plea of possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, oxymorphone and drug paraphernalia. The arrest report from that bust in September 2015 says Abitz’s home “was a past target of illegal narcotic activity where arrests were generated by BSO.”

▪ Plantation’s Lauren Bannigan (Nova Southeastern School of Law, 2013) got three years’ probation on a criminal court conviction of cheating for her role in a $175 million health insurance fraud scheme. As a lawyer, she is suspended until May 23, 2018.

▪ Miami’s Cyrus Bischoff (Texas Southern School of Law, 1999) represented the plaintiff in a wage garnishment case in federal court. What ensued, according to the Referee’s Report, was a cavalcade of misconduct: pursing frivolous claims, not complying with discovery requests, lying to the court as well as providing a representation that could be characterized as haphazard and facile. The case was dismissed. Bischoff was fined $77,790 by the federal court. His client, who refused to properly answer questions from two defendants when being deposed, were fined $31,339. And Bischoff is suspended from the Florida Bar until March 2, 2018.

▪ Melissa Heaton (University of Virginia School of Law, 2005) was suspended in September 2015 for contempt. Her suspension was for 91 days for not providing an opinion letter or communicating with a client after being retained was served concurrently. She was supposed to notify all her clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of her suspension, then provide the Florida Bar a sworn affidavit with the names and addresses of all entities who received a copy of her suspension order. Heaton didn’t do that. An October letter from the Bar came back with a forwarding address. A November letter to that forwarding address came back that Heaton had moved and left no forwarding address. Wherever she is, she’s suspended until March 10, 2018.

▪ Miami Beach’s Scott Podvin (University of Miami School of Law, 1993) entered into a consent judgment that suspended him until Sept. 18, 2018. Podvin had seven disciplinary matters before the Florida Bar. Five of them involve his work on loan modification transactions, about which the Bar wrote: “The common general allegations were that Respondent failed to process and work on the loan modifications in a timely and diligent manner resulting in lengthy delays. Additionally, clients generally complained that they were not kept apprised of the status of their matter, did not have their communications answered, and rarely if ever, communicated directly with Respondent.” Another matter alleges Podvin tried to skirt his law firm around paying a debt to another lawyer by agreeing to a consent judgment knowing his law firm had dissolved. Then, he opened another law firm and resumed doing business. The last matter stems from an order of sanctions against Podvin for his actions when a former employee sued him for unpaid wages. “The order for sanctions made a finding of fact that Respondent engaged in a pattern of actions willfully with the intent to deceive the court and deprive the Plaintiff of his right to be heard,” the consent judgment reads.

▪ When you’ve been removed from the bench for your actions and a business associate has been disbarred for things he did as your partner in sort-of crime, you know disbarment can’t be far behind. So it is for Fort Lauderdale’s Laura Watson (Stetson University, 1985). She and partner Darin Lentner won a $3 million settlement from Progressive Insurance in a bad-faith case in 2002. They gave their clients about $361,000 and kept the other $2.639 million for themselves. That’s one of several violations attributed to Watson, who was removed from the 17th Circuit Court bench in 2015, three years after the Florida Bar first investigated her. Watson has been permanently disbarred.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal