Disbarred Daytona attorney cites mental illness in 'downward spiral'
News-Journal - 6/21/2019
The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred longtime Daytona Beach attorney Diego Handel, who was already suspended and is now asking the court to reconsider saying that he entered a "downward spiral" due to his suffering from bipolar disorder.
The Florida Supreme Court disbarred Handel on May 30 after the Florida Bar said he was continuing to practice law even though he had been suspended from doing since Jan. 9.
"I am now more than ever determined to be candid about my illness and to fight its horrendous toll on my mind and my inherent integrity," Handel wrote in a statement to the Supreme Court. "I am fully dedicated to stopping the illness from taking away my ability to practice the profession I love and value tremendously."
The Jan. 9 suspension stemmed from Handel failing to provide trust records and complete bank statements to Florida Bar investigators, according to documents.
The state Supreme Court again suspended Handel in March, this time describing it as an emergency after an investigation found he had misappropriated money from clients to pay for personal expenses, including his daughter's education, according to the Florida Bar. Handel had reimbursed at least some of the clients.
The state Supreme Court then disbarred Handel on May 30 because he had continued to practice law despite being suspended, according to the bar.
Florida bar investigator Shirley Coleman said she found evidence that Handel was still practicing law when she called and visited Handel's office in January. Handel's assistant answered the phone "Law office. This is Julie" and Handel still listed himself as an attorney on a sign at the business and on business cards. Coleman also heard a woman in Handel's small lobby telling someone on her cell phone that she was waiting to speak to her attorney. Handel also appeared at two court hearings.
Handel could not be reached for comment.
Handel, who has been practicing law since 1984, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and cited mitigating factors, according to a document filed by his attorney Kevin P. Tynan in Tamarac. Tynan is asking that the court refer the issue to a referee, a judge or an attorney who would hold an administrative hearing.
Tynan wrote that in college Handel was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, causing swings between manic and depressed phases.
Handel has also done significant pro bono work for which he received recognition from Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and from the state Supreme Court from 2015 to 2017, Tynan wrote.
Handel submitted an emotional statement in which he said that he ignored his family's pleas for him to get help and instead concealed his bipolar disorder out of "overwhelming shame, and an all-consuming fear of the stigma associated with mental illness."
Handel said he feared that if people knew about his illness it would destroy his legal career. He said he was treated by psychiatrist from 2010 to 2016 but stopped treatment "as bipolar sufferers regularly do."
He said his condition caused him to enter into a "downward spiral."
"This has caused me and those close to me immeasurable pain and led to financial irregularities," Handel wrote.
He said he has returned to therapy and to taking medication.
He cited the work he's done for free and a case in which he represented an ill Honduran woman as she fought deportation federal court.
Handel wrote: "I enormously regret my actions that have brought me to this point, and I accept full responsibility for them."
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