Miami attorney, Coral Gable attorney suspended over conflicts of interests in long-running tobacco litigation

By Karen Kidd | Jun 4, 2018

TALLAHASSEE (Florida Record) – Two longtime attorneys, one practicing in Coral Gables and the other in Miami, were suspended following an April 11 Florida Supreme Court order over alleged conflicts of interest involving current and former clients in a long-running tobacco case, according to a recent announcement by The Florida Bar.

TALLAHASSEE (Florida Record) – Two longtime attorneys, one practicing in Coral Gables and the other in Miami, were suspended following an April 11 Florida Supreme Court order over alleged conflicts of interest involving current and former clients in a long-running tobacco case, according to a recent announcement by The Florida Bar.

The 30-day suspensions of Miami attorney Philip Maurice Gerson and Coral Gables attorney Steven Kent Hunter were effective 30 days from the date of the high court's two-page order to allow them time to close out their practices and protect their existing clients' interests.

The high court disapproved the referee's report, which recommended the two attorneys be admonished. The two attorneys were ordered to pay a total of $3,015 in costs.

The state bar announced the discipline and the Supreme Court's order on May 29.

Gerson was admitted to the bar in Florida on Nov. 13, 1970, according to his profile at the state bar website. Hunter was admitted to the bar in Florida on Nov. 19, 1976, according to his profile at the state bar website. Neither attorney had prior discipline action by the state bar listed on their state bar profiles.

In separate but similarly worded complaints, the state bar said its allegations against Gerson and Hunter stemmed from the state Supreme Court's May 2014 decision in Young et al. v Achenbauch. In that decision, the high court ruled that the state bar's professional conduct rules, rather than the rules of federal court, govern state conflict of interest cases.

Young et al. v Achenbauch stemmed from a long-running class action by flight attendants against tobacco companies over diseases allegedly caused by second-hand smoke in airplane cabins. As part of that litigation, the state Supreme Court quashed a trial court decision to disqualify several attorneys in the case, including Gerson and Hunter.

The Supreme Court ruled that disqualification of Hunter and Gerson had been warranted for allegedly engaging in conflicts of interest.

"This court further asked The Florida Bar to initiate a disciplinary investigation into whether any rules of professional conduct were violated during the underlying proceedings or during the presentation of the case to the court," both complaints said.

In December 2016, the Supreme Court denied a state bar motion for summary judgment in the matter.

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