Business

Some lawyers didn’t talk to clients. One flirted with a client’s girlfriend. All paid a price

What’s worse: No communication, inappropriately flirtatious communication or lying communication?

Examples of all three are in Part II of the list of attorneys disciplined by the Florida state Supreme Court. Part I, which posted Sunday, can be found here.

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The remaining nine, in alphabetical order:

After almost 29 years as a Bar member after coming out of Case Western Reserve law school, Miami’s Ken Kukec racked up five Bar suspensions from August 2015 through April 2018. When Kukec didn’t respond to Bar questions about his lack of communication with a client from a 2013 to 2015 case and didn’t participate in the disciplinary process, the referee recommended in November the already-suspended Kukec be disbarred. The Supreme Court agreed.

Derek Lewis of Fort Pierce got a public reprimand and has to complete ethics school. After Christopher Jackson was convicted in 2013 of possessing burglary tools and burglary with structural damage over $1,000, Lewis committed to handle the appeal. But he didn’t file the initial brief on time, even after warning, so the appellate court dismissed the matter on Nov. 25, 2013. Lewis didn’t tell Jackson about that. Then, he stopped responding to the Bar after some I’ll-get-that-to-you emails replying to Bar requests for information after Jackson filed a complaint.

Lewis later said he was dealing with diabetes and hospitalizing heart disease during this time. Neither was mentioned by Lewis in his emails. Jackson’s appeal is being handled by another lawyer. With a habitual offender tag boosting his sentence, he was sentenced to life on the burglary charge.

Atlantic Beach attorney Brett Mearkle, an Ohio Northern University law school graduate, began serving a 90-day suspension on Jan. 19. He owes $7,500 restitution, $2,500 each, to three clients.

According to his guilty plea for consent judgment, one client paid him to get student loans discharged in bankruptcy. Mearkle filed her Chapter 7 petition and told her the case was going well. That was a lie, according to the report — student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy and he did nothing on the case after the filing.

He told a client for whom he handled a tax matter that she owed no more money to the IRS. So the letter from the IRS stating she owed another $15,555.36 ruined her Sunday. After the IRS told her they hadn’t been contacted by any attorney, the woman sent Mearkle several calls and texts. He told her “he had taken a class on how to deal with irate clients and he learned it is best to ignore them.”

A man living in China wired Mearkle $2,500 for representation in a bankruptcy case. The man never heard from Mearkle again.

Curtis Mendenhall works out of Orlando. The St. Thomas University law school graduate and 20-year Bar member will be doing so on probation until Nov. 8 after getting a public reprimand. As the court-appointed defense attorney in a criminal case, his consent judgment says, he “sent inappropriate/flirtatious text messages to (the defendant’s) girlfriend.” The defendant notified the court, which removed Mendenhall as his attorney.

Mendenhall also must “participate actively” in a program by Florida Lawyers Assistance, which offers help to legal professionals dealing with personal issues (mental health, addiction, etc.) that might affect their work.

R. Shant Norsigian’s already under indefinite suspension from Feb. 23, 2018, for contempt of court until he gives the Bar what it wants in another discipline matter. So, a 91-day suspension that ends Feb. 7 might feel superfluous.

What did Norsigian do? According to the consent judgment, nothing. He accepted a retainer to help a landlord deal with unpaid rent in 2015 and did nothing. He accepted a retainer to handle a personal injury case in June 2014 and provided few updates for two years. Norsigian reappeared, told the client he’d been dealing with his mother’s death, then went incommunicado again. The University of Miami law school graduate has been a Bar member since 2007.

Rolando Rodriguez of Melbourne is another one who appears to have left law before law left him. Six clients filed Bar complaints between June 2017 and April 2018 that said Rodriguez abandoned their cases.

“In at least one matter, (Rodriguez) provided the client with a fraudulent order to mislead the client into believing (Rodriguez) was siligently handling his immigration case,” the referee’s report said.

Rodriguez didn’t answer Bar inquiries about these cases. Bar mailings to his address of record were “Return to Sender.” Emails bounced back. So, after being a Bar member since 2012, the Florida Coastal School of Law graduate has been disbarred.

Adam Seif has been a Bar member since 2008 and has a University of Florida law degree. Inayat Kassam claimed he had a law degree from a Florida school and immigration law experience. So, after Seif’s mother introduced them, Seif hired Kassam to work at his law firm in Canada without doing any background checks.

That’s a costly missed step — Kassam had no degree, did have a criminal record and that record has been extended by his conviction on theft (from Seif), forgery (of a $6,000 check from Seif’s trust account) and fraud on the public for more than $5,000. Kassam is doing time. Seif is serving a six-month suspension in Canada and a reciprocal six-month suspension in Florida after some angry clients who dealt with Kassam complained to the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Gregory Schwartz of Hollywood had a clean record since becoming a Bar member in 1996 out of University of Miami School of Law. But Schwartz took the disciplinary revocation route when accused of following orders from his client “that resulted in the alleged misappropriation of funds belonging to Burnac Corporation and Burnac Investments Limited.” Schwartz is, in effect, disbarred and can apply for reinstatement in five years.

Former Miami Beach resident Peter Vujin was disbarred after what the Bar called “frivolous, bad faith, annoying and abusive litigation tactics” while representing himself in two different lawsuits. Vujin’s situation was detailed in this Miami Herald article.

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
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