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Breaking Ethics News

In an unprecedented recommendation in late September, the Referee in a Florida ethics case,[1] denied Relator The Florida Bar's request for cost reimbursement against Respondent Jeremy W. Alters. The Florida Bar sought $305,360.03 against Mr. Alters for prosecuting the ethics case against him. Rather than awarding Relator those costs, the Referee recommended that The Florida Bar be assessed costs in the amount of $143,913.35 for Mr. Alter's defense of the charges brought against him.

The essence of the Bar's complaint involved the individual responsible for transferring approximately $1,000,000 from an attorney trust to an operating account. Charged with six Rule violations, Mr. Alters was eventually found to have violated only two, involving the failure to take remedial action to avoid a recurrence of problems others created. According to the Referee, The Florida Bar ignored evidence and refused to believe or even interview credible witnesses. Rather, it accepted the testimony of Mr. Alters' law partner, Kimberly Boldt, even though the evidence contradicted her testimony. Ultimately, the evidence revealed that, Ms. Boldt was responsible for the transfers. Ms. Boldt was offered a diversion program.

The Referee found that The Florida Bar's costs were unnecessary and excessive considering the rules Mr. Alters was found to have violated. In denying The Florida Bar's costs request, the Referee noted that Mr. Alters prevailed on the substantial issues in the case, which is, itself, sufficient cause to deny most of the Bar's cost request. Further, the Referee noted that Relator insisted on seeking disbarment long after an emergency suspension hearing resulted in the Referee's finding of fact that The Florida Bar would be unlikely to prevail on the issue at trial.

In awarding costs to Mr. Alters, the Referee found that there was no justiciable issue of law or fact from the beginning of the prosecution that Mr. Alters transferred the funds. Rather, the Bar relied upon it's auditor's conclusion that Mr. Alters authorized the transfers . Ultimately, the Referee found at the emergency hearing held in January 2012 that the auditor had no basis to make that statement. The auditor admitted this was so on cross examination. The Referee indicated that the Bar had documentary evidence in 2012 that Ms. Boldt authorized the transfer of the funds. Nevertheless, The Florida Bar continued to prosecute Mr. Alters for an additional five years. Mr. Alters was forced to hire forensic computer experts to validate his testimony and that of preeminent scholar and appellate lawyer, Bruce Rogow.

The Referee determined that it was clear from the beginning that the Bar prosecuted the wrong lawyer and did not conduct an even handed or objective investigation.

More about this case can be obtained through the Florida Supreme Court website at http://jweb.flcourts.org/pls/docket/ds_docket.

 


[1] The Florida Bar v. Alters, S.Ct. Case No. SC14-100.

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