Judge: 14 Bar rules broken
The disbarment trial of South Florida plaintiff insurance lawyer Scot Strems has ended with the judge finding The Florida Bar had proven 14 of its 17 rule violations “by clear and convincing evidence.” He’s been under suspension by the Florida Supreme Court since early June, following a filing by The Bar alleging Strems “sits at the head of a vast campaign of unprofessional, unethical, and fraudulent conduct that now infects courts and communities across the state.”
Among the 14, Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Dawn Denaro found Strems violated rules governing criminal or fraudulent conduct, misconduct, candor toward the tribunal, meritorious claims and contention, and fairness to opposing counsel. The Circuit has been televising the proceedings live over its YouTube Channel, where you can view last week’s recorded courtroom action.
After the judge’s pronouncement, a sanctions hearing was held to consider recommended discipline. The Florida Bar is seeking permanent disbarment. “The sustained pattern of conduct and the pervasive dishonesty and misrepresentation that we’ve seen in this case require harsh sanctions,” said Florida Bar counsel Derek Womak. “Respondent had multiple occasions to repent, to reform his practice, and he continued to press ahead…he had no open acts of remorse. There’s been no meaningful evidence that Respondent’s conduct can be reformed,” he said.
Strems’ defense counsel is proposing a suspension of not more than 90 days and a period of probation of up to three years under whatever conditions the court deems necessary to protect the public. His defense counsel argued that a major part of the Bar’s case was unproven and that Strems tried to make things right at the firm and in large part, did get things straightened out. They said the Bar over-pled and over-argued the case, and that disbarment is not supported by case law. Strems himself did not testify at the trial, but at the sanctions hearing said he takes responsibility for all the problems outlined even if he wasn’t the lawyer personally involved.
Judge Denaro will submit her final report to the Supreme Court by October 8. For further background, you can read our June 22, July 20, August 3, August 17, August 31 and September 14 newsletter stories. This case is being closely watched by many and we will keep you apprised.
LMA Newsletter of 9-28-20