Fort Pierce attorney publicly reprimanded after client's appeal dismissed for lack of brief

By Karen Kidd | Dec 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — Fort Pierce attorney Derek Vaughn Lewis has been publicly reprimanded following a Nov. 15 Florida Supreme Court order over allegations he botched an appeal, according to a recent announcement by The Florida Bar.

"Lewis failed to timely file a brief or otherwise inform the appellate court that the appeal was being diligently prosecuted," the state bar said in its Dec. 27 announcement of the discipline and the Supreme Court's order. "As a result, the appeal was dismissed. Lewis also failed to advise the client of the dismissal of the appeal, nor did he respond to the bar's inquiries regarding the client's grievance."

In its two-page order, the high court approved the uncontested referee's report filed before reprimanding Lewis and ordered him to pay about $2,376 costs.

Florida court orders are not final until time to file a rehearing motion expires. Filing such a motion does not alter the effective date of Lewis's suspension. Lewis was admitted to the bar in Florida on Nov. 4, 1999, according to his profile at the state bar website.

Allegations against Lewis stemmed from a client for whom Lewis filed an appeal in April 2013, according to the consent judgment filed with the court. The consent judgment also includes Lewis's conditional guilty plea.

In October, following filing of the appeal, the court entered an order that the time to file the initial brief had expired and that the case would be dismissed unless the initial brief was forthcoming. Lewis "failed to file anything responsive" to the court's order and the appeals court dismissed the appeal the following month.

Lewis didn't tell his client the appeal had been dismissed, according to the consent judgment.

In February 2015, the client represented himself and filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus for belated appeal. The following month, the appeals court granted the client's petition and counsel later was appointed to represent him, the judgment said.

Lewis later admitted he had violated professional conduct rules regarding diligence, communication and cooperating with a state bar inquiry, according to the consent judgment. Lewis also admitted "he was dealing with serious health problems during the relevant time period, including diabetes and a debilitating heart disease that eventually led to his hospitalization," the judgment said.

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