INDIANAPOLIS -- A Florida real estate broker, who is a registered member of the Indiana Bar, was found guilty of illegally practicing law in Florida and has been sentenced to 18 months of suspension without the benefit of automatic reinstatement.
Divina K. Westerfield, the owner and founder of Westerfield & Associates in Florida, has been meted out an 18-month long suspension by the Indiana Supreme Court. According to court documents, the Indiana attorney has been illegally practicing law in Florida even if she is not a member of the Florida Bar.
The other charges brought against her include improperly soliciting employment as well as failing to return unearned income. The terms of her penalty do not include reinstatement as the court required her to prove her remorse and efforts of rehabilitation as well as fitness to practice law first.
According to the Indiana Supreme Court in Indianapolis, Westerfield refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing on her part. In fact, the embattled attorney went on to describe the disciplinary investigation against her as a “witch hunt.” However, the investigating panel found Westerfield has been involved in several disciplinary trials in the past including an indefinite suspension in 2005 due to her failure to cooperate with the authorities.
Westerfield faced her latest bout of disciplinary proceedings when several clients from Florida alleged that her law firm scammed them.
According to the purported victims, the people in the company misrepresented themselves and performed poorly in handling their cases to the point of failing to do anything that could positively contribute to the clients' situation. With regard Westerfield, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission found that she also handled cases despite not being registered in the Florida Bar. In her statements during the investigation, however, she repeatedly denied the accusations.
“My position was and will always be that my actions did not constitute the practice of law in the State of Florida,” wrote Westerfield in an email regarding the matter, according to The Indiana Lawyer.
She further told the The Indiana Lawyer, “I relied on Florida attorneys to assure me that it was being operated pursuant to Florida law. These attorneys had every ability and even the obligation to say that something needed to be changed. Did any of them do that? No. They signed the partnership agreements. Regardless of the partnership financial division of 50-50 or 90-10, or any division in between, they were still managing partners and licensed Florida attorneys. … Did I not have the right to rely on them as managing partners of the Florida Interstate Law Office that it was being run as it should be?”
In the agreements of Westerfield with the Florida attorneys, it was shown that both parties will be managing partners in the firm. The disciplinary commission shared that the contract identified the Indiana lawyer as “partner Alpha” who would get 90 percent of the net profits obtained from the fees. Meanwhile, the Florida managing partner would be “partner Beta” and is bound to receive 10 percent of the net profits.
All but one of the justices of the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to the decision. Justice Steven H. David sought a more severe punishment against Westerfield.