NOTE: Until proven true, accusations referenced in this series of articles are only allegations made by various parties including the Florida Bar in its petition to suspend Scot Strems license to practice law. (Read Part I here, Part II here)
This Part III of “Collapse of an Evil Empire” begins with the remarkable observation that… the empire may not be collapsing!
On July 1st, two weeks before Judge Denaro would officially deny Scot Strems request to dissolve the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend his license, Strems formally changed his firms name and sent a letter to all of his clients advising that he sold his firm to three associates.
The Strems Law Firm is now The Property Advocates, P.A. and Jonathon Drake, the surprise witness who testified on behalf of Strems, is already listing it as his employer on the Florida Bar website along with his title, Managing Partner. (See NOTE #1 below)
Strems has also filed a Response To Order to Show Cause arguing why the Supreme Court should not approve Denaro’s decision. He basically restates his case and requests that he be given Interim Probation instead, which “…Addresses the Concerns Raised in the Petition for Emergency Suspension” including the assertion that the “Law Firm known as The Property Advocates, could be monitored by a Referee approved member of the Florida Bar…” who would follow a list of “special conditions:…” (See NOTE #2 below)
Also, those who thought Scot Strems might forego the indignity of a trial received a setback when, on June 30th, Strems filed a Request For Oral Argument with the Supreme Court. Those wagering the opposite believe his request for trial will eventually be withdrawn, however. I guess we’ll see.
Relevant or not, but none the less remarkable is that The Strems Law Firm also applied for and received between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 from the Federal PPP loan program. (See NOTE #5 below)
And so the beat goes on. At some point we’ll know the truth (with or without a trial) based on the Supreme Courts’ final decision in September.
Between now and then my layman’s mind can’t resist offering some opinions.
First, behave badly in the insurance business and you may be barred from ever working in the industry, for the rest of your life, in any capacity.
Not lawyers! For similar or worse behavior the futures of such trusted fiduciaries appears considerably brighter:
1.) They can continue to profit from working in the legal profession in some capacity even if disbarred, and;
2.) Even if disbarred, in part for committing multiple crimes of insurance fraud, they usually avoid criminal prosecution.
That’s my opinion anyway. I admit to not knowing the extent to which these two factors might embolden bad behavior but, I believe they do. And, I also believe that the fact that it took three years and the well documented research of two extremely busy sitting judges before the Florida Bar was to formally bring charges, is at least enabling to those with a similar mindset.
If in the end Strems were to lose his license to practice law, I’ve found no one that believes he will be prosecuted for anything, especially insurance fraud. And that, I’m sad to say, sends a message.
Nationally respected attorney and insurance fraud expert, Barry Zalma has said that petty theft is prosecuted more than insurance fraud, and: “A crime unpunished emboldens others who might never consider a life of crime to pursue wealth the easy way.” (See NOTE # 3 below)
Here’s Zalma’s opinion regarding the Strems case:
In the almost 53 years I have been involved in the business of insurance I have run into many unethical and some crooked lawyers. State Bar’s have done little to deal with these lawyers unless they were actually convicted of crimes of moral turpitude. Many, after being disbarred were allowed to return to the practice of law claiming they had been rehabilitated.
This action by the State Bar of Florida is extraordinary. It revealed a pattern of conduct by Mr. Strems and his firm causing numerous parties to be, and continue to be, injured by his bad faith, including the insurers and their counsel who must litigate these cases; the courts, which expend tremendous time and resources resolving these disputes; the public, which relies heavily upon the judicial resources consumed by Strems Law Firm’s (SLF) case load; Florida homeowners, whose insurance premiums ultimately fund both sides of SLF’s cases; and, of course, his own clients who are sometimes conscripted (unwittingly or otherwise) into the firm’s conduct, and whose claims are frequently rendered worthless due to court sanctions. This may end up to be a case where an insurer can effectively sue an attorney for the tort of insurance bad faith. (See NOTE#4 below)
Once this saga concludes there are two things that require the State of Florida’s attention: one, in addition to the Bar regulating individual lawyers, why doesn’t the state license and regulate law firms–much the same way, insurance agencies or public adjuster firms are regulated, and; two, what can the Florida Bar do to protect the thousands of clients harmed during the three years it takes (in this case) to suspend a license to practice law?
Stay tuned for the next “Collapse of an Evil Empire!” PART IV, where I’ll share some ideas on needed reforms, delve into an actual Strems case study and more.
NOTE #1: See the name change amendment to Strems Law Firm Articles of Incorporation. See also, July 09, 2020 Service of Process “Amended Annual Report”. Note: I found other entities with this name by simply using Google–they do not appear to be the same. Also, some URL destinations can change quickly–for example: when I first used the following link it was a reserved page for the new Property Advocates PA: https://thepropertyadvocates.com/ However, prior to publication the same address yielded an error message.
NOTE #2: The special conditions are: 1.) Where applicable, the firm’s website and on-site signage should include: “By Appointment Only”; 2.) The firm should join ILTA (International Legal Technology Association) and ARMA (f/k/a American Records Managers Association); 3.) Respondent should designate an Inventory Attorney; 4.) The firm should consider new practice software and a client portal; 5.) Entire files should be examined at regular intervals to determine the date of last contact and any outstanding items due from or to the client; 6.) If no activity during an agreed interval, an alert should be sent to the practice manager or client relations manager to determine the reason; at a minimum, a status letter should be mailed to the client; 7.) The firm should be aggressive in ensuring the accuracy of client contact information; 8.) Specific DDCS recommended language should be added to fee agreements and welcome letters; 9.) The firm should designate a Clients Relations Specialist; 10.) The firm should enhance its data security and records retention policies, undergo a HIPAA self-audit, and use a 3-2-1 best practice protocol for data back-up; 11.) The firm should update its policy manual; and 12.) The firm should utilize recommended personality sorter tests, questionnaires, and scoring to help strengthen its management team. During an interim probationary period, Respondent’s management of Strems Law Firm could be monitored by a Referee approved member of the The Florida Bar with …Special conditions. See order for Special Conditions starting on page 29.
NOTE #3: Barry Zalma has written about the Strems case and other Florida cases which rise to the top of the annals of insurance fraud. You could get acquainted with his work by reading Why Insurance Fraud Succeeds (by IRMI) and learn more about him and his work at: https://zalma.com/
NOTE #4: You may want to read my previous blog “Gottlieb’s Golden Goose!!” which outlines the antics of an attorney who openly declared that his “…career, indeed his life plan, would be to commit insurance fraud–as diabolically and as often as he possibly could.”
NOTE #5: See; Screen shot of PPP loan page. See; article by Bob Pepalis, July 20, 2020 in the Florida Record.
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