Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the September 8, 2016 Florida Supreme Court disciplinary Order suspending a lawyer for 91 days for, inter alia, scheduling witness statements and obtaining information for the NCAA related to its investigation of the University of Miami football program for a fee. The case is The Florida Bar v. Maria Elena Perez, SC14-733. The Report of Referee is here: 8/2/16 Perez Report of Referee and the Supreme Court’s Order is here: 9/8/16 SC Order approving ROR
The case involved the high profile NCAA investigation of the University of Miami and former football booster Nevin Shapiro, who gave gifts and made payments to recruits, football players and UM staff which resulted in the NCAA’s decision to reduce football scholarships and place the UM athletics department on probation.
According to the referee’s report, the lawyer began representing Shapiro in April 2010 to defend federal criminal charges in the federal District of New Jersey, a Securities and Exchange Commission Complaint in the Southern District of Florida, and involuntary bankruptcy proceedings in the Southern District of Florida. All of these matters related to Shapiro’s Ponzi scheme, which ultimately resulted in Shapiro’s conviction for money laundering and wire fraud. The lawyer also defended Shapiro in a Florida state court defamation action brought against him in September 2011 by former rap musician Luther Campbell.
The lawyer met with the NCAA and agreed to schedule witness examinations in the bankruptcy case specifically to assist the NCAA with its investigation of the Miami football program. She was paid $18,325.00 by the NCAA for her services. The lawyer was found guilty of violating the following Bar Rules: 4-1.5 (fees and costs for legal services) , 4-3.1 (meritorious claims and contentions), 4-3.4 (fairness to opposing party and counsel), 4-4.1 (truthfulness in statements to others), 4-4.2 (communication with person represented by counsel), 4-4.4 (respect for rights of third persons), 4-8.4(a)(c)(d) (misconduct), and 5-1.1(b) (trust accounts- application of funds or property to a specific purpose). The lawyer was also found guilty of acting incompetently (4-1.1) and negligently (4-1.3) in another unrelated case.
Bottom line: This lawyer agreed to assist the NCAA with its investigation of the University of Miami by obtaining witness statements and information and engaged in misconduct which resulted in a rehabilitative suspension, including improper fees, untruthful statements to others, communication with unrepresented persons, and trust account violations. The lawyer will be required to file a petition for reinstatement and show that she is fit to practice by clear and convincing evidence before resuming practice.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice, and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670