PUNTA GORDA - Criminal defense attorney Steven Burch continues to practice law despite facing federal charges for trafficking heroin.
Burch, after being arrested in Tampa and paying $50,000 to bond out, was released from jail. Despite the indictment and pending trial, he is still reportedly in good standing with the Florida Bar Association.
Burch is accused of conspiring “to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute, a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin,” according to court documents.
“An attorney in Florida must notify the Florida Bar within 10 days of the institution of a felony criminal charge. Notice must include a copy of the charging documents, in this instance, the federal criminal indictment," Brett Geer, an attorney with Geer Law Firm LC, told The Florida Record.
Geer's firm represents clients in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pasco, Manatee and Sarasota. Geer is also admitted to practice in all Florida state courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
The grand jury indictment against Burch alleges that he was in possession of heroin and was selling the drug in Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties with other individuals. He may have even been working with his own clients to sell the drug, according to court documents.
"The Florida Bar has the authority and power to petition the Florida Supreme Court to issue an order suspending the lawyer on an emergency basis. The order must find that clear and convincing evidence exists showing that the charged lawyer’s conduct appears to be causing great public harm," said Geer.
Burch has a criminal record that includes a 2015 charge of driving while under the influence and property destruction charge in Sarasota County. Burch has been licensed to practice law in the state of Florida since 2008. According to the Florida Bar, rules of professional conduct mandate that a lawyer may not commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.
"A petition for emergency suspension will also constitute a formal complaint. The lawyer will have 20 days after docketing by the Supreme Court of Florida of its order granting the (Florida) Bar’s petition for emergency suspension in which to file an answer to the Bar’s petition. Trafficking in heroin would seem to me to amount to causing great public harm," Geer said.
Compared to other communities of similar population size, Punta Gorda has a crime rate that is noticeably lower than the average, according to online data obtained by Neighborhood Scout. Punta Gorda's overall crime rate, which includes both violent crimes and property crimes, is lower than approximately 76 percent of Florida communities. Burch's arrest and alleged involvement in heroin trafficking came as a shock to the community.
Burch likely faces a criminal trial, which will probably impact his ability to practice law even if he is acquitted of charges, Geer said. If Burch is convicted, a felony suspension petition will be filed by The Florida Bar with the Florida Supreme Court.
Burch's office was unavailable for comment on the case.