Domestic violence, grand theft and ignoring clients get attorneys disciplined

Thieves on probation, men involved in violence against women, and attorneys who take the money and don’t run with the cases comprise a good chunk of the most recent Florida Bar discipline report.

This batch of lawyers disciplined by the Florida Supreme court, some of whom also have been disciplined by criminal courts, requires another explanation of “disciplinary revocation.”

Disciplinary revocation’s effect is the same as disbarment — the attorney is booted from the Florida Bar. The difference: Disbarment is the harshest punishment possible after being found guilty of a violation, while an attorney petitions for disciplinary revocation while the grievance is being tried.

If granted, it takes care of the Bar complaint. The complaint goes away and you go away (as an attorney). It doesn’t affect any charges in criminal court or civil lawsuits.

Oh, and “misappropriated funds” generally means “stolen.”

In alphabetical order:

Longwood attorney Barry Burnette’s (University of Florida School of Law, admitted 1999) tumultuous relationship with his ex-girlfriend climaxed with Burnette putting a flagpole through the front window of the home she shared with her family, as detailed in a Miami Herald story. He’s suspended.

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Barrett Burnette Florida Department of Corrections

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Dennis Horton (University of Florida College of Law, admitted 1974), 71, got disbarred for a succession of senior-on-senior crimes. Horton had a 74-year-old client, E.L. for whom he drafted a living trust and power of attorney. He named himself as a 50 percent beneficiary in the distribution. In September and October of 2016, E.L. and Horton agreed on a $90,000 loan. Using his power of attorney, Horton wrote himself three checks totaling $90,000 from E.L.’s checking account.

Then, he wrote a $15,000 check on E.L.’s account and tried to put it in his personal account. That unauthorized check bounced.

After another client, C.B., died on Sept. 5, 2016, Horton transferred $17,500 from C.B.’s trust account for his attorney’s fees and his work as personal representative of C.B.’s estate. Except he wouldn’t be appointed that for another two days. A Bar auditor found Horton used the $17,500 to cover a bounced check from his operating account and business expenses.

On Oct. 19, 2016, the same day E.L.’s $15,000 check bounced, Horton moved $15,500 from C.B.’s estate account to his own for personal representative work.

“It wasn’t a coincidence,” Horton testified. “I needed that money, so I thought I would take my — take a portion of my personal representative’s fee.”

Octogenarian client R.O.C., after giving Horton power of attorney, asked Horton to change the name and address on R.O.C.’s accounts to Horton’s. Horton invoiced R.O.C. in 2014, but not 2015 and 2016 when he wrote a total of 67 checks totaling $125,840 from R.O.C.’s checking account to his personal or operating accounts. He also put back $44,850.

Miami Beach attorney Robert Ingham (St. Thomas School of Law, admitted 2006) hit the for the unethical cycle to achieve the disbarment that starts Thursday.

According to a referee’s report, Ingham lied to the Bar and in Broward County small claims court about receiving a $5,000 deposit while acting as an escrow agent in a real estate deal. Ingham also filed a charging lien without legal basis and, the report said, “intentionally made misrepresentations to the court in his Motion to Dismiss.”

Ingham lost the small claims court case, but still refused to refund the $5,000. He also refused to refund the $2,500 he owed another client.

Ingham lied to a client who hired him to work a foreclosure when he did communicate. The report says Ingham told the client nothing was going on while the most something there could be was going on — the property was being foreclosed upon and sold.

He lied to a bankruptcy court, the Bar said, got suspended, then kept filing documents on a client’s behalf.

During his professional breakup with Eduardo I. Rasco, Aventura attorney Daniel Kaplan (University of Memphis, admitted 1992) ripped his former partner in emails as a “liar and a thief,” “a piece of trash,” and threatened to drag a Rasco client into a lawsuit and cost the client his job.

These violated the spirit of a court order to refrain from defamatory remarks or extortive demands. Kaplan’s consent judgment says he’s been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. With medication and therapy to work on impulse and anger issues, Kaplan hasn’t had any further behavior issues. He was still publicly reprimanded in the Southern Reporter.

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Daniel Kaplan The Florida Bar

Bar discipline cases facing Jacksonville attorney Carin Maxey (admitted 2003) included allegations she was “unduly antagonistic” during divorce proceedings; she stole client money from her trust account and lied about it; avoided being served in a civil matter; practiced law while suspended. She went for disciplinary revocation, able to look for readmission after 10 years.

All the above will get you baleful stares from the state Supreme Court. Stealing client money, then pleading guilty to one count of grand theft will get you staring at a camera for a mugshot. Maxey’s on probation until she makes $150,000 restitution.

Carin Maxey mugshot.jpg
Carin Maxey Florida Department of Corrections

Also reaching for disciplinary revocation is Jacksonville Beach attorney Jessica McClean (Florida Coastal School of Law, admitted 2015), who had eight disciplinary cases working. That’s in addition to a case in New York.

McClean and her license were used by former Bar member Craig Martin and two non-attorneys, Edwin Lay and Marshal Wills, to form a firm they called Volks Anwalt (German for “People’s lawyer”). Instead of a regular staff of attorneys, Volks planned to hire attorneys around the country on a contract basis for foreclosure, loan modification and bankruptcy cases. Each attorney would be dubbed a Volks “partner” for the length of that case.

Unsupervised paralegals did most of the work, according to McClean’s disciplinary revocation petition. Because Volks didn’t look into the rules variations from state to state, the firm and managing partner McClean were disciplined in “at least eight states.”

Volks was dissolved after February 2017. McClean stopped practicing law in August 2017.

Coral Gables attorney Madeline Palenzuela (University of Miami School of Law, admitted 2003) took a family court case, then disappeared. Her client didn’t hear from her for months before his court date. Neither did opposing counsel. She didn’t show up in court. She didn’t show up for any of the Bar disciplinary proceedings. So, the state Supreme Court decided she didn’t need to show up again, disbarring her.

Why did Longwood attorney James Palmer (Nova Southeastern College of Law, admitted 1984) petition for disciplinary revocation, which began Sept. 28? Well after a bounced trust account check got reported to the Bar and a former partner told the Bar said clients told him they weren’t getting disbursements in a timely manner...

“[Palmer] admits that he was the only attorney with signatory authority for the firm’s trust accounts,” his petition says. “[Palmer] admits failing to maintain the minimum trust account records or follow the minimum trust account procedures as required by Chapter 5 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. [Palmer] admits that the audit identified instances in which client trust funds were used for purposes other than for the specific purpose for which they were intended.”

As detailed in a Herald story from earlier this week, Naples attorney Jon Parrish (Stetson School of Law, admitted 1993) filed for disciplinary revocation after watching his ex-girlfriend blitz and batter his current girlfriend, then tried to discourage the current from reporting the attack by the ex.

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Jon Parrish mugshot.JPG
Jon Parrish Collier County Sheriff's Office

Noted West Palm Beach attorney Gary Pickett (Florida State School of Law, admitted 1984) took foreclosure defense cases for three different clients through a Gary Kelman. Why those clients filed Bar complaints against Pickett were clear early in the referee’s report.

“Despite being the attorney of record in their cases, [Pickett] denied that [Franz] Dorsainvil, [Nancy] Scaccetti and [William and Caridad] McColman were his clients and that he owed any duty to them,” the report read. “The evidence demonstrated numerous other instances where [Pickett] similarly denied representing clients obtained through this business arrangement [with Kelman] despite that fees were deposited into his bank account and pleadings were filed under his name making him attorney of record in the respective cases.”

The state Supreme Court disagreed with Pickett. It said he owes the McColman’s $7,900 and Dorsainvil $3,600. Oh, and he’s disbarred.

One Bar grievance against Boynton Beach attorney Rangile Santiago (admitted 2009) concerns stealing funds. Another concerns facilitating embezzlement. A third grievance deals with Santiago’s alleged “misuse of trust funds from surplus funds received from the court registry.”

That’s all from Santiago’s petition for disciplinary revocation. He can reapply to play lawyer again Aug. 29, 2024.

As West Palm Beach attorney Richard Springer’s (Stetson School of Law, admitted 1974) health failed after a March 2016 diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis — and about five years of life left — he tried to close his practice. Associates help cleared Springer’s desk, except for four criminal matters. Two were relatively new, but two were well along.

Springer petitioned for disciplinary revocation on June 26. It was granted Sept. 12. One database says he died Sept. 27 at 70.

Milton attorney Randall Werre (North Dakota School of Law, admitted 1984) took $1,557 to handle a bankruptcy case on July 26, 2017. He did nothing on the case beyond ignoring the client’s phone calls. The client fired Werre and asked for his money and documents back. Werre ignored that request, as well as the attempts by the Bar to contact him about the ensuing grievance.

When Werre got around to it, he claimed he’d lost the client’s file. What he seemed to find was the client’s money, which he returned. But he never returned the client’s documents.

Then, he dilly-dallied on a minor child’s name change. The child’s mother paid for Werre on May 15, 2017, but wasn’t told until 10 months later that she needed a background check to proceed. He didn’t process that within 30 days, requiring her to get another background check. Also, Werre didn’t send the required letter to the child’s birth father for 11 months, by which time the father had moved.

He’s suspended until Oct. 12, 2020.

Pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States (read: the IRS) and money laundering got Boca Raton attorney Martin Werner (Nova Southeastern , admitted 1985) sentenced to four years’ probation and $1 million restitution. It also got him a suspension that started Oct. 9.

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.