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Villain or Vigilante? Miami Attorney Faces Disciplinary Action After Criticizing Court

Bruce Jacobs, with Jacobs Legal.

Bruce Jacobs, with Jacobs Legal. Photo by J. Albert Diaz/ALM

Florida's Third District Court of Appeal Wednesday issued an order referring lawyer Bruce Jacobs to the Florida Bar for disciplinary proceedings over the attorney's criticism of the court in his filings.

The April 10 order found the Miami-based foreclosure attorney violated the Florida Bar's rule forbidding lawyers from making statements "with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge."

The appellate court referenced an August 2018 brief submitted by Jacobs to the U.S. Supreme Court in Simpson v. Bank of New York Mellon — a case the Third DCA had adjudicated. It said Jacobs' brief asserted the Third DCA's opinion in Simpson misrepresented facts, "ignored Florida Supreme Court law, and disregarded evidence showing fraud." It also noted the attorney had added that the state Supreme Court had declined jurisdiction of the Simpson case "to address this factually and intellectually dishonest result” by the Third DCA.

The appellate court quotes Jacobs as writing, “The Florida Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to protect the constitutional rights of foreclosure defendants," and arguing that the Third DCA habitually rules against homeowners in foreclosure cases.

Jacobs wrote that in "virtually every appeal where the trial judge ruled in favor of undersigned counsel’s client, including Simpson, the Third DCA reversed with intellectually and factually dishonest opinions.”

The high court denied Jacob's petition for a writ of certiorari.

This isn't the first dustup with the appellate court for the Miami attorney, who developed a reputation — and thriving business — successfully defending homeowners at the height of the foreclosure crisis after the last housing market collapse.

During that time, Jacobs emerged as one of the most outspoken foreclosure defense attorneys, publicly criticizing then later raising allegations in court against major lenders accused of misleading borrowers before and during the housing market implosion. He and other attorneys criticized the Miami-based appellate court, alleging it ruled largely in favor of lenders with per curiam decisions that provided no details on which defendants could launch a challenge.

In December, the Third DCA imposed sanctions against Jacobs and referred him to the bar, following similarly critical comments he'd made about the court in a separate case. Wednesday's order noted the appellate court's previous history with Jacobs as well as his response to the October 2018 order to show cause issued against him.

Read the order: 

"In his verified response filed on behalf of both respondents, Mr. Jacobs 'acknowledges that his commentary referenced in the Order to Show Cause was unprofessional and unwarranted,' " the court said. "He admits these statements reflected 'inappropriate comments impugning the integrity of the judiciary.' … He explains various steps he has taken in his personal and professional life 'to prevent any reoccurrence.' "

The order of referral issued Wednesday held if Jacobs' conduct "were an isolated event, we would be inclined to end this matter."

But the court found a pattern.

"Because we are not in a position to ascertain the veracity of this latest explanation and this latest explanation is inconsistent with the previous one, we formally refer this matter to the Florida Bar for investigation," the order said.

Jacobs did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. His attorneys, appellate lawyers Benedict "Ben" Kuehne and Roy Wasson, provided a statement saying Jacobs "is appreciative the Third District has given him another opportunity to explain his actions to The Florida Bar." They said their client "is making every effort within his power to demonstrate to the bar and the community that the challenged conduct is not a part of his character."

"As Judge (now Justice) Lagoa found when Bruce explained his recovery efforts to the Third District in his prior case, Mr. Jacobs’ immediately corrective actions 'indicate his understanding of the nature of his conduct,' " the statement said. "Mr. Jacobs and his legal team are hopeful the Florida Bar will recognize the zealous professional efforts he invested in fighting for the rights of homeowners against powerful financial institutions, and not allow that good work to be overshadowed by Bruce’s transitory mistakes in allowing his frustrations to get the best of him."

The statement included a comment from Jacobs, who said he was "honored and humbled by being in a position to advance the right to social and economic justice against sometimes insurmountable odds."

Related stories:

Can He Say That? Frustrated Attorney Asks, 'What's Wrong With the Third DCA?'

Third DCA Issues Show Cause Order to Prominent Foreclosure Defense Attorney

Appellate Court Imposes Sanctions Against Outspoken Foreclosure Attorney