The Florida Supreme Court issues a SUA Sponte suspension of Jeremy Alters.
A sua sponte suspension means the judges ordered the indefinite suspension on their own will. Neither of the parties or the lower court requested a bar suspension.
Jeremy Alters went from a prominent attorney who won the largest attorney fee award in South Florida history, to being prosecuted by the Florida bar for ethics violations. Through 49 transactions, Alters used $1 million dollars from his firm’s trust account for the firm’s operating expenses and his personal bills. The litigation took over five years.
Chapter 5 of the Florida Bar rules: Rule Regulating Trust Accounts
- (a) Nature of Money or Property Entrusted to Attorney.
- (1) Trust Account Required; Location of Trust Account; Commingling Prohibited. A lawyer must hold in trust, separate from the lawyer’s own property, funds and property of clients or third persons that are in a lawyer’s possession in connection with a representation. All funds, including advances for fees, costs, and expenses, must be kept in a separate federally insured bank, credit union, or savings and loan association account maintained in the state where the lawyer’s office is situated or elsewhere with the consent of the client or third person and clearly labeled and designated as a trust account except:
- a. A lawyer may maintain funds belonging to the lawyer in the lawyer’s trust account in an amount no more than is reasonably sufficient to pay bank charges relating to the trust account; and
- b. A lawyer may deposit the lawyer’s own funds into trust to replenish a shortage in the lawyer’s trust account. Any deposits by the lawyer to cover trust account shortages must be no more than the amount of the trust account shortage, but may be less than the amount of the shortage. The lawyer must notify the bar’s lawyer regulation department immediately of the shortage in the lawyer’s trust account, the cause of the shortage, and the amount of the replenishment of the trust account by the lawyer.
Alters claims that he was not aware of the misappropriation when it was happening. However, once he was aware he still did not report to the bar. Alters instead repaid the money into the trust account himself and continued operating for about a year until his nanny-turned-bookkeeper reported him to the bar. Alters claims that he did not report it for two reasons; (1) to save the firm, and (2) to protect a managing partner, Boldt, who he claims committed the violations.
In 2010, Alters realized that the trust fund was low. Boldt advised him that she made a mistake. They were supposed to receive a $1 million wire. With this money Boldt ordered for some bills to be paid, but the money had not yet come in. Salpeter, who paid the bills, was the only witness who testified that Alters directed him to make improper transfers. Caballero held that Salpeter was not a credible witness.
Once the misappropriation was discovered by Alters, he advised Boldt to write a self-reporting letter to the bar. Alters claims that Boldt wrote the letter but never sent it to the bar. On the other hand, Boldt claims she never wrote the letter and Alters authorized each transaction and sought to place the blame on her.
The Florida Bar dismissed the charges against Boldt. However, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Caballero concluded that the bar ignored evidence and disregarded credible witnesses. Caballero wrote over 110 pages of findings and recommended dismissing all charges against Alters except failing to prevent recurring problems created by others in the firm. Caballero concluded Alters was not guilty of fraud or misconduct, did not knowingly use the money for personal or operating expenses, and did not commingle the trust fund. Caballero also recommended the bar pay Alters $143,000 for years of litigation.
However, the Florida Bar appealed to the Florida Supreme Court who ultimately found Alters guilty and suspended him indefinitely on May 21, 2018. The Florida Supreme Court considered the fact that he had repaid all of the money, but Justice C. Alan Lawson said, “Is there a conceivable universe in which you could imagine this court writing an opinion saying that it’s OK to use your trust account as a line of credit to keep your firm afloat as long as you successfully restore everything by hiding the problem?” The suspension is effective after 30 days, allowing Alters the opportunity to close his firm and protect his clients’ interests.
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