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Florida Bar Investigates Its President After Client Complaint

June 4, 2019, 7:59 PM

The president of the Florida Bar is under investigation after a client complained to a federal judge about her inclusion of a disbarred lawyer in his case.

Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker confirmed June 4 that an investigation had been opened into President Michelle Suskauer over the involvement of disbarred West Palm Beach attorney John Garcia in one of her cases.

Suskauer, a West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney at the firm of Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, called the inquiry “a testament to the vigor and fairness of our grievance system” in an emailed statement.

“No one is beyond having their work called in to question, nor above the law—not even the outgoing Bar President,” said Suskauer, whose term ends at the end of June.

The investigation was launched after her now former client, Anthony D’Amico, wrote a May 23 letter to Senior Judge James Cohn of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

D’Amico wrote that Suskauer had misguided him in their two brief meetings and left the bulk of his case to be handled by Garcia.

D’Amico pleaded guilty in February to five counts of wire fraud. His sentencing hearing had been scheduled May 29, until he sought Suskauer’s removal from his case, according to court documents.

Garcia was permanently disbarred in 2014 for acting in contempt of the Florida Supreme Court and practicing law despite a previous disbarment in 2008.

Suskauer instructed D’Amico to pay $10,000 to Garcia, who was described by her firm as a “federal court specialist” but appeared to be working as a licensed attorney, the letter said.

Garcia “has an attorney website and his business card seems to be that of an attorney,” D’Amico wrote. “How was I to know what was occurring.”

“I am the victim of a disbarred and federally convicted former attorney giving me false advice and scare tactics, and Mrs. Suskauer was simply out of the loop,” D’Amico wrote.

D’Amico refused to cooperate ahead of his sentencing, Suskauer wrote in a May 24 motion to withdraw from the case.

Her Miami attorney, Brian Tannebaum, an expert in legal ethics, declined comment about D’Amico’s allegations. He said Suskauer had no plans to step down early as president of the Florida Bar.

“Michelle Suskauer has an impeccable record of practicing at the highest level of ethics,” he said in an emailed statement. “The Florida Bar Rules allow for disbarred lawyers to be employed. Unfortunately criminal defense lawyers are often the subject of allegations of wrongdoing by their clients and others.”

Suskauer will step down at an annual convention at the end of June. The incoming president of the Florida Bar is Vero Beach, Fla., attorney John Stewart, who became president-elect in June 2018.

Garcia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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