Two developments regarding the Strems multi-part saga may signal that, once again, the end is near.
This article attempts to fill you in on those developments while also summarizing what is becoming a complicated series of allegations, hearings, decisions and sentences. As you read, remember, I’m not a lawyer–I’m just someone trying to make sense of things for those trying to do the same.
First, recall that the Supreme Court of Florida (SCOF), approved The Florida Bar’s petition to suspend, on an emergency basis, the license of Miami attorney Scot Strems. Two separate Florida Bar complaints have since been filed against Scot Strems and the Strems Law Firm (SLF) that emanated from SLF clients and others. And like the original disbarment Complaint, both were assigned to Judge Dawn Denaro for review, a trial and subsequent disciplinary recommendation, if necessary.
A summary of the allegation provided in the first of those two Bar complaints dealt with a fee dispute between SLF and an 84 year old woman, Ms. Nowak, and after her passing, her two sons. Details are best understood by reading The Nowak Complaint itself. The Bar requested that Strems be “appropriately disciplined in accordance with the provisions of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.”
But the referee concludes that even though Strems violated Rule 4-1.4 regarding “Communication” with clients, his sentence should be a “Public Reprimand.” (See Note #1 below). This decision is also best understood by reading the Report of Referee paying attention to pages 4 and 5 regarding inaccuracies in the original complaint filed by The Bar.
The Bar subsequently filed Notice to Seek Review of the Report of Referee stating “The Florida Bar Board of Governors disagreed with the recommendation” including the “Referee’s failure to find guilt as to the alleged violations…”
Now, for the second case mentioned above, which regards Strems approach to client solicitations, and which also emanated from complaints filed with The Bar. It is likewise best explained by reading The 34 page solicitation complaint yourself. It stated, in part:
- ….Strems Consultants presented themselves to homeowners as public adjusters or some other manner of insurance professional, when in fact they were respondent’s agents whose purpose was to conscript business into his firm.
- Strems Consultants made initial contact with homeowners and performed some manner of service, such as adjustment, estimation, or repair service.
- During the course of these services (usually upon the initial consultation), Strems Consultants enrolled homeowners in legal services with SLF, usually without the knowledge or consent of the homeowners.
- Such solicitation was achieved by an industrious variety of deceptions.
- For example, Strems Consultants would often solicit a signature from a homeowner (usually on a cell phone or electronic tablet) without advising them that they were signing a retainer agreement with SLF.
- In other cases, a Strems Consultant might simply begin their work and at a later time advise the homeowner that they had been signed up or turned over to SLF.
Referee Dawn Denaro, after reviewing all of the evidence, including testimony from many of those who filed complaints, found Scot Strems not guilty of violating any “… of the charged Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.” (See Note #2 below)
That’s two separate cases filed by The Bar against Strems with only the recommendation of a Public Reprimand to show for it, at least so far.
IMPLICATIONS–What do these two cases mean going forward? What about the pending two-year suspension of Strems’ law license?
I should first (and again) state for the record, I am not a lawyer. This entire posting (as well as my previous ten blogs) is a layperson’s attempt to provide other layperson’s insight to legal matters that are very complicated.
None the less, as to the issue of how these two cases might impact Strems pending two-year suspension, I’m guessing there would be very little impact. I’m told SCOF rarely goes against the recommendations of its’ appointed referee’s and this referee recommended that Strems be suspended from the practice of law for two years with another year of supervised probation. That’s probably that. While SCOF can amend that recommendation, even increase it to permanent disbarment with the right to appeal in five years as some predict it might, the chances appear slim that it would do so. My opinion.
Another potential impact of the two cases above may be on the RICO style, class action suit filed against Strems by Hale, Hale & Jacobson P.A., a prominent trial law firm. In that suit (Ortiz v. Strems), Ortiz alleged she was a victim of Strems solicitation practices which, based on the allegations in the suit, sound very similar to those described in the Bars’ 34-page solicitation complaint above–the one with no finding of guilt. In fact, the Ortiz suit was cited by the Bar in its solicitation complaint.
Further, the allegations in the Ortiz case significantly overlap with those in a case filed by Citizens, also against Strems. Citizens alleges a RICO-style conspiracy between Strems and its’ consultants which included soliciting clients in the same manner and by at least one of the same consultants, alleged in the Bar’s Solicitation Complaint. The Citizens suit hadn’t been filed at the time of the recent complaint discussed here, but… The Florida Bar maintained that it was “contextually relevant to these proceedings.” (See Citizens v Strems Law Firm, Contender Claims, et al.)
There’s also legal action involving SLF from the Department of Financial Services (DFS) which describes a close relationship between SLF and Contender Claim Consultants and deals with the issue of unlicensed public adjusting. There were numerous allegations in the DFS investigations, but the point (the question) is the same as it is with the Ortiz and the Citizens allegations, that is: since the referee has found Strems to be not guilty on all counts that sound similar in many respects to those in Ortiz, Citizens and DFS cases, is it reasonable to expect those cases, if pursued, would have a different result? I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer.
Please note SCOF has not reacted to any of the Reports of Referee to date, to my knowledge. And, also to my knowledge, there is only one Strems matter still outstanding– the Contempt of Court Petition alleging Strems violation of the Supreme Court’s Emergency Suspension Order. This Contempt proceeding has been granted an extension of time allowing the referee until September 22, 2021 to make a final report. I suspect it’s up next and when completed will set the stage for a final ruling by SCOF on the original two year suspension of Strems license to practice law.
Nowak Case—Referee recommended Public Reprimand. The Bar has appealed the sentence seeking permanent disbarment.
Solicitation Case—Referee finds Strems did not violate any Bar Rules.
Florida Bar Disbarment of Strems—Referee recommended two year suspension of license with one year supervised probation. The Bar indicated that a sentence of permanent disbarment with opportunity to appeal in five years could be acceptable.
Florida Bar Contempt of Court petition—Still pending with the time for a decision set for September 22, 2021.
Finally, for those having as much difficulty following this as I am explaining it, I’ve taken all of the “Collapse of an Evil Empire” postings (PART I thru PART XI) and placed them in one document which links to all of the materials (and more) that I’ve consulted in writing each article, including this one. You can review and print it here. It may be amended later to include any subsequent announcements regarding Strems but for now could serve as an easily accessible summary.
NOTE #1: The Bar’s website states that a public reprimand is a Supreme Court-ordered form of public discipline that declares the conduct of the lawyer improper. Public reprimands are delivered before the 52-member Florida Bar Board of Governors and are public record. A downloadable video of an actual public reprimand (2 min. 7 sec., 14.7MB) is available on the Bar’s website as is more information here.
NOTE #2: The alleged rule violations dealt with whether or not clients were informed of the status of representation, whether matters were properly explained to the client, whether Strems Law Firm was truthful in all matters with a client and did not misstate material facts, and whether it attempted to violate Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct.
For the most complete perspective on the specific allegations and the referee’s decision and rationale for a finding of not guilty on all counts, readers should examine the Report of Referee. It not only provides a Summary of Proceedings but, also of the testimony, the Bar Rules, the pertinent case law and the documents relied upon. You can learn why some witnesses were credible and some not so much. Why some documents were credible and why some did not jive with live testimony. And, much more. This document is 144 pages long but, depending on your particular interests, could be enlightening. It is stored on my large document site here.
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