ORLANDO – The Florida Bar has suspended Fort Myers attorney Josiah Ewing Hutton Jr. for alleged misappropriations of client funds.
Hutton was suspended until further notice after allegedly abandoning his practice and taking more than $190,000 worth of trust fund money that did not belong to him.
This is not the first time Hutton has been in front of the disciplinary committee. This will be the fourth time he has been reprimanded by the bar association dating back to 1995.
His previous offenses include being placed on five years of probation for pleading guilty to a DUI in 2011, a 30-day ban for purportedly practicing law while suspended in 2000, and being publicly reprimanded in 1995 for allegedly mishandling trust funds.
The bar typically looks at ethics and professionalism violations on a case-by-case basis.
As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, the actions of the Bar are a reflection of the state’s values as well. In recent years, Florida has been tougher on state-licensed attorneys and has made an obvious attempt to deter lawyers from committing these infractions.
Hutton was one of 14 attorneys to receive punishment from the Bar in recent months. If the violations continue at this rate, it would be the highest number posted since 2012.
“I don’t think that a string of disciplinary sanctions against certain attorneys is necessarily cause for concern among other lawyers,” Tim Chinaris told the Florida Record. "Each case depends on its own facts, and the Florida Bar does not go looking for errant attorneys – the Bar responds to complaints by clients and others."
Chinaris is the associate dean for academic affairs and a professor of law at Belmont University. Previously, he was ethics director of the Florida Bar. While there, he managed the ethics hotline, which annually answers more than 20,000 calls from lawyers regarding questions of ethics and professionalism.
Still, Chinaris does believe the Bar is handing out harsher punishments since 2013. Over the past three years, there have been a high number of cases in which the state Supreme Court imposed a great sanction than even the Bar had sought in its decision.
In the past, lenient punishments on attorneys such as Hutton and others had led to greater malpractice and repeat offenders. The Bar, being the ethical and disciplinary arm (as it pertains to attorneys) of the Florida Supreme Court, made a sustained effort to crack down on incompetence.
“It has become clear that the Florida Supreme Court is taking a much harder line on attorneys who violate the ethics rules,” Chinaris said. “The court has stated: ‘(T)the court has moved toward imposing stronger sanctions for unethical and unprofessional conduct.’”
Despite the motive to impose stronger sanctions, Hutton still has yet to receive official disbarment, which is the harshest punishment the bar or Supreme Court can hand him.
The court is still leaving the door cracked open for a possible return to his practice, but he would have to seek approval from the Bar beforehand.