Florida Record

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Winter Park attorney suspended 3 years over commingling allegations


By Karen Kidd | Sep 12, 2019

TALLAHASSEE (Florida Record) — Longtime Winter Park attorney Paula Elisabeth Pratt has been suspended following an Aug. 8 Florida Supreme Court order over commingling allegations, according to a recent announcement by The Florida Bar.

"Pratt had shortages in her trust account and commingled trust funds with operating funds," the state bar said in its Aug. 29 announcement of the discipline and the Supreme Court's order. "The bar's audit also revealed technical trust account violations. Pratt handled her firm's administrative and financial affairs, and her law partner was unaware of the shortages."

Pratt's partner subsequently removed her from the firm's trust account and retained a CPA to perform bimonthly reviews, according to the announcement. "All shortages were refunded," the announcement said.

In its two-page order, state high court accepted the consent judgment reached between Pratt and the state bar before suspending her three years. The judgment includes Pratt's conditional guilty plea.

Pratt's suspension was effective 30 days from the date of the court's order to allow her time to close her practice and protect her existing clients' interests, according to the high court's order. The court also ordered Pratt to pay about $5,184 in 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 Pratt's suspension.

Pratt was admitted to the bar in Florida on Sept. 26, 1991, according to her profile at the state bar website. Pratt had no prior history of discipline, according to the consent judgment.

Pratt waived her right to have the matter considered by a grievance committee and stipulated to probable cause in the case, according to the consent judgment.

Allegations against Pratt stem from an insufficient funds notice issued in September 2018 by the bank that holds her client trust account, according to the judgment.

Pratt "testified at her sworn statement that the overdraft occurred when she mistakenly paid money to a client from the trust account rather than the operating account in order to avoid a fee dispute," the judgment said.

A subsequent audit found shortages in the law firm's trust account as a result of several online transfers made by Pratt, according to the judgment.

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