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Fla. Supreme Court Orders Broward Lawyer Jeremy Alters Indefinitely Suspended

[caption id="attachment_20606" align="alignnone" width="478"] Jeremy Alters of Morelli Alters. Courtesy photo[/caption] The Florida Supreme Court Monday issued a sua sponte suspension of noted litigator Jeremy Alters, until further order. During oral arguments on May 8, Florida Supreme Court justices appeared to be weighing "substantial suspension, if not disbarment,” for the litigator who admitted he failed to report that his firm moved more than $1 million from its trust accounts to cover operating costs and his personal expenses. At that time, Justice Barbara J. Pariente made it clear the high court was considering only the degree of Alters’ punishment — not whether to discipline him. Less than two weeks later, the justices handed down a decision that provides some insight into Alters' fate. "On the court's own motion, and having considered the Report of Referee, the briefs filed by the parties, and the issues presented at oral argument, respondent is suspended from the practice of law until further order of this court, effective thirty days from the date of this order so that respondent can close out his practice and protect the interests of existing clients," the court ruled in a May 21 order. Alters' lawyer, Andrew Berman of Young Berman Karpf & Gonzalez in Miami, said the decision disappointed his client and legal team. "We … continue to hope that the referee’s factual findings will temper the ultimate discipline meted out,” Berman said. Bar counsel William Mulligan did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker later said Mulligan had no comment because the Bar has a policy of not discussing active litigation. "Neither Mr. Mulligan nor any representative of The Florida Bar will ever comment on pending litigation or provide reactions to court orders," Walker wrote. "When asked, reporters are referred to any Florida Bar filings with the Supreme Court or any statements made in the referee trial or in oral arguments for the Bar’s positions, findings and charges and we advise that reporters may quote from those." Alters, meanwhile, said he remained confident in the judicial process. "More than six years ago, Judge Caballero was entrusted to hear evidence and make findings in this very complicated matter," he wrote in a statement to the Daily Business Review after the suspension order. "She wrote over 110 pages of findings, which speak clearly as to what happened here. I believe the process will prove that out." The high court has the final word on attorney discipline and can accept or reject a referee’s recommendation. In this case, it appears to have rejected the proposal by the referee in Alters' case, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marcia Caballero. Caballero found Alters not guilty on four of the most serious misconduct and fraud charges against him, and recommended no sanctions after a trial on claims Alters misappropriated trust account funds. She also found the bar's request for $305,000 in prosecution costs from Alters excessive, because the attorney had prevailed on the key issues in the disciplinary case. She instead recommended the high court grant the bar $1,250 in costs, but award Alters more than $143,000 to cover years of litigation expenses. Alters is a Dania Beach lawyer who provided $2.5 million to launch Alters Boldt Brown Rash & Culmo in 2007, according to information presented in court. Once a prolific Democratic fundraiser and high-stakes class action litigator, he is now a personal injury attorney with Morelli Alters. The Florida Bar claimed he directed 49 improper transactions from 2009 to 2010 that funneled $1 million from his firm’s trust account to pay operating expenses and Alters’ personal bills. Alters claimed he was at first unaware of the violations, but admitted in court and in an interview with DBR that he did not report them to the bar when he did find out. He instead repaid the money and continued to operate for about a year before his former nanny-turned-bookkeeper filed a bar complaint against him. He claims he hid the truth for two reasons. The first was to shield the firm he had built from immediate disbandment. The second was allegedly to protect managing partner Kimberly Boldt, who he claims committed the ethics violations. Boldt denied contravening bar rules. She claimed Alters authorized every transaction, then later sought to pin the blame on her. The Florida Bar appeared to believe Boldt. It dismissed most of its charges against her and recommended she attend an ethics class. Boldt’s Florida Bar file shows no disciplinary actions against her in the last 10 years. But the bar continued to prosecute its case against Alters. During his disciplinary case, Alters' firm dwindled from 57 people in 2010 to about 18 one year later. Now, in 2018, he is down to five colleagues, including two other attorneys. The five who have remained with him are fiercely loyal. “The bottom line is I believed in Jeremy … 100 percent,” said Cindy Russell, a former paralegal who said she took out a $150,000 line of equity on her home to bolster Alters’ firm, offered a $45,000 line of credit and rallied relatives, who raised about $800,000 to keep the firm afloat.