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Forgery, funny business with clients' money and disappearing get attorneys disciplined

Miami Herald - 7/3/2019

Jul. 3--THREE MSMONEY (BELONGING TO CLIENTS), Mental health and being missing without being officially missing -- dominate this month's Florida Bar report of attorneys disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court. -- money (belonging to clients), mental health and being missing without being officially missing -- dominate this month's Florida Bar report of attorneys disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court.

Before we get started on the alphabetical order list from this month, here's an update on a past discipline case. Case referee Samantha Schosberg Feuer recommended a two-year suspension for Fort Lauderdale attorney Ashley Krapacs, whose social media posts firing shots at two other attorneys and the Bar resulted in a libel suit (settled), a restraining order and an emergency Bar suspension (both still active). The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on Krapacs' punishment.

Krapacs has filed objections to the referee's report as well as a motion to disqualify Schosberg Feuer on the grounds that she "has a well founded fear that she has not and will not receive fair consideration of her motions or a fair trial."

Here is June's list of disciplined attorneys:

-- Jacksonville attorney James Boyle (University of Florida School of Law, admitted to the Bar 2007) refused to respond to Bar inquiries about a pending case. So, he's held in contempt and will start a 30-day suspension Thursday.

-- Fort Myers attorney David Brener (Golden Gate University School of Law, admitted to the Bar 1988) is now as disbarred as he has disappeared. You might have heard of Brener as the first defense attorney for Charles Wardlow, one of the four people prosecuted in the robbery and shooting death of former University of Miami football star Sean Taylor. Or as the defense attorney for Jose Bonilla, accused of being the Fort Myers' Zombicon shooter.

But if you've seen or heard from Brener, call the Lee County Sheriff's Office, the Fort Myers Police or maybe his clients. He disappeared in October before a hearing for Bonilla and several other clients -- including a neighbor charged with DUI who said she couldn't get needed medical records from Brener's office.

Another client's father told Brener's case referee he felt Brener "swindled him out of his" $7,500 retainer. He said Brener visited his son once in jail, missed appearances and didn't file any documents in his son's case. Seven clients who paid a total of over $20,000 testified before the referee of their abandonment.

Brener filed a Motion to Continue Trial on Sept. 30 for an appearance he needed to make on Oct. 1, claiming his shoulder injury and the emergency heart surgery of his legal assistant/ex-wife/daughters' mother hampered his law practice. The motion was denied and the trial reset for Oct. 2.

Brener didn't appear.

When the Florida Bar investigator went to Brener's apartment on Oct. 28, he found it empty. When he went to Brener's office the next day, he "noticed diplomas and pictures laying against a wall, plastic bins and cardboard file boxes filled on the floor as well as garbage bags, which appeared to be full also laying with the boxes."

No sign of Brener.

And no missing persons report has been filed with either Lee County Sheriff's office or Fort Myers Police.

-- Fort Lauderdale attorney Kirk Girrbach (Nova Southeastern, admitted 1990) went for disciplinary revocation, essentially disbarment, and can seek readmission to the Bar in June 2024. Girrbach's pending Bar discipline case involves misuse of trust funds from a real estate closing.

Girrbach's petition for disciplinary revocation says he'll reimburse Pamela Shimwell-Mayo$70,000 plus interest from June 18, 2018.

-- Boca Raton attorney Brian Glick (Hamline University School of Law, admitted in 1981) didn't answer a subpoena demanding his trust account records after asking for an extension to do so. The Bar made the request after his trust account should've had $2,110.26 to pay a client's medical expenses, but had $361 as of Sept. 30, 2018.

The Bar does not like to be ignored. The state Supreme Court doesn't like when the Bar is ignored. So, starting Sunday, Glick is suspended until further notice.

-- Daytona Beach attorney Diego Handel (University of Miami School of Law, admitted 1984) is disbarred for working as an attorney while suspended. He's filed for a rehearing on his punishment before a referee so he can present mitigating factors.

"The most significant aspect of mitigation to be presented concerns (Handel's) longstanding difficulties with a bipolar disorder, where individuals lose control and engage in activity that they would not normally engage in, and a depressive phase, wherein an individual shuts down and, among other things, procrastinates or avoids matters that need their attention."

Handel's filing says he was diagnosed as being bipolar in college he's recently returned to therapy.

"I ignored my wife's and family's pleas to get help and concealed my illness out of overwhelming shame and all-consuming fear of the stigma associated with mental illness. I always feared that making my illness known would end my legal career, which I love more than life itself. I ignored the Bar's requests and concealed the illness not out of disrespect to the Bar and to this Court, but because of the nature of the illness itself."

Handel began a suspension in January for not turning over trust account records as a Bar subpoena demanded. He was being investigated after a May 23, 2018 trust account check of $11,551.70 bounced because the account balance was $114.97.

During the investigation, the Bar found Handel used funds to pay Emory University for a relative who was student there. He also paid his SunTrust operations account with trust fund account monies.

"Respondent then used the funds to make payments to Florida Blue, an individual believed to be respondent's employee, restaurants, and convenience stores," the Bar's Petition for Emergency Suspension said.

An affidavit from Bar auditor Matthew Herdecker said Handel used client funds as his own, then replaced them with money from loans or his father. This was done without the permission of any of the clients.

When the Bar asked Handel for his complete trust account records, he provided incomplete records. He was suspended for that first, then hit with an emergency suspension in March over the mishandled client funds.

Bar investigator Shirley Coleman found that Handel had appeared in two Volusia County courts after the Jan. 9 start of his suspension. One court told Coleman that Handel appeared Jan. 11 to file a Motion to Withdraw and his client told the court Handel was suspended. He requested a continuance in another court Jan. 15, but hadn't mentioned he was suspended.

Also, Coleman's affidavit says, Handel's former paralegal still received copies of his emails, so she could see he was still setting court dates. Coleman swung by Handel's office to hand-deliver his suspension on Jan. 16 and saw he was still meeting with clients. She followed up with a phone call on June 28 during which he "acknowledged his law office was still open and said he was actively working to close it."

-- Bonita Springs attorney Charles Murray (University of Maryland School of Law, admitted in 1983) signed a post-conviction motion written for client Arnold Watkins by the National Legal Professional Association.

That's a problem because:Charles Murray is not Arnold Watkins and he signed Arnold Watkins' name without permission; the NLPA employs no attorneys licensed in Florida; and Murray, according to the referee's report, "admitted he did no independent research prior to signing the draft post-conviction motion written by NLPA. In fact, (Murray) testified he would only do research if he suspected it did not sound right."

So Murray forged a signature after letting lawyers not admitted to work in Florida do his work.

This is why Murray started a 180-day suspension Sunday.

-- Fort Pierce attorney Tracy Record (Florida State University, admitted 2005) agreed to a 90-day suspension that will start July 13 followed by two years of probation. She'll also enter into a rehabilitation agreement with Florida Lawyers Assistance, a non-profit that helps lawyers dealing substance abuse and mental health issues. Record's consent judgment admits she "experienced serious mental health issues during the time that the misconduct took place."

The misconduct was missing several court appearances for three different clients and visiting one jailed client once in a four-month stretch.

-- Tampa attorney Crystal Sebago (Florida A&M College of Law, admitted 2007) started a 90-day suspension Sunday and has undergone an evaluation of from Florida Lawyers Assistance. Sebago's consent judgment admits that during a 2017 trial, Sebago made several mistakes in evidence and testimony she introduced.

"She realizes she was very stressed during the trial and may have misunderstood the judge's directives," the consent judgment says.

After the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, the defendants filed a motion for a mistrial based on the evidence Sebago introduced.


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