A Florida lawyer whose law license was suspended after setting up a “mobile claim center” near Fort Myers is able to resume the practice of law under the terms of an agreement she reached with the Florida Bar.
Jennifer Perez, a partner with the Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling law firm, agreed to the terms of an “interim probation” imposed by the Florida Bar, according to court records. She closed down the tent and trailer that the firm had set up in the parking lot of a defunct North Fort Meyers motel and agreed to provide the bar with a copy of a signed lease agreement for the law firm’s Florida office, the stipulation says.
Investigators for the Bar accused Perez of attempting to improperly solicit clients by using the trailer marked “mobile claim center” at the same time the state Department of Financial Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency were operating an “insurance village” to help Hurricane Ian victims. The Bar noted that the name of the law firm, which is headquartered in the New Orleans area, had been covered with sheets of plastic. Materials at the site represented the address of the closed-down motel as if that were the address of GM&H’s Florida satellite office.
Perez told Bar investigators that she did not sign up any new clients at the mobile claim center, but used the facility as an interim office and occasionally met with the firm’s existing clients.
The Florida Supreme Court suspended Perez’s law license on Nov. 28 and appointed a referee to hear the Bar’s charges against Perez.
The referee, Judge Charles E. Roberts of the 12th Judicial Circuit in Sarasota, issued a report on Dec. 2 stating that Perez and attorneys for the Bar have reached an agreement for an “interim probation.” The probation will not be considered a prior sanction or discipline in any future proceedings.
The agreement allows Perez to continue practicing law as long as she meets several conditions:
- Provide a copy of her partnership agreement with the GM&H law firm and a copy of the lease agreement for the firm’s satellite office in Fort Myers. The agreement shows that Perez is now using the address of 3436 Marination Lane, Suite L1(R), North Fort Myers, FL 33903.
- Pay $750 to register and attend a Bar ethics class on Jan. 26-27.
- Provide the Bar with the names and contact information for all persons or entities that the firm has agreed to represent via the Florida mobile claim center, or submit an affidavit stating that there were no such agreements.
- Provide the Bar with a copy of her partnership agreement with GM&H law firm, which is headquartered in the New Orleans area.
- Provide the bar with a list of her Florida clients and copies of any fee agreements.
- Submit a sworn statement every Monday establishing her compliance with “maintaining a true interstate law firm” as established by Florida case law.
- Provide the Bar each month with copies of trust records showing that she is complying with its rules regarding the operation of client trust accounts.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the probation agreement on Tuesday, court records show. That order “dissolves” the emergency suspension imposed the week before.
Top photo: Investigators for the Florida Bar attached this photo to a report that accused the Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling of improperly attempting to drum up business by operating this “mobile claim center” in the parking lot of a closed motel in North Fort Myers.
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