The Florida Bar v. Maurice, — So.2d —-, 2007 WL 1074948 (Fla. Apr 12, 2007)

Practicing law is not an easy way to make a living.  As this case shows, even when you’re well intentioned and cause no real harm to anyone . . . you can end up losing your license.  This case also underscores the fact that probate matters can be very technically demanding.  Attorneys – like the respondent in this case – who simply "dabble" in probate as an ancillary to their primary practice do so at their own risk.

The following excerpts from the linked to case do a good job of summing up the relevant issues:


The evidence and factual findings support the referee’s conclusion that Maurice violated rules 4-1.1 and 4-1.7(b). Maurice’s belief that the condominium could be treated as an estate asset although it had previously been deeded to Gerard and William Spelker is sufficient to establish a violation of rule 4-1.1. See generally Fla. Bar v. Batista, 846 So.2d 479 (Fla.2003) (holding that an attorney violated the competence rule by failing to determine the probable outcome in his clients’ cases within a reasonable time and failing to communicate the unavailability of a result to his clients). The referee found that probate proceedings were unnecessary, as most of Helen Spelker’s property was either exempt or transferred upon her death. Maurice failed to explain this to the heirs. Maurice opened an estate in an attempt to ensure that Oliveri was given the opportunity to purchase the condominium from Gerard and William Spelker. She did not tell Pamela Spelker or her attorney that the ownership of the condominium had been transferred to Gerard and William in November 1998 and she did not provide a copy of the quitclaim deed she had prepared. The referee found that Maurice’s judgment regarding the necessity of an estate was clouded by her expressed concern for Helen Spelker’s caretakers, one of whom was Oliveri. These actions establish a violation of rule 4-1.7(b) in that her desire to ensure that Gerard and William Spelker gave Oliveri a chance to purchase the condominium conflicted with her duty to her clients, Helen Spelker’s heirs.

Veteran attorney, clean record:

Maurice has been a member of the Bar for over two decades and has no prior discipline. Maurice’s actions resulted in the heirs and true owners of the condominium having to wait several months to obtain what was rightfully theirs, but she did not profit from it. Rather, she seems to have been motivated by a genuine but misguided desire to fulfill what she believed were Helen Spelker’s true wishes for the disposition of her property. According to her brief, she has already reimbursed the Bar for its costs and has already taken the CLE courses recommended by the referee.

90-day suspension:

Accordingly, based on the caselaw discussed above imposing one-year suspensions for more egregious misconduct of a repetitive nature, we conclude that the two-year suspension recommended by the referee is not reasonably supported by the caselaw. We disapprove that recommendation and instead suspend Maurice for ninety days. The other conditions recommended by the referee are approved.