The Florida Bar is an association that regulates and disciplines attorneys licensed to practice in the State of Florida. This organization is responsible for overseeing Florida attorneys to ensure lawyers are conducting themselves to the highest standards of professionalism. Despite the mandatory requirement that every practicing attorney must join the Florida Bar, there is also a strict application process as well. Applicants are required to go through a lengthy application process, which includes a background check. Applicants must also pass a Professional Responsibility test, which examines the applicant’s awareness of the strict ethical rules set out by the Florida Bar.
Once the applicant becomes a member of the Florida Bar, their practice of law is strictly regulated by the Bar. If a citizen files a complaint with the Florida bar alleging some type of unethical practice, the Florida Bar reviews the complaint and if necessary, will petition to the Supreme Court of Florida for court-ordered discipline of that attorney. Consequences can range from a small fine to disbarment.
A Secret Insurance Settlement Deal Leads to Possible Disbarment of South Florida Attorneys
According to several news sources, on April 7, 2015, a state legal ethics referee’s report was filed with the Supreme Court that recommended disciplinary action for a South Florida father and son attorney duo. The referee recommended disbarment for the son, Harley Kane, and a three year suspension for the father, Charlie Kane.
The pair’s discipline recommendation to the Supreme Court is based on their involvement in a multi-million dollar settlement deal with Progressive. In early 2000s, the Kanes joined other personal injury protection attorneys and represented hundreds of medical providers who rendered their services to auto-accident victims. These claims arose out of unpaid PIP benefits and attorney fees the providers incurred on behalf of Progressive’s insureds. While handling a significant amount of these claims, these attorneys brought in another large South Florida firm to pursue bad faith claims arising from these claims against Progressive.
Eventually, in 2004, a secret global settlement was reached to rectify the bad faith and unpaid benefits claims.
A global settlement is a specific type of settlement where the insurance company typically makes one lump payout which is inclusive of the underlying benefits owed and attorney fees. This payout s usually satisfies multiple claims and is made directly to the Plaintiff’s attorneys, who in turn disperse the money. In exchange for the settlement proceeds, insurance companies may require the Plaintiffs involved to execute a general release from any future claims. These agreements typically have several other contingencies that must be strictly complied with as well.
In the deal involving the Kanes, according to the referee’s report, the PIP lawyers were to have had to get all of the 36 clients involved in the bad faith claims and 80% of the clients involved in the unpaid PIP benefits claims to sign a general release. The attorneys neglected to involve their clients as part of their settlement. In fact, the clients had no idea about the settlement deals at all.
The $14.5 million settlement didn’t specify how the money was to be dispersed and the father and son gained roughly $4.1 million in attorney fees. Four years later, a Palm Beach Circuit judge ordered a judgment against the Kanes for unjust enrichment, and they were ordered to repay $2 million of fees they received. Years later, both Kanes filed for Chapter 11 and 7 bankruptcy and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in West Palm Beach denied discharging this debt for acting in bad faith; presumably for avoiding to pay the $2 million debt back. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s opinion.
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Trust Your Attorney
When Floridians hear this type of news, it creates a bad reputation for all attorneys. An attorney should be someone that others can trust and rely on. As counselors of the law, attorneys should be their client’s strongest advocate. They should be the last person that the client should ever have to worry about. When hiring your attorney, you should always practice due diligence. This should include checking the Florida Bar’s website for any disciplinary action of the attorney and the firm. Additionally, potential clients should inquire into the attorney’s education and background, particularly with the area of law the client is seeking help.
The Florida Bar requires an attorney to practice with several general professional standards, which include:
- Ethical Advertising
If you have been a victim of an attorney who failed to meet the professional standards of the Florida Bar, you should reach out to the Florida Bar organization. For more information on the Florida Bar, visit their website at: Florida Bar Website. If you need assistance in this process, feel free to contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for support.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765