TAMPA — A Tampa lawyer has been suspended following allegations that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his clients' money on himself, including vacations and casino outings.
Attorney James Lee Clark has been placed under what Francine Walker, spokesperson for the Florida Bar Association, told The Florida Record was an “emergency suspension.” Clark was given this suspension by the Florida Supreme Court. The court issued the suspension based on the recommendation in a petition filed by the Florida Bar.
Clark is a senior attorney with the Clark Law Group in Tampa.
In its petition for emergency suspension, the bar wrote that Clark had taken almost $1 million from client Pier Gasmena. The bar stated that based on their certified internal investigation, Clark’s alleged actions violated a number of rules of the bar including:
Rule 3-4.3 (Misconduct and Minor Misconduct)
Rule 4-1.15 (Safekeeping Property)
Rule 4-8.1 (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters)
Rule 4-8.4(c) (Misconduct)
Rule 5-1.1(b) (Trust Accounts — Application of Trust Funds or Property to Specific Purpose)
On Nov. 7, The Florida Supreme Court ordered Clark's suspension.
Clark, however, continued practicing. It was while he was under suspension that he met Janet and Tom Crawford and agreed to take them on as clients. They hired Clark to help them deal with a foreclosure situation. They alleged that he spent hundreds of thousands of their dollars at casinos, gun stores and liquor stores, and on lavish vacations around the world. They are now suing their former lawyer to try and recover what they can.
Theirs is not the only lawsuit currently working it’s way through the courts against Clark. Attorney L. Reed Bloodworth, of the firm Morgan and Morgan, is suing Clark on behalf of Gasmena, whose case sparked the initial investigation into Clark’s practices.
Clark’s actions are not an isolated case, according to attorney Richard B. Marx, who owns The Law Offices of Richard B. Marx and Associates in Miami.
“I have seen many cases such as this one. I am sure he will not be practicing law for a long time, if ever,” Marx told The Florida Record.
This is not the first time that the Florida Supreme Court has cast a wary eye on Clark. In 2014, he was publicly reprimanded and received a year of probation following accusations that he was not diligent with client materials and in client representation among other issues.
Clark’s suspension is just one step in a process that The Florida Bar works through when concerns about a lawyer arise.
“The emergency suspension will remain in effect until it is either lifted by the court or the court imposes a final disciplinary sanction…,” Walker said.
For more information on lawyers in Florida and their standing, go to www.floridabar.org.