TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court filed a petition on May 19 for attorney Sarah E. Cox, who practices law in Fort Myers, reprimanding and ordering her to attend the Florida
Bar's Ethics School and pay all fines and costs.
The Florida Bar filed a complaint against Cox on April 14, alleging she
charged excessive fees, failed to abide by trust accounting rules, failed to
use property held in trust for designated purpose and failed to maintain
required trust account documentation.
The petition explained that in early 2012, Cox accepted the
representation of John Griffith to retrieve a Rolls Royce, which had been towed
and impounded; retrieve a watch from a local restaurant; clearing certain liens
from property owned by Griffith and obtain an annulment of a marriage.
Griffith paid a total
of approximately $90,000 for fees and costs to Cox within a few months, the petition stated.
“With regard to the retrieval of the Rolls Royce, (Cox) advised
Griffith that she needed $50,000 to retrieve the vehicle,” the report said. “Griffith
paid $50,000 to (Cox) for the retrieval of the vehicle.”
The reported further explained that Cox failed to deposit the
$50,000 into a trust account, did not retrieve the vehicle and failed to apply
the $50,000 to costs or liens associated with the vehicle.
“With regard to the removal of a lien held by Raymond Lumber
Building Supply against real property owned by Griffith, (Cox) advised Griffith
that she would need $20,000 to pay off the lien,” the report said. “Griffith
paid $20,000 to (Cox) for the removal of the lien.”
Cox also allegedly failed to deposit the $20,000 into a trust account and
did not obtain a release of the lien, failing to apply the $20,000 toward
paying off the lien. Griffith later paid approximately $23,000 to obtain
the release of the lien, according to reports.
Because Cox allegedly failed to create or maintain trust account
records for the money received from Griffith related to the vehicle and the
lien, charged $20,000 in fees for legal work, and received $90,000 from
Griffith without using it to do her job, the court agreed that Cox violated certain rules regulating the Florida Bar.
“The hourly fee charged by respondent was clearly excessive
for the nature of the work involved, her experience, and the local legal
market,” the report said.
There is current litigation between Cox and Griffith are to resolve a dispute over the sums paid and amounts owed between the parties.
Cox admitted to a failure to communicate and consented to the
recommended discipline set forth by the Bar, which is public reprimand and
Ethics School, to be completed within six months of the final order, for which Cox
will be responsible for the $750 fee for attendance.
Cox also agreed to pay all reasonable costs associated with
this case in the amount of $3,237.11. These costs were due within 30 days of
the final order.
“(Cox) agrees that if the costs are not paid within 30 days
of the final order, (she) will be required to pay interest on any unpaid costs
at the statutory rate,” the report said. “(Cox) further agrees not to attempt
to discharge the obligation for payment of the Bar's costs in any future
proceedings, including but not limited to any bankruptcy proceeding. (She) will
be deemed delinquent and ineligible to practice law pursuant to Rule 1-3.6 if
the cost judgment is not satisfied within 30 days of the final order, unless an
extension is granted by The Florida Bar.”
Cox did acknowledge that her obligation to pay the costs of
the proceedings was evidence of strict compliance with the conditions of any
disciplinary order or agreement and was also evidence of good faith and fiscal
responsibility. Cox claimed that she understood that failure to pay the costs may
reflect adversely on her in any other Bar disciplinary matter in which she may