A Disciplined Attorney and Repercussions


The case of The Florida Bar v. Douglas is perhaps an intriguing commentary on the self-regulating bar in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court recently granted Mr. Douglas' Petition for Disciplinary Revocation. He essentially asked the Court to disbar him, and the Court agreed in a June 7, 2018 Order

The discipline has made the news: Daily Business ReviewSouth Florida Business JournalThe Florida Record, and WorkCompCentral.

Mr. Douglass is a 41 year old (now former) attorney who has practiced law in Florida for 14 years without ever encountering discipline from the bar. In the petition, he acknowledged that various clients may have been impacted by his actions. It lists Jason Jones, David Morales, Benito Antonio Jimenez, Juan Perez, Margaret LeBlanc, Mildred Ruiz, Vanquist Smith, and Liliana Henao. Eight people whose lives have been touched by an attorney. 

The petition asserts that some of these clients suffered financial losses. Allegedly, some had their workers' compensation case settled, but did not receive the proceeds. This includes Jason Jones ($175,000), David Morales ($6,000), Benito Jimenez ($6,400), Margaret LeBlanc ($15,000), Mildred Ruiz ($6,250), and Vanquist Smith ($10,000). That totals $218,650. Another, Liliana Henao, had a personal injury case, which was allegedly settled for $110,000. None of these injured folks were provided with the proceeds of these settlements, totaling almost $330,000. In addition, there were other complaints regarding Mr. Douglass' alleged "lack of communication" with clients. 

A member of The Florida Bar is "a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice." Rules of Professional Conduct, Preamble. A lawyer is required to keep a client informed about the status and progress of representation, Rule 4-1.4. The Florida Bar Rules require attorneys to abide by client's decisions (Rule 4-1.2), and be loyal to her/his client (comment to Rule 4-1.7). There are many rules for lawyers. 

Mr. Douglass asserted that the Supreme Court granting his petition "would not adversely affect the public interest" or the "confidence of the public in the legal profession." And, he agreed "to reimburse the Client Security Fund (CSF) for any and all funds CSF has paid or may pay out for claims resulting from Petitioner's misconduct." Finally, the petition specifically notes that Mr. Douglas will be able to "seek readmission," that is regain his license to practice law, at some time in the future. That may not mean he is readmitted, but it means he can ask to be. 

The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, Chapter 3, provide definitions, processes, and procedures for disciplining attorneys. There is a specific rule that covers the "Reinstatement and Readmission Procedures," Rule 3-7.10. This provides a litany of factors that may be considered in determining fitness for readmission, these are categorized under "disqualifying conduct," "determination of character and fitness," and "elements of rehabilitation." The lists are lengthy, and seemingly broad.  

Notably, the "elements of rehabilitation" include "strict compliance with the specific conditions of any disciplinary, judicial, administrative, or other order." Seemingly, that will mean that if the Bar considers readmitting Mr. Douglas, the almost $330,000 will have been repaid. It seems important that the public know that admission to The Florida Bar is never a right, and always a privilege. I think sometimes, in the stress and strain of daily life, some attorneys forget that. Hopefully not often, but some undoubtedly do. 

It is also important for the public to know that The Florida Bar has established a Client Security Fund. If a lawyer steals money from a client, the Security Fund is a potential source of replacement funds. The Fund is governed by specific regulations. For example, allegations must be made in a timely manner (usually 2 years after the date the disciplinary action becomes final; the Fund may have some discretion for claims after 2 years, but not after 4 years). The regulations intimate that access to the fund may be dependent upon the bar taking disciplinary action against the attorney. 

Before seeking money from the Fund however, the client must seek reimbursement or payment through other means, must "reasonably exhaust other remedies." This includes insurance and bonds the attorney may have. The Fund also "may require that the claimant file a complaint against the attorney with the appropriate state attorney's office; file a civil suit in an appropriate court," or otherwise seek redress. So, criminal restitution or civil damages may be a potential prerequisite. The Fund is a last resort, it will not pay "where the claim might be payable from any other source." 

It is notable that lawyer discipline proceedings can take months or sometimes years. The complaints detailed in the petition are all numbered in 2018. In fact, Florida has been noted by some as exemplary. Recently the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel praised "the swift action by Florida" in a case involving a lawyer licensed in both Florida and Wisconsin. It noted the Florida process "shines a light on how different states handle attorney discipline." 

So, there are lessons from Mr. Douglass' petition. First, lawyers should keep their clients informed and clients should strive to encourage that communication. Second, lawyers have extensive authority in their relationship with clients which requires both lawyer's and client's respect and appreciation. Third, if a client concludes that she/he has not received something they are due, contacting The Florida Bar is a smart place to start. Remember, access to that Security Fund may depend upon the Bar taking disciplinary action, and that process might be instigated by the Bar or might not begin until a client makes a complaint. Finally, it is critical that clients understand that receiving compensation may require time, various assorted actions, and diligence. 

And in conclusion, it is worth mentioning that the story of Mr. Douglass may in fact affect the "confidence of the public in the legal profession." It is difficult sometimes to understand that people we trust will let us down. But that is a fact of life. Not to say everyone we trust will let us down, but we will all have people in our lives that disappoint periodically. We would like to think our attorney would not let us down, but Mr. Douglass reminds us that attorneys are human and therefore clients should pay attention, communicate, and demand the respect of those in whom they place their trust.


David Langham is the Florida Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims. He blogs weekly regarding system issues, regulations and decisions. He has published many articles and delivered more than 1,000 professional speeches.

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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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