Court Approved Three-Year Suspension and Warned Disbarment for Theft from a Law Firm
In Florida Bar v. Arcia, 848 So. 2d 296 (Fla. 2003), this Court's most recent announcement regarding theft from a law firm, this Court receded from its prior cases that distinguished between misappropriating funds of a client and funds of a law firm. Arcia, 848 So. 2d at 300.
Specifically, in that case, Arcia was employed as an associate at a firm and was paid a base salary plus bonuses.
While still employed at the firm, Arcia formed Omar J. Arcia, P.A., and represented some clients for the benefit of the Arcia P.A., and not the firm, thus violating his employment agreement. Id. at 297.
He intercepted telephone calls to solicit clients, intercepted the mail to take checks made payable to the Arcia P.A., and deposited fees into the Arcia P.A. bank account that he had obtained in representing the firm's clients.
Arcia admitted to depriving the firm of approximately $ 62,000 in legal fees. Id.
Among other violations, the referee concluded that Arcia stole firm funds and possibly client funds and recommended a three-year suspension. Id. at 298.
Arcia sought review, contending that this Court generally did not impose such a strict discipline for the theft of firm funds.
This Court approved the three-year suspension and warned that "for purposes of attorney discipline, theft of firm funds is serious enough to warrant disbarment under most circumstances.
While theft of client funds rends the fundamental bond between a lawyer and the client, theft of firm funds breaches the trust that law firms must place in their attorneys as professionals to act as representatives of the firm." Id. at 300.
We further stressed that "future cases involving theft of firm funds will carry a presumption of disbarment." Id.