TALLAHASSEE – The Supreme Court of Florida ordered the immediate suspension from practice of an attorney accused of misappropriating thousands of dollars sent to her in error.
Marcy Elizabeth Abitz of Cooper City was suspended Aug. 9 after the Florida Bar petitioned the court, arguing she appeared to be causing great public harm.
A bar investigation found that she misappropriated more than $8,900 in money that was sent to her in error and should have been returned immediately.
In its petition to the court, the bar offered evidence of the investigation, which was carried in large part by a bar’s chief auditor.
Carl Totaro, in his affidavit detailing the investigation into Abitz, said it was initiated after a complaint was received from the Cypress Insurance Group, specifically employee Debbie Arciola, in August 2015.
The money at issue was allegedly sent in March via an echeck to the wrong company because the wrong account number - off by one number - was used. It should have gone to an insurance underwriting company.
Instead it was sent to Abitz, the affidavit stated, though Cypress did not realize the error until April, after it was contacted by the underwriters.
The investigation later found that Abitz cashed the check the day after it arrived, according to Totaro.
When the error was discovered, Arciola said she left a voicemail and emailed Abitz. Arciola alleged that Abitz responded to the email and indicated that she would investigate the matter with her office manager and accountant and respond to her.
Thereafter, Arciola alleged that she sent several emails, made several phone calls and sent a certified letter all to Abitz. She failed to respond.
After receiving Arciola’s complaint of misappropriation of funds, the Florida Bar started an initial investigation. It was hindered and delayed by respondent’s failure to respond to an official bar inquiry, according to Totaro.
The Florida Bar conducted a review of bank records of respondent’s personal bank accounts.
It found, according to the court documents, the complainant’s funds in the amount of $8,961.35 were deposited into Abitz’s bank account.
All of Cypress’s funds were disbursed from that account through ATM withdraws, transfers to other bank accounts and via electronic transfer.
During the period from September 2015 through May, counsel for the Florida Bar sent correspondence to Abitz regarding a written response to the complaint from Arciola.
On April 5, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a court order finding Abitz in contempt of court and suspending her from the practice of law.
Under the Florida Bar’s code, the commission by a lawyer “of any act that is unlawful or contrary to honesty and justice” may constitute a cause for discipline.
The Supreme Court agreed with the bar’s assertion that Abitz “has caused, or is likely to cause, immediate and serious harm to clients and/or the public and that immediate action must be taken for the protection of the respondent’s clients and the public.”