Florida Civil Legal UPDATE

A more or less daily dose of the florida civil legal update.

Thousands Denied Jobless Aid Under New Florida Law

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Complaint to U.S. Labor Secretary Says Florida Barriers Are Nation’s Most Severe and Violate Federal Law

FLORIDA—New data confirm that unemployed workers in Florida face more obstacles to getting jobless assistance than in any other state, as detailed in a new complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. At a time when numerous states are trying to cut unemployment insurance and other safety net programs, new layers of bureaucratic and technological hurdles recently put in place by Florida set an alarming precedent for other states to follow, even as unemployment in Florida and around the nation remains high.

“Florida’s revised procedures make it just about as difficult as possible for unemployed workers to access unemployment insurance now,” said Valory Greenfield, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services. “The effect is that the state is blocking workers from accessing help they are qualified for and twisting the knife in the state’s ailing economy. Nowhere in the country is it this hard to get help when you lose a job.”

The changes implemented by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which include a 45-question exam and the elimination of telephone claims-filing—the method most widely used in most states—create unprecedented barriers to unemployment insurance that violate Section 303(a)(1) of the Social Security Act, attorneys at the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services argued in a letter sent to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis last Friday. Where federal law requires states to “establish methods of administration reasonably calculated to insure payment of benefits when due,” new data indicates that Florida’s claim-filing procedures do not comply.

U.S. Labor Department records reveal that the percentage of jobless workers in Florida who actually receive state unemployment insurance (UI) is lower than anywhere else in the country. Florida’s recipiency rate for state jobless aid fell to just 15 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Florida’s law (HB 7005) called for changes to UI claim-filing that appeared largely procedural—for example, the elimination of phone filing, an assessment of worker skills, and required work-search documentation submitted electronically. As soon as these changes were implemented on August 1, 2011, however, the adverse impact on unemployed workers claiming benefits became immediately apparent.

· Between August 1, 2011 and April 14, 2012, Florida’s DEO reports that 43,680 claimants were denied benefits specifically because they did not complete the initial skills review. The “individual skills review” is a 45-question online exam that tests math, reading and research skills and must be completed before a worker’s first unemployment check can be issued. The skills review is linked to the initial application for benefits and adds an average 45 minutes to the claim-filing process.

· The first quarter of 2012 saw an increase of more than 200 percent over the year before in the number of unemployed workers denied benefits for “non-separation“ reasons, i.e., failure to meet procedural reporting requirements related to proving availability for work, work search and completion of the skills assessment. There were 61,128 denials in the first quarter of 2012 versus 19,676 denials in the first quarter of 2011.

· February 2012 was the first month that less than half of new applications for unemployment insurance in Florida resulted in benefits (49.1 percent), compared to 70.7 percent nationwide. That 21.6 percentage gap is the widest it has ever been, despite the fact that the Florida’s unemployment rate is still well above the national rate.

“This complaint is not challenging Florida’s right to operate an unemployment insurance program that already pays some of the lowest benefits in the country. Rather, this complaint is saying that Florida—in fact, no state—is free to erect procedural barriers that keep otherwise eligible workers from accessing unemployment insurance,” said George Wentworth, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

“States receive federal grants to administer their unemployment insurance programs, and one of the conditions for those grants is that they have procedures in place that facilitate the prompt payment of benefits to workers who meet basic eligibility criteria. Florida’s new procedures force workers who already satisfy the basic eligibility requirements to jump through additional hoops in the form of complex online transactions. Thousands of workers are being unfairly disqualified as a result. We are asking the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate and find that Florida’s procedures are in violation of federal law,” Wentworth said.

Written by Jimmy Midyette

May 30th, 2012 at 11:17 am

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Public Interest Law Section Seeks Nominations for Homeless Advocate Award

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The Florida Bar’s Public Interest Law Section (PILS) is seeking nominations for the Jane Shaeffer Outstanding Homeless Advocate Award. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in advocacy for homeless persons, by an individual who has meaningfully improved conditions or treatment of homeless persons, through litigation, policy advocacy, direct service or otherwise, either in a specific locale or throughout the State of Florida. The award is open both to non-members and members of The Florida Bar.

The Jane Shaeffer Outstanding Homeless Advocate Award is given biennially by PILS, and was established to honor the memory of distinguished attorney and advocate Jane Hunter Shaeffer, who died in September, 2009. Ms. Shaeffer was the founder and former Chair of the Public Interest Law Section’s Committee on Homelessness and was a long-time advocate for homeless persons. Ms. Shaeffer was a driving force in the founding and continued success of Tallahassee’s main homeless shelter (The Shelter), established in 1989, and also served as the first statewide director of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem Program, in addition to her many other accomplishments. The inaugural award was presented posthumously in Ms. Shaeffer’s name, in January 2010, to her family.

Nominations are currently being accepted for the Shaeffer Award. It will be presented at The Florida Bar Annual Convention in June 2012 at an awards breakfast. Please contact Mary Ann Obos, at mobos@flabar.org with the name of the individual to be nominated, a brief biography and a statement describing the individual’s outstanding achievement in homeless advocacy. Nominations should be submitted no later than April 2, 2012.

The latest figures by the State of Florida show the number of persons who are homeless and either living on the streets or in shelters on any one night is 58,000, the third highest in the country. Families with children are the fastest growing segment of our homeless population. Amidst this epidemic of homelessness, PILS is committed to honoring outstanding efforts in homeless advocacy through the presentation of this award.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Memorial Award Fund in Ms. Shaeffer’s honor, or to join PILS should also contact Ms. Obos. Membership in PILS is open to all who have a common interest in advocacy and enhancement of constitutional, statutory or other rights that protect the dignity, security, justice, liberty, or freedom of the individual or public. PILS provides a forum for discussion and exchange of ideas leading to increased knowledge and understanding of the areas of public interest law.

Written by Jimmy Midyette

February 24th, 2012 at 12:15 pm

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BALS Selected as Outstanding Agency by Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County

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BALS Selected as Outstanding Agency by Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County

Bay Area Legal Services, Inc. (BALS) has been a long-time member of and an active partner with the Homeless Coalition.  While not always thought about when someone thinks about people who are homeless and at-risk, BALS mission includes assisting individuals and nonprofit groups with limited access to legal services.

When the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) began, BALS was one of the fist Coalition members at the table.  They understood that many of the people who would be assisted by this program would be on the verge of being evicted, most likely be unaware of their rights in the eviction process, and not have access to legal services to properly respond to a court filed eviction.

BALS’s staff was always responsive to requests from HPRP clients — many times able to stop the eviction process.  Sometimes the BALS lawyers could advocate on behalf of the household with the landlord to delay the process while HPRP assistance was being processed.  Other times they were able to identify errors in the landlord’s eviction process paperwork.

In one instance, a landlord was trying to evict an HPRP tenant for “too much traffic in and out of their apartment because there were selling drugs.”  The tenant maintained the only thing he was selling was snacks to the neighbors.  A BALS lawyer represented the tenant and was successful in getting the eviction stopped.

BALS support of the Coalition’s work goes beyond just assisting clients.  Through their Judge Don Castor Community Law Center, BALS has provided the Homeless Coalition legal and technical assistance on corporate matters.  The center has matched the Coalition with various volunteer attorneys with expertise in business-related legal issues, such as human resources, and the process to start a new nonprofit organization that will help the Coalition seek out funding from non-homeless specific sources for the development of affordable housing.  The Renascent Development Corporation is expected to be in place in 2013.

The Bay Area Volunteer Lawyers program, made up of hundreds of local attorneys who volunteer their time and talents to the low-income community, has also provided the Coalition with pro bono legal and litigation expertise to assist with contractual violations between the Coalition and another agency.

Having access to these legal services, often costly services often out of reach for poor nonprofits, has helped the Coalition keep more money for services.

Written by Jimmy Midyette

December 20th, 2011 at 11:17 am

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SLC Win at First DCA

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APPELLATE COURT RULES THAT SUIT CHALLENGING ADEQUACY OF FLORIDA’S SCHOOL SYSTEM CAN PROCEED The Courts Can Decide If Florida Has High-Quality Schools

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Nov. 28, 2011) On Nov. 23, the First District Court of Appeals issued an Order in Citizens for Strong Schools, et al., v. Haridopolos, et. al., denying the state’s motion for a writ of prohibition, and certifying a question of public importance to the Florida Supreme Court.

Jodi Siegel, executive director of Southern Legal Counsel, said, “A majority of the judges agreed with us that courts have the power to decide whether Florida is providing a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality public education system. We do not believe that Florida is meeting its constitutional duty and hope that it soon will.”

The appellate court found that the lower court has subject matter jurisdiction meaning that Florida’s courts have the ability to interpret the education clause. The lawsuit, which was filed in November 2009, claims that the state of Florida is violating its constitution’s education clause under Article IX, Section 1(a). The court ruled that the judiciary does actually have the right to investigate if the

state is fulfilling its constitution by having a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Florida State Board of Education and the other defendants filed a writ of prohibition in the First District Court of Appeal in November 2010 directed to Judge Jackie Fulford claiming the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. The state argued that the legislature, not the courts, can show discretion in interpreting the meaning of “adequate” and “high quality” education. The state also argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the political nature of the case.

Southern Legal Counsel represents two education advocacy groups (Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now), two students from a public elementary school in Duval County, and four parents/guardians in Duval and Pasco Counties alleging broad deficiencies in the public education system that were created in violation of the state’s explicit constitutional duty. The lawsuit was brought by Southern Legal Counsel, Jon Mills, Tim McLendon and Deborah Cupples.

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Written by Jimmy Midyette

December 20th, 2011 at 10:38 am

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Miami Workers Center Charges UC Program with Discrimination

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Miami Workers Center (MWC)), a Florida non-for-profit 501(c)3 organization based in Miami, Florida, has filed an administrative complaint against Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Program with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center in Washington, D.C. MWC’s complaint names the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) as the agency responsible for Unemployment Compensation and charges that the program is inaccessible to persons with disabilities, limited literacy, or lack of English proficiency. MWC is represented by attorneys with Florida Legal Services, Inc. (FLS).

The complaint centers on the state’s new law requiring applicants to complete an online skills assessment before they can get their first check. At the same time, the state law exempts illiterate individuals and persons with language barriers from the skills assessment while federal law protects workers with disabilities. MWC charges, however, that DEO fails to inform people that they can be exempted or accommodated. Most troubling is the complaint’s allegation that when applicants fail to complete the assessment online, they don’t get their benefits even if they have a valid reason for not being able to do the skills assessment.

National Employment Law Project attorney George Wentworth notes, ““Today in Florida, workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own face more obstacles to accessing unemployment benefits than anywhere else in the country. This is the direct result of deliberate actions earlier this year by the Florida legislature and executive branch to make it harder than ever for average workers to apply for the unemployment insurance they have earned through their history of employment.” Florida Legal Services lobbyist Arthur Rosenberg adds, “These hurdles undermine the very purpose of the program: to temporarily help those who lose their jobs and are looking for work.” MWC executive director Gihan Perera notes, “The upshot is that if your disability interferes with using a computer, or you can’t read or understand English well, your benefits can be stopped just because you can’t do some skills test on the Internet.”

DEO is expected to say that anyone can request an exemption from online filing or for special assistance by phone, but attorneys for MWC say that response doesn’t cut it. According to attorney Valory Greenfield, “The Agency is aware that its phone system is inadequate to meet the needs of Florida workers. You can not hide the key to benefit access within a maze that puts people on hold for half an hour.” Attorney Cindy Huddleston adds, “We understand that Internet filing represents an advance in faster claims processing, but that cannot happen at the expense of persons with legitimate barriers to computer use.”

Written by Jimmy Midyette

November 23rd, 2011 at 12:53 pm

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FILS, Others Settle With Federal Bureau of Prisons in Transgender Rights Case

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Federal Bureau of Prisons Makes Major Change in Transgender Medical Policy

September 29, 2011.

A settlement was announced today in the case of Vanessa Adams, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate at FMC Butner in North Carolina who has gender identity disorder (GID). Ms. Adams sued BOP in order to receive appropriate treatment for her GID.

Ms. Adam’s challenge to BOP’s treatment of transgender prisoners has resulted in BOP ending its so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any person with GID is kept frozen at the level provided at the time he or she entered the federal prison system. In Ms. Adams’ case, this meant that because she had not received treatment for GID before being incarcerated, BOP refused to provide her with medically necessary care even though its own doctors diagnosed her with GID, told her about treatments available for GID, and knew about the seriousness of her medical condition.

“BOP’s freeze frame policy trapped transgender prisoners in despair, leading often to depression, suicide attempts, and in many cases, serious self-harm, as was the case with Vanessa,” said Jennifer L. Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

The change in policy was promulgated via two memoranda, dated May 31, 2011 and June 15, 2010, from BOP’s Medical Director to all BOP’s chief executive officers. The May 2011 memorandum ends:

In summary, inmates in the custody of the Bureau with a possible diagnosis of GID will receive a current individualized assessment and evaluation. Treatment options will not be precluded solely due to level of services received, or lack of services, prior to incarceration.

The memo also states that “current, accepted standards of care will be used as a reference for developing the treatment plan.”

The memos have been distributed to all individuals in the prison system who have been diagnosed with GID, as well as to the medical staff treating these prisoners.

When the suit was filed on February 24, 2009, Ms. Adams was at a federal prison in Florida. There she was being denied medically necessary hormone therapy and prevented from otherwise expressing a female gender identity because she had not received this treatment prior to her incarceration. In a June 7, 2010 ruling, Federal District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro rejected BOP’s argument that Ms. Adams’ claim was moot because BOP had finally started Ms. Adams on hormone therapy.

Citing BOP’s consistently callous conduct toward Ms. Adams, the fact that BOP could stop her treatment at any time, and that BOP did not disavow its policy, Judge Tauro sent the case to mediation. With today’s settlement, the parties jointly agreed to end the case.

Cassandra Capobianco of Florida Institutional Legal Services said, “It is critical not only for Vanessa’s health and safety but for the good of other prisoners that BOP’s policy has been changed.”

“We applaud the BOP for getting rid of an unfair policy that has denied medically necessary care to many people. We hope that other state and county prison systems will follow BOP’s lead and eliminate discriminatory policies that are based on bias rather than medical need,” said Jody Marksamer, a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

In addition to GLAD, Ms Adams was represented by Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Bingham McCutchen LLP, and Allyson Kurker.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England’s leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression. www.GLAD.org

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. www.NCLRights.org

Florida Institutional Legal Services is a non-profit organization that advocates for institutionalized people and other vulnerable people and groups.

Written by Jimmy Midyette

October 28th, 2011 at 6:07 am

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FJI, FILS File Wrongful Death Suit Against FDOC

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Evelyn Brady took a major step towards vindication for her son’s death today by filing a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections, seeking declaratory relief and monetary damages for the wrongful death of Rommell Johnson, and for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit was filed in the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court for Leon County.

Last summer, Ms. Brady experienced her greatest fear when she found out that her son, Rommell Johnson, had died while in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections. Her pain and suffering only deepened when she learned that Rommell, a known asthmatic, had suffocated to death after being repeatedly sprayed by FDOC officials with a cocktail of chemical agents.

An investigation conducted by Ms. Brady and her attorneys revealed that Rommell had already suffered a severe asthma attack on the morning of his death, and had required immediate medical attention. This fact was ignored by the Department of Corrections only hours later, however, when corrections officials repeatedly sprayed Rommell with chemical agents specifically designed to cause respiratory distress, despite the fact that Rommell was confined alone in a locked cell, and had not made any threats to harm himself or any other person.

Ms. Brady is passionate about not only vindicating her son’s death, but ensuring that other vulnerable inmates are not subjected to the same inhumane treatment. Ms. Brady’s lawsuit was filed with the assistance of civil rights attorneys at the Florida Justice Institute in Miami and Florida Institutional Legal Services in Newberry, who stated that, “the Department of Corrections had been warned by state officials that asthmatic inmates could not be sprayed with chemical agents, and simply ignored their warnings. What the Department did to Rommell Johnson cannot be ignored or go unpunished.”

Written by Jimmy Midyette

September 16th, 2011 at 7:03 am

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FILS Files Suit Against ADAP

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The plaintiff, J.R., is an individual with an intellectual disability who was involuntarily committed pursuant to Section 393.11, Fla. Stat. in 2004.   As provided by law, any persons who is committed pursuant to Section 393.11, Fla. Stat. is placed under the custody and care of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.  In the 7 years that J.R. has been subject to the commitment order, the court has not once reviewed the continued appropriateness of the order.  The failure to provide periodic review is due to an omission in Section 393.11, Fla. Stat.

The complaint asks the court to declare that the failure to provide J.R. with state-initiated, periodic judicial review is a violation of his due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and order that J.R. be provided  periodic review until he is no longer subject to the commitment order.  Notably, I think, the failure to provide automatic review under Section 393.11, Fla. Stat. stands in stark contrast to other involuntary commitment laws in Florida, like those found in Chapter 394 of the Florida Statutes (The “Florida Mental Health Act”).  The complaint also asserts that, in order to comport with due process, the periodic review must be conducted by an impartial decision-maker who possess the authority to afford relief from the commitment order and that J.R. be appointed counsel for the review hearing, if he cannot otherwise afford it.

Read the excellent Complaint here.

Written by Jimmy Midyette

September 16th, 2011 at 6:59 am

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Fla. Supreme Court: Gov. Scott Violated Administrative Procedure Act

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As reported everywhere, the Florida Supreme Court rebuffed Governor Scott’s attempt to curtail and restrain the rule-making process.

Here’s the way it was broken down by the Daily Business Review (subscription required).

FLS Attorney Valory Greenfield

FLS Attorney Valory Greenfield

Case: Whiley v. Scott

Case no.: SC11-592

Topic: Government

Opinion Issued: August 16, 2011

Court: Florida Supreme Court

Authoring Judge: Per curiam

Dissenting Judge: Chief Justice Charles T. Canady and Justice Ricky Polston

Lawyers for Appellant: Cindy Leann Huddleston and Kathy Newman Grunewald, Florida Legal Services, Tallahassee; Valory Greenfield, Florida Legal Services, Miami; Talbot D’Alemberte and Patsy Palmer, D’Alemberte & Palmer, Tallahassee

Lawyers for Appellee: Charles M. Trippe, General Counsel, Jess Michael Panuccio, Deputy General Counsel, Erik Matthew Figlio, Special Counsel, Carly Ann Hermanson and J. Andrew Atkinson, Assistant General Counsel, Executive Office of Gov. Rick Scott, Tallahassee

Holding: The governor impermissibly suspended agency rulemaking to the extent that Executive Orders 11-01 and 11-72 prohibited agencies from putting proposed rules into effect, changing existing rules, or adopting new rules without approval from the new Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform, or OFARR.

The court accepted jurisdiction over Rosalie Whiley’s petition for a writ of quo warranto against Gov. Rick Scott brought as a citizen and taxpayer. One of the frozen rules would have allowed Whiley, a blind food stamp recipient, to apply for the stamps online.

The writ, which literally means “by what authority,” requires the respondent, Gov. Scott, to demonstrate that a particular numberswiki.com

act is legally permissible. At issue were two executive orders that affected rulemaking activities of state agencies under the governor’s direction.

Scott established OFARR and suspended all rulemaking through executive order 11-01. After Whiley filed her petition, Scott issued superseding executive order 11-72, which removed the specific suspension language, but gave OFARR the power to review rule proposals, amendments and repeals and required OFARR approval of notices required under the Administrative Procedure Act. The majority described the differences between the two executive orders as “what seems nothing more than a sleight of hand.”

The court discussed the quasi-legislative function of rulemaking in a separation-of-powers analysis. In particular, the court contrasted the effect executive orders had on the rulemaking procedure with the effect of executive orders issued in 1995. Scott’s differed in “two substantial and material respects” — they created an additional review body and changed the process. These characteristics violated the Administrative Procedure Act by infringing on the rulemaking process and the legislatures delegation of its rulemaking power.

Both dissenting justices argued that the executive orders were proper under the Florida Constitution, which grants the governor “supreme executive power,” as well as certain supervisory power.

But the majority found these powers were limited — while the governor may have ability to remove heads of agencies, he does not have the ability to control heads of agencies. The outcome may have been different had the legislative specifically delegated these powers to the governor or if the Legislature directly amended chapter 120 of the Florida Statutes or the Administrative Procedure Act itself.

The court granted Whiley’s petition but refrained from issuing the writ of quo warranto in what appeared to be a gesture restraint out of respect for the other branches.

Written by Jimmy Midyette

August 26th, 2011 at 7:41 am

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Gulfcoast Legal Services Attorneys Fees

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GULFCOAST LEGAL SERVICES, INC., and HOLLAND & KNIGHT, LLP, awarded $350,000 in attorneys fees and costs following groundbreaking Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act jury verdict in case against Tampa Bay foreclosure rescue scammer.

In an October 2009 jury case, Gulfcoast Legal Services, Sarasota’s oldest, non-profit legal aid organization (www.gulfcoastlegal.org), won $93,407 for Wanda Costa, a 60 year old, North Port  woman who was scammed out of her home by Gideon Rechnitz, who operated a foreclosure rescue enterprise which has  victimized scores  of Tampa Bay families in the past ten years, leaving them homeless, including the elderly and disabled ..  Rechnitz and others duped Costa into signing over the deed to her house, while leaving her liable for the mortgage, and charging her thousands of dollars in bogus “commissions.”

On June 27, 2011, managing attorney, Elizabeth Boyle, who presented Costa’s winning case to the jury, and the team of volunteer attorneys who worked on the case with her, including Holland & Knight LLP, which assisted in the defense of the appeal, sought and were awarded legal fees and costs in the amount of $350,000.00 by the Sarasota County Circuit Court, for the hundreds of  hours she and several volunteer attorneys spent on the case since it first came to light in summer 2006.  “We  are very happy to have reached another important milestone in this litigation.“ said Boyle.  For the past five years, Gulfcoast Legal Services worked steadily on Costa’s case, logging in over 1,000 hours of legal services, which culminated on October 1, 2009, when a Sarasota jury found that Rechnitz had violated a new section of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act directed at those in the foreclosure rescue business who seek to dupe, swindle and cheat homeowners in foreclosure.  Rechnitz and the other defendants appealed the verdict which was recently upheld by the Second District Court of Appeal of Florida.

Costa, a disabled widow raising two grandchildren, had fallen behind on her mortgage.  She fell victim to Rechnitz by responding to a flyer that promised to save her home by reinstating her mortgage with no upfront fees.  Instead, Rechnitz obtained the deed to Costa’s home for no consideration as “trustee for the Costa family trust,” when in fact, there was no trust, and title was taken this way to mislead Costa and her lender.

The scheme called for Costa to stay in the house as a renter, make the mortgage payments, pay for all maintenance, taxes and insurance, and later “buy back” the house, essentially having to pay off the mortgage twice.  However, by deeding the house to Rechnitz, Costa lost no less than $77,000.00 of equity in her house and her homestead exemption, and paid out more than $9,000 in commissions, and was left liable on the mortgage. Neither Gideon Rechnitz nor the other defendants held real estate licenses and yet took what they deemed broker’s commissions from their victims nonetheless.   Essentially, Costa had “sold” her house to Rechnitz for nothing, while the mortgage remained in her name.  With the help of a community volunteer, Pat Black, from the Senior Friendship Center, Costa realized she had been duped and stopped paying rent.  In April 2007, Rechnitz filed to evict Costa from the property, and Costa then sued him with the help of Gulfcoast Legal Services.  Rechnitz also lost the eviction lawsuit. Krista Hasselbring, a title agent and notary public,  who owned Florida Regional Title Services in Sarasota, allowed Mr. Rechnitz to handle many of  his closings using her office.

Gulfcoast Legal Services represents other Sarasota County clients who claim  Rechnitz cheated them out of their  homes in Newtown and  North Port.

Mr. Rechnitz has been investigated several times in the past 5 years by The Florida Bar on claims he engaged in the Unauthorized Practice of Law, which is a felony in the State of Florida. He is currently under investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s office.

In the 1980s, The Federal Trade Commission sued Rechnitz and wife Patricia, who did not admit wrongdoing, but agreed to refund $1.25-million to customers. The Florida Real Estate Commission accused Rechnitz of fraud in connection with his timeshare dealings and revoked his real estate license in 1990.

Ms. Boyle and volunteer attorney Jim McDonald were recognized for their work on this and related cases by The Florida Bar Foundation with one of three 2010 Goldstein Awards which recognizes excellence in civil legal aid impact cases.

Elizabeth M. Boyle, Esquire of GULFCOAST LEGAL SERVICES, who was the lead attorney on the case

Elizabeth M. Boyle, Esquire of GULFCOAST LEGAL SERVICES, who was the lead attorney on the case

Photo of client Wanda Costa and Joe Lukowiak, her fiancé, a house painter, at the home on Faye Avenue in North Port, Florida

Photo of client Wanda Costa and Joe Lukowiak, her fiancé, a house painter, at the home on Faye Avenue in North Port, Florida

Resources:

Link to the Final Judgment Awarding Fees and Costs (PDF format)

Written by Jimmy Midyette

July 8th, 2011 at 7:44 am

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