Door open to practice again though
The Florida plaintiff attorney who became the infamous poster child for excessive property insurance litigation in recent years has been disbarred from the practice of law. The Florida Supreme Court issued its order in late December, finding that Scot Strems through his Strems Law Firm (SLF) of Coral Gables deserved to lose his law license considering the cumulative number of violations and “the severity of Strems’ misconduct,” in filing thousands of frivolous claims lawsuits against insurance companies. The Court overrode a referee’s recommendation of a two-year suspension and also ordered him to pay $45,000 in prosecution costs to the Florida Bar.
“Most of the Standards relied on by the referee fail to account for the more troubling aspects of Strems’ misconduct, particularly his submission of false affidavits, his inability to adequately manage SLF and prevent its ongoing failure to comply with court orders and procedural requirements, and the conflict of interest he created with Nowak,” the Court wrote, concluding “The public needs to be protected from Strems’ unethical conduct.”
The Nowak case addressed Strems’ misconduct in representing elderly client Margaret Nowak in a claims case involving Florida Peninsula Insurance. Strems entered into a second global settlement agreement with the insurance company without her knowledge or approval, pocketing the entire difference for his firm. One of Strems’ former colleagues, Gregory Saldamando, had his law license suspended for 91 days by the Court last April on a similar complaint by the Bar.
In its initial filing against him in June of 2020, the Bar alleged Strems “sits at the head of a vast campaign of unprofessional, unethical, and fraudulent conduct that now infects courts and communities across the state.” The Bar’s subsequent complaints go into great depth about Strems relationship with various adjusting firms, who “are involved in literally thousands of claims together, more likely, tens of thousands of claims.” The Supreme Court approved an emergency suspension of his license that same month and he was ordered to disband his law firm. He did so, appointing several of his lawyers as shareholders who then created a new law firm, The Property Advocates, with many of the same staff from his former firm.
The Strems Law Firm had consistently ranked among the top 20 firms filing property insurance lawsuits in Florida. The Bar put the firm’s typical case load at 9,000. Between January 1, 2015 and June 30, 2020, Scot Strems personally filed 7,649 lawsuits against Florida property insurance companies, about 3% of the lawsuits filed during that period.
Last May, Strems and his former firm, along with co-defendants Contender Claims Consultants and All Insurance Restoration Services agreed to a $1 million settlement with Citizens Property Insurance to settle a massive fraud and collusion lawsuit. The allegations included violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), including conspiracy, as well as two violations of the Florida RICO Act.
Strems’ lawyer told the Insurance Journal that Strems plans to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision and noted that this is not a permanent disbarment.
The Scot Strems case should serve as a cautionary tale for other attorneys who are engaging in similar actions. We applaud the Florida Bar’s lead counsel on these cases, Derek Womack and his team, for their diligence in pursuing the truth and protecting the public from unethical conduct by attorneys.
LMA Newsletter of 1-9-23