TALLAHASSEE — Laura Marie Watson, an attorney practicing in Fort Lauderdale, was permanently disbarred from the practice of law following an order issued by the Florida Supreme Court.
Watson was charged in and found culpable in a matter in which she, along with two other law firms, kept more than $2 million of a $3 million settlement.
The 76-page amended formal complaint was amended at the behest of the 17th Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee. Watson and the other attorneys at other firms who also worked on the case, referred to as the PIP attorneys, represented numerous clients in a personal injury protection claim against Progressive Insurance Co. While each attorney and firm handled the clients that their joint marketing campaign had brought them, they assumed joint responsibility, according to court documents.
In the suit, the PIP attorneys alleged that Progressive had underpaid providers. The case eventually included about 40 clients, and a settlement was reached for $3 million. The payout was given to the PIP attorneys who then provided the clients with $361,000. The remaining balance of more than $2.5 million was to be divided among the law firms. Watson and the other attorneys allegedly determined that many of the clients they had represented did not have an interest in the claim and were therefore not entitled to the settlement funds.
Watson’s conduct combined with her alleged lack of cooperation with the Florida Bar investigation led to the disbarment ruling, according to court records.
Watson had no prior record of discipline. However, she sat on the bench as a judge in the state’s 17th Circuit Court. According to the disbarment announcement, she was removed from her position for her conduct in the settlement matter. She was charged by the judicial committee with failing to fully inform clients, not providing clients with sufficient information to make decisions and failing to provide closing statements.
The attorney was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1985 after obtaining her law degree from Stetson University College of Law.