ORLANDO — Judge Arthur Briskman dissolved his injunction barring the law firm of Kaufman, Englett and Lynd from practicing in Bankruptcy Court, but only after scolding the managing partner for what the judge said was the firm’s dismal track record handling bankrupcty cases.
“You’re not very professional,” Judge Briskman said today during a hearing in U.S. Bankrupcty Court in the Middle District of Florida. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
The judge had issued the order on May 18, effective until further notice, after KEL Attorney William J. Sanchez, who is representing an Orlando couple in a bankruptcy case, failed to appear for a court hearing, as ordered by the court. The Middle District includes Tampa, Jacksonville, Ocala and Fort Myers.
Two days after the order was issued, the Orlando-based firm filed an emergency motion for relief.
Sanchez did appear before the judge today, and was highly apologetic for his actions.
“I apologize for not following the court’s orders,” Sanchez said, adding that on the date of the hearing, “I was transferring out of bankruptcy court.” Sanchex said he did not think that the court hearing before Judge Briskman required his presence.
“I took it as a status conference that anyone could go to,” he said. Andrea G. Dwyer, another lawyer with KEL, had attended that hearing instead.
Sanchez’s explanation did not seem to sit well with the judge, who said, “You don’t seem too concerned about this, you really don’t.”
Craig R. Lynd, a managing partner in the firm, told the judge that Dwyer was no longer associated with the firm, but added “It’s not my intention at all to blame Miss Dwyer.” Lynd also said he would not defend Sanchez’s handling of this matter.
“Will’s not-careful review of the order is not excusable,” Lynd said. “I’m here to admit that and apologize to the court.”
Sanchez told the judge he had learned from his mistake and accepted the consequences of it.
“I truly do apologize to the court,” Sanchez said. “I truly am sorry. I am not going to be handling many of the bankruptcy files because of my missteps.”
Another managing partner, Jeffrey S. Kaufman, addressed the judge to defend Sanchez, saying his actions in this case were in no way reflective of his overall record as a practising attorney.
“Mr. Sanchez is a very caring member of our firm and works very hard,” Kaufman said. “In the past year and a half, this has shaken him to the core. Through my history with Mr. Sanchez and working with him, I know he’s a very honorable human being.”
That prompted the judge to announce that he would lift his order barring the firm from Bankrupcty Court.
“I’m going to dissolve the injunction,” he said. “I’m going to do away with that. I think I got your attention.”
But he also warned the firm that they had a poor reputation when it comes to handling bankrupcty cases, and said they should not view his decision today as anything but a stern warning to get their act together.
“I hope you take from this that the practice in this court is a privilege, not a right,” he said.
The judge’s May 18 decision had meant that KEL wasn’t allowed to file paperwork in any case until the matter with Sanchez got resolved.
The judge also ordered Orlando bankrupcty attorney Robert Branson to work with KEL, on a pro-bono basis, to help them improve their professional handling of bankrupcty files. Branson was in the courtroom at the time for a separate matter before the judge.
Judge Briskman then ordered a final evidentiary hearing between the two sides in the bankrupcty case that KEL had been handling until they got barred from practising in his court.
The case that Sanchez had been working on was a Chapter 7 bankruptcy he had filed last August on behalf of an Orlando couple. Three months later, Sanchez filed a motion for sanctions against Andreu & Palma PL, the law firm representing one of creditors the couple owed. Sanchez claimed in his motions that the firm had violated federal bankruptcy laws by garnishing the couple’s bank account, even though Andreu & Palma had been notified that the couple had filed bankruptcy.
The judge also addressed that case, reminding Sanchez that “I have not had a response from your firm about the sanctions.”
Sanchez said he was still trying to contact someone at the firm about the case.
“You wanted me to find out exactly who to speak to,” he said. “We called them and we asked them what we needed to do to talk to them. But no, we did not talk to an actual person.”
On its web site, KEL bills itself as “a full service, national law firm practicing in 20 states across the nation. As a law firm with more than 40 attorneys and 180 professional staff members in Tampa, Orlando, and St. Petersburg, we provide counsel to individual and corporate clients in virtually any area of law. We understand that everyone has a legal question; however, not everyone needs an attorney. We pride ourselves on serving as a legal resource and we encourage you to call us with any question you may have.”
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