The Florida Supreme Court on Monday suspended the legal license of attorney Jennifer Perez, who was responsible for a “mobile claims center” set up in a trailer home in North Fort Myers about a week after Hurricane Ian struck.
The High Court unanimously approved an emergency suspension recommended by Florida Bar staff. The court ordered Perez to cease representing clients, acting as personal representative or trustee, and withdrawing funds from escrow accounts within 30 days.
The order also requires Perez to stop using the tag labeled “Mobile Claim Center” in Florida and to provide a list of the names and contact information of anyone they have agreed to represent who registers with the Mobile Claim Center to have.
Investigators with the Florida Bar Association allege that Perez tried to solicit customers by making them believe the mobile claims center was part of an insurance village set up by the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Perez denies that was the intention. A lawyer last week filed a motion to dismiss the bar association’s emergency motion, saying the damage center was never used to recruit hurricane victims but was set up to provide office space for the existing commercial clients of the law firm Gauthier Murphy & Houghtaling. Headquartered in the New Orleans area, the law firm specializes in representing restaurant owners.
A lawyer who frequently goes to court against law firm GM&H spoke in Perez’s defense Monday afternoon. Steve Badger, a partner at Zelle law firm in Dallas, said he is pleased that the Florida Bar Association is investigating allegations of barratry – improper solicitation of clients.
“In this case, however, the facts do not appear to be as they originally appeared,” Badger said in an email. “I understand that prior to today’s Florida Supreme Court lawsuit, the Florida Bar Association had already reached an agreement with Ms. Perez to avoid the suspension based on her representation that there was no intent to harm clients through the use of the mobile claims center to retain and, in fact, no such customers were retained. I was told that this agreement should be publicly announced in a few days.”
Perez’s attorney, Henry M. Cox III of the Bedell firm in Jacksonville, said he was at an extended meeting Monday and did not immediately comment.
Perez has worked for GM&H since she earned a Juris Doctor from Loyola University in New Orleans in 2018. She was admitted to the bar in Florida in 2020 and was named a partner in the firm specifically to represent Florida clients, per Perez’s motion to terminate.
Florida Bar attorneys are responsible for investigating and prosecuting attorneys who violate their rules. The Florida Supreme Court appoints a county or district judge to administer disciplinary proceedings as an arbitrator. The arbitrator makes findings and recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court, which has final authority to determine whether an attorney should be disciplined. Possible penalties range from a reprimand to a permanent professional ban.
The court appointed Judge Charles E. Roberts of the 12th Judicial Circuit in Sarasota as arbitrator in Perez’s case.
Any attorney who has been suspended from practicing law must cease practicing law within 30 days under the rules of the Bar Association. If the suspension is longer than 90 days, the lawyer must apply to the court for reinstatement.
The Supreme Court ordered Perez’s indefinite suspension.
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