FLORIDA SUPREME COURT WARNS PUBLIC ABOUT EMAIL “FLORIDA LEGAL DOCUMENT” SCAMS

TALLAHASSEE – An ongoing international email scam aimed at bilking people out of money has resurfaced again using fraudulent Florida court documents. They often appear to come from the Florida Supreme Court.

It is part of an ongoing series of similar scams stretching back several years. They appear to come from locations in Florida like Shalimar but may target people elsewhere in the United States or other nations. Many of the intended victims are unfamiliar with Florida law.

The current scam has targeted people in Europe, including Spain and Sweden, and claims connections with other nations like Hungary and South Africa. All the documents are falsified to suggest they came from the Florida Supreme Court.

Some contained legal terminology not used in Florida, such as calling attorneys “barristers.” They may use other legal words more common in Europe and may cite nonexistent state or federal statutes.

Florida’s state courts do not send out binding official legal notices by email. Anyone receiving emails that reference a Florida court document should never pay money without checking further.

People who want to inquire about potential scam emails can do so by forwarding copies of the email and its attachments to the Florida Supreme Court at supremecourt@flcourts.org. The Court’s Marshal’s Office and other appropriate law enforcement agencies can investigate scams that falsely use the name of the Florida Supreme Court or forge signatures of its judges.

A similar version of the current scam surfaced in early 2019 and was the subject of a public warning at the time. An earlier public warning about other scams were released in 2017, and yet another public warning was issued in 2014.

These previous email and telephone scams have targeted Spanish speakers with threats of deportation, professionals over licensing issues, and members of the general public for supposedly missing jury duty. One scam a few years ago demanded a court “fine” for “illegal software use.”

Anyone receiving such scam documents should report them to local law enforcement. Copies of redacted examples of the recent scams are attached to this press release.

Mediating in the Age of the Corona Virus

December 2020
Author: Kenneth D. Stern

 

Most Mediators and litigators prefer to mediate in person, rather than by ZOOM.   However, I have mediated a number of cases virtually, because one party or attorney is concerned about the risks inherent in an in-person mediation, and you can rest assured that a ZOOM mediation can be just as effective in settling a case.  Most experienced Mediators are quite capable of conducting an effective virtual mediation.

With everyone on-screen, you can see the facial expressions, tone of voice, and much of the body language of everyone, and little is lost by mediating virtually.

Even if your client is not present with you in your office, a virtual mediation conference will enable you and your client to have confidential discussions, whereby you and your client can converse without the other side or even the Mediator hearing you.

A virtual mediation conference provides separate breakout rooms, permitting both or all attorney-client pairings to converse in total confidence and to caucus with the Mediator without the other side hearing or seeing you.  And of course, joint sessions can be had, with everyone present.  In addition, a virtual mediation can greatly reduce the costs of attending an in-person mediation.  It eliminates the expense of having clients, insurance adjusters, corporate counsel, and other corporate representatives fly in and generate the costs of airplane fare, hotel lodging, and meals attendant on many in-person mediations.

What are the technical requirements to participate

in a virtual mediation conference?

Don’t worry, the Mediator will do all the work to set up your virtual mediation.  In advance of the mediation date, the Mediator will advise you of which breakout room has been assigned to you and your client.  (I typically put the Plaintiff and his/her counsel in Breakout Room No.1,  the main Defendant and counsel in Breakout Room no. 2, and so on, if there are other parties.)   Your Mediator will send you an email containing: (a)  a link for you (and your client and any other representatives of your party, to use if they will not be present in your office) to click, to “check in” with ZOOM to join the session;  (b)  the Meeting ID and the PassCode which you and your client will need to enter to join the session, and (c) an “Activation Code” which you and your client will use to enter the Breakout room assigned to you both.

What if you can’t get sufficient hearing time to resolve objections

so that you can complete discovery before mediation?

Now that our Circuit Judges are resuming non-jury trials,  the number of time slots available for hearings on motions will diminish, perhaps almost to the point of evaporating, as our Judges try to reduce the backlog of cases that did not settle at mediation.  You have options here, and you may want to use a combination of them.  Be creative: try to get agreement on pending motions or on issues therein;  try to reduce a long motion so that it can be dealt with at a UMC;  and stipulate to matters that are not in serious dispute.

If you have a slew of motions raising objections or discovery issues that have to be ruled upon before you can depose witnesses or the opposing parties, try to get your opposing counsel to agree to using a Special Master;  that way, you can arrange to have all discovery issues heard and tentatively ruled upon.   The Special Master will send a Report and Recommendations to the Judge, and both parties will have the opportunity to file Exceptions.  Usually, these are few, and the Judge can then enter rulings on every discovery issue which was not excepted to;  this can save many months of frustration.

In one case in which I served as a Special Master, the Judge had advised the attorneys that it would take 12-14 months to have all the preliminary discovery issues heard and resolved.  After receiving and reviewing all the pending motions to compel, objections, assertions of privilege, etc., I then conducted two days of back-to-back hearings, some evidentiary with testimony, and filed a 51-page Report and Recommendations.  Only one counsel filed Exceptions, and these were few. The Judge entered her rulings, adopting all of the recommendations that were not objected to, and considering the few others in light of the Exceptions filed.  More than a year was saved in resolving all these motions and the issues raised;  the expense of holding all hearings before a Special Master, while not small, was far less expensive than 14 months’ worth of hearings would have cost.  And the parties could now proceed to take all the depositions which had to await the resolution of these issues.

Corona Virus be Damned:  Full speed ahead!

Virtual mediations, like virtual hearings and even virtual nonjury trials, are now a part of the fabric of legal practice.  And even if there are no concerns about the virus, virtual mediations are increasingly being used to save the expenses of everyone flying in to attend in person.  Don’t hesitate to avail yourself of this worthwhile alternative to in-person mediations.


Kenneth D. Stern is a retired Circuit Judge who served here in the Fifteenth Circuit.

Prior to becoming a Judge, he was a Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, and an Assistant U.S. Attorney here in the Southern District of Florida.  He then moved to Palm Beach County and practiced both federal and state litigation, before being appointed to the Bench by Governor Jeb Bush.  Since his retirement from the Bench, Judge Stern has been serving as a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Mediator, AAA-approved Arbitrator, and Special Master.  He can be reached at kdstern@gmail.com or (561) 901-4968.

Zoom – The Worst Thing to Happen to Mediation | Opinion

November 2020
Author: Maxwell M. Christiansen

 

COVID-19 has obviously changed the way people handle business. These days, we stay away from each other if we can. Why? Because it has been recommended by the CDC and virtually all our elected officials. Society expects distance. If we don’t absolutely need to have that meeting in person, it’s going to be over Zoom or some other video conferencing service. Some businesses have been meeting this way for a while, but for most this is the new normal, and we don’t really have a choice. So it begs the question: do we accomplish as much over Zoom?

For mediations, I believe the answer to that question is sadly, “no.” Zoom mediations do not work as well as mediations in person. Zoom is great for certain meetings where the convenience of meeting from anywhere in the world outweighs the interpersonal benefits of meeting in person. Depending on the goal of the meeting, it may not be as important to physically be together in the meeting. That is not the case for mediations. Last year, if I asked a colleague how his mediation went, there was over a 50/50 chance that he would say, “it settled!” The most common answer I get these days is, “Impasse.” As a litigator during the pandemic, I have not yet personally witnessed or even heard of a successful Zoom mediation, and the reason is obvious: the parties are not physically coming to the table.

There are two major reasons why being actually present at the negotiation table facilitates a mediation, 1) the parties are physically confined in one location with each other, and 2) they invest a significant amount of energy to attend mediation.

Confining the parties in one location for mediation has been shown to be a major factor in reaching settlement. Most mediators will recommend the parties not leave the mediation if a resolution appears possible. If the mediation runs long, the mediator may even suggest everyone eat dinner at the mediation. Mediators know the parties’ willingness to settle deteriorates when they pause the negotiation, even for half an hour.

The change of setting is also important. Even if the parties choose not to meet in the same room, but instead in neighboring rooms (against the mediator’s advice), both parties still physically come to the negotiating table. Typically, the parties arrive at a neutral location. In doing so, they exit their element and enter the mediation. The setting of an in-person mediation reminds the parties that the other is there too, nowhere else, and for the same reason – to leave the dispute in the past. They understand that they are together for a brief moment, and that is their chance to try to smooth things over, ask for what they want, make concessions in return, and explain their reasoning. Open, honest, and effective communication is very important to a successful mediation. Lay everything out on the table, listen to the other side, ask for what you need to reach an agreement, and see if you can get there with compromise.

Such communication may be harder to achieve over Zoom because the interpersonal atmosphere is reduced to staring at a computer screen. With Zoom, the parties simply open their laptops from home or the same office from which they have been managing their lawsuit, and their mind may still be in “litigation mode.” It feels like just another conference call about the case. The opposing party is just another box on their screen that they can turn off if they want. Some thoughts may arise: “Who else is in the room on the other side? What do they have on their desk that we don’t have here?” The parties’ temporary trust for each other can become strained, and in the end, the symbolic handshake is not possible.

Mediations in person also require the parties to make a substantial effort to actually meet. By showing up, they level with each other before mediation even starts. If the mediation is voluntary, the parties mutually decide to invest their time to travel to the mediation to consider the other party’s perspective on the case, usually with the understanding that mediation could last a while. The parties both cancel most of their other activities that day, and the process itself is a major investment of energy. That investment has a particular psychological effect on the parties that can cause them to shift away from dispute and towards resolution. They made the effort and they want it to pay off.

In contrast, parties to a Zoom mediation do not invest enough energy to trigger that binding psychological effect. It is far easier to end the mediation over Zoom. The parties do not need to get up and leave the building, they simply need to click “Leave Meeting,” and the mediation impasses.

It is therefore my opinion that mediation is not as effective over a Zoom call. Moving forward, I urge my colleagues to confirm whether their clients want to mediate over Zoom, or whether wearing the mask and keeping a six foot distance in a room is satisfactory.


Attorney Maxwell M. Christiansen was born and raised in the Palm Beaches. He graduated from Emory University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2012, majoring in Neuroscience & Behavioral Biology and minoring in Mathematics. Max graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2016 with a Juris Doctor and Certificate in Intellectual Property. Max is an associate business attorney at The Law Offices of Paul J. Burkhart and litigates various business disputes on behalf of corporate clients, including breach of contract, fraud, construction, and Internet defamation claims. Notably, Max has successfully removed from various websites, such as Google, damaging and untrue reviews posted anonymously on the Internet. 

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED – VIRTUAL FAMILY LAW CLINICS

Dear Friend & Advocate,

We are seeking volunteer attorneys to provide advice by phone to pre-screened clients at the Florida Rural Legal Services (FRLS) / Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County (LASPBC) REMOTE FAMILY LAW CLINIC. We are looking for attorneys who are willing to volunteer to provide advice to three clients over a three-hour period.  The remote clinic will be conducted twice a month through 2021, on the first Tuesday and third Thursday of each month. FRLS and the LASPBC have many requests for advice on family law matters, divorce, modification of child support, and timesharing that are outside of our priority areas. We will provide free training in family law and other areas if you are willing to volunteer. Please consider helping us bridge the justice gap and sign up for a slot, or two!

When:  First Tuesday and Third Thursday of every month

Time:    9:00 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Where:  Provide Advice from Anywhere!

 

FRLS will facilitate the clinics and cover the malpractice coverage for the pro bono attorney’s work on behalf of any referred client and Legal Aid will provide the pro bono credit.

 

To volunteer please contact: Kimberly Rommel-Enright at kenright@legalaidpbc.org   or Alison Marshall at alison.marshall@frls.org

 

FLORIDA BAR FOUNDATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS VACANCIES

The Board of Governors is seeking applicants for the following vacancies to be filled during its Jan. 29, 2021, meeting: The Florida Bar Foundation Board of Directors: Two lawyers are needed to serve three-year terms, commencing July 1, 2021, and ending June 30, 2024. This 33-member board administers Florida’s IOTA program. Directors shall be members of the Foundation during their terms as directors.

Persons interested in applying may click here to download the Application for Special Appointment or call The Florida Bar at (850) 561-5757 to obtain the application form. Completed applications must be received by the Executive Director, The Florida Bar, 651 East Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300, or submitted via e-mail to specialapptapp@floridabar.org no later than the close of business on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

Resumes will not be accepted in lieu of the required application. The Board of Governors will review all applications and may request telephone or personal interviews.

 

FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT TO HOLD LIMITED JURY TRIALS

Following a successful seating of the Grand Jury on October 14, Chief Judge Krista Marx is allowing limited jury trials in October and November. The two to three day trials will occur in both the criminal and civil divisions and will be presided over by Judges Cheryl Caracuzzo, Joseph Marx, Daliah Weiss, Glenn Kelley, John Kastrenakes, and August Bonavita. The Chief Judge will preside over the juror voir dire. Trials will be held on October 27, November 4, and November 17.

The Circuit, working with the County, the Clerk, and the Sheriff, have taken extraordinary measures to protect the health of persons summonsed for jury service. Potential jurors will enter a security door, separate from the public, and will be provided with personal protective equipment throughout their service. The seating in the jury selection rooms as well as in the courtrooms are properly spaced, according to the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. As an added precaution, the trial courtrooms have been outfitted with plexiglass. Additionally, all areas utilized by jurors will be frequently sanitized. With these safety procedures in place, jurors should feel confident that the Circuit is taking every precaution to ensure they can fulfill their important constitutional duty, safely.

FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PHASE 2 – JURY TRIALS

 

The Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, one of twenty circuits in Florida, follows the directives of the Florida Supreme Court and the Chief Judge of the Circuit. On September 9, 2020, the Circuit met the Florida Supreme Court requirements needed to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 ( of four phases). The Circuit shall remain in Phase 2 until the Chief Judge determines that the Circuit meets the Florida Supreme Court’s requirements needed to transition to Phase 3. It is important to know that the Florida Supreme Court phases are distinct and independent of the phases associated with the Governor’s plan for Florida’s recovery. The Governor’s recent Executive Order moving Florida counties into Phase 3 does not usurp the Chief Judge’s decision with regard to the courts. While in Phase 2, masks remain mandatory for all persons entering any of the five courthouses.

Chief Judge Krista Marx has announced that on October 14, October 27, November 4, and November 17, the Circuit will summons jurors for service. The Circuit, working with the County, the Clerk, and the Sheriff, have taken extraordinary measures to protect the health of persons summonsed for jury service. Potential jurors will enter a security door, separate from the public, and will be provided with personal protective equipment throughout their service. The seating in the jury selection room is properly spaced, according to the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. The trial courtrooms are outfitted with plexiglass and the jury deliberation rooms contain both plexiglass and air “scrubbers,” which are devices that eliminate airborne microorganisms. Additionally, all areas utilized by jurors will be frequently sanitized. With these safety procedures in place, jurors should feel confident that the Circuit is taking every precaution to ensure they can fulfill their important constitutional duty, safely.

NOMINATION DEADLINE FOR THE ANNUAL PRO BONO SERVICE AWARDS IS OCTOBER 22

Nominations are still being accepted for the annual pro bono service awards, which honor lawyers, judges, law firms, and associations that have contributed extraordinary pro bono service. The nomination deadline for all categories is Thursday, October 22, 2020, no later than 5 p.m.

Every year, in a ceremonial session of the Florida Supreme Court, more than two dozen lawyers and judges are honored by the court and The Florida Bar for the free legal assistance they have provided. For each of these members of The Florida Bar, as well as a law firm and a voluntary bar association, this honor underscores a professional commitment to service and acknowledges the many hours of pro bono work performed to help children, victims of human trafficking, the elderly, refugees, the poor and countless others who wouldn’t be able to afford the legal assistance they so badly need.

The 2021 pro bono service awards ceremony will be held at the Florida Supreme Court at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, January 28, 2021.

The road to this annual ceremony begins now, with the call for nominations.

The Florida Bar and the chief justice of the Supreme Court invite nominations from legal aid groups, civic organizations, fellow lawyers, and regular citizens who know of a special lawyer, judge, law firm or voluntary bar that has freely given of time and expertise in making legal services available to the poor.

Nominations must be received by Thursday, October 22. The online nomination forms are available on The Florida Bar’s website at for the following award categories:

 

THE TOBIAS SIMON PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD

Presented annually by the chief justice to a lawyer to recognize extraordinary contributions in ensuring the availability of legal services to the poor. Named for the late Miami civil rights lawyer Tobias Simon, the award represents the Supreme Court’s highest recognition of a private lawyer for pro bono service. All current recipients of The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Awards are considered for this prestigious award, as are direct nominees who have demonstrated exemplary pro bono service over the course of their careers.

THE FLORIDA BAR PRESIDENT’S PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD

This award is given to an outstanding attorney for each of the state’s 20 judicial circuits and to an outstanding attorney among the out-of-state Florida Bar members.

THE LAW FIRM COMMENDATION

This statewide award, presented by the chief justice, recognizes a law firm that has demonstrated a significant contribution in the provision of pro bono legal services to individuals or groups that cannot otherwise afford the services. This award recognizes extraordinary commitment on the part of a law firm to provide access to the courts for all Floridians.

THE VOLUNTARY BAR ASSOCIATION PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD

Presented by the chief justice, this award recognizes a voluntary bar association that has demonstrated a significant contribution in the delivery of legal services on a pro bono basis to individuals or groups that cannot otherwise afford the services. This award recognizes an extraordinary commitment to provide access to the courts for all Floridians.

THE DISTINGUISHED JUDICIAL SERVICE AWARD

Presented by the chief justice, this award is given for outstanding and sustained service to the public, especially as it relates to support of pro bono legal services.

DISTINGUISHED FEDERAL JUDICIAL SERVICE AWARD

This award, presented by the chief justice, recognizes an active or retired federal judge for outstanding and sustained service to the public, whether through legal or civic service or a combination of them, especially as it relates to the support of pro bono legal services.

 

BOARD OF GOVERNORS TO MAKE DECEMBER APPOINTMENTS

 

Florida Realtor-Attorney Joint Committee: Five lawyers, one from each state appellate district, are needed to serve two-year terms beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The Florida Bar president receives the recommendations of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section for consideration. The committee membership includes 11 lawyers appointed by The Florida Bar and 11 realtors appointed by the Florida Association of Realtors. The committee promotes cordial relations between realtors and attorneys and presents educational seminars.

Florida Rural Legal Services: One attorney is needed to serve a three-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2021, on its 20-member Board of Directors. Other appointing organizations are the NBA, Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter, ACLU, voluntary bar associations and various other eligible client and community organizations. The mission of Florida Rural Legal Services is to empower low-income individuals, groups and communities by providing them with access to justice through legal advice, representation, and advocacy.

Eleventh Circuit Judicial Conference: One delegate is needed to represent the Southern District of Florida to serve a four-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The biennial conference consists of educational opportunities and meetings (by state) on matters of mutual concern. The Bar’s three delegates contribute to planning and organizing an event during the conference in every odd-numbered year.

Persons interested in applying for these vacancies may click here to download the Application for Special Appointment or should call Bar headquarters at (850) 561-5757, to obtain the application form. Completed applications must be received by the Executive Director, The Florida Bar, 651 East Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, Florida, 32399-2300 or submitted via e-mail to specialapptapp@floridabar.org no later than the close of business on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Resumes will not be accepted in lieu of the required application. The Board of Governors will review all applications and may request telephone or personal interviews.