Florida law firm is removed from federal case after lawyer scheduled depositions at Dunkin’ Donuts, engaged in “deplorable behavior”, and disparaged opposing counsel

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent lengthy Order of a federal District Judge which disqualified a Florida lawyer and his law firm from a fair labor standards litigation partially because of his “flagrant disrespect” and misconduct in the case and a prior case with the same corporate defendant and opposing counsel.  The case is Bedoya et al. v. Aventura Limousine & Transportation Service, Inc., et al., Case No. 11-24432-Civ-Altonaga/Simonton.  The Order is also attached.

The lawyer and law firm (Richard Celler and Morgan & Morgan), sued a limousine service and corporate officers in two separate cases.  According to the U.S. District Judge’s Order, the lawyer made “choice statements” in an e-mail to opposing counsel, engaged in improper communications with the opposing party, and disparaged the opposing lawyer in the presence of his clients.  The lawyer also engaged in “deplorable behavior”, including scheduling depositions at Dunkin’ Donuts, attending the deposition in T-shirts and shorts, and drawing penis pictures and playing Angry Birds during the deposition.

According to the Order, although some of the lawyer’s misconduct occurred in a prior case, it was relevant because it embarrassed the defendants and interfered with their relationship with their lawyer.  The Order also found that the lawyer acted with “flagrant disrespect” for the opposing lawyer and engaged in a consistent course of unprofessional conduct, which included telling a defendant, who was an officer of the limousine company, that the company could afford a better lawyer and that he would never settle with the opposing lawyer.

The lawyer argued that he merely advised the defendant to hire outside counsel who specialized in labor issues and, in any event, the communication was not an improper communication with a represented person because the other lawyer was nearby.  The Order rejected this argument and referred an e-mail written by the lawyer to the opposing wherein wherein he apparently confirmed the conversation with the opposing party regarding his refusal to settle and criticized the e-mail for its “utter lack of professionalism”.  The e-mail stated, in part:

“It is apparent that your MO is trying to purposefully delay things as much as possible. This is because it appears (from what I observed at trial), you are not a trial lawyer.  If you want to play in the sand box with trial lawyers, you are going to do it the right way or we are going to call you out to the judge—every time. …. We are not interested, nor are our clients, in settlement discussions with you as long as you are the lawyer on the other side. You are causing your client a great disservice. If you were not on the other side of the table, we would have a better chance of any resolution and would sit with the principals of the company. I have told Scott Tinkler this. Time to put your boots on and get to work. No more whining, no more complaining about how you have no support staff, no more complaining about how much work you have to do.  Nobody on this side of the Internet cares.”

The Order found that the lawyer engaged in multiple instances of misconduct and violated multiple Bar Rules and disqualified both the lawyer and the law firm.  The Order stated, “(i)n so finding, the Court is influenced by the egregiousness of the Florida Bar Rule violations, and the grave impact of (the lawyer’s) disparaging acts have had on the attorney-client relationship between (the opposing lawyer) and Defendants.”

Bottom line:  Is this lawyer now asking (himself) “did I actually write, say, and do this and what in the world was I thinking (or not thinking)”?  Needless to say, I would recommend that lawyers refrain from doing this.

Be careful out there.

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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