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After $2M Verdict, 2 Fla. Attorneys Now Face Civil Theft Ethics Case re Bitter Law Firm Breakup

Posted Mar 21, 2011 6:06 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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First William Henry Winters and Marc Edward Yonker got hit with a $2 million verdict in a civil theft and racketeering case, after leaving the firm of the rainmaking personal injury lawyer with whom they had cut their teeth in a messy breakup a decade ago.

Now the two trial attorneys, who today are well-known in their own right, face a related attorney ethics case that could put them out of business, charged by the Florida Bar with civil theft, deception, misrepresentation and various rule violations, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

Ironically, the ethics case may have arisen, at least in part, from a successful effort by one of the two to fight the $2 million verdict. Although Yonker paid his $800,000 share, Winters appealed the award to the 2nd District Court of Appeal and won a ruling that causation had not been established to prove that Richard Mulholland was entitled to any damages.

However, Judge Craig Villanti also called the two lawyers' conduct in leaving Mulholland's firm "loathsome" and said "the facts of this case are enough to make any legal ethics professor cringe," the article reports.

The bar complaint alleges that the two attorneys, while still employed for several months at Mulholland's firm, worked with a fired paralegal with whom Winters was having an affair in the past as she called clients from her bedroom office to tell them Mulholland was retiring and closing his practice. The paralegal or Yonker are also accused of having hacked into Mulholland's computer system and changed information so that it would be difficult for him to contact his own clients.

In their arguments and testimony in the ethics case, however, the two lawyers and their counsel say they did nothing wrong and know nothing about the alleged hacking into Mulholland's computer system. They appropriately copied information from files to obtain necessary information to continue representing their clients, they say, but that is all.

They are essentially the victims of an autocratic senior lawyer and former boss who is seeking revenge via litigation and attorney disciplinary complaints, according to their attorney, Don Smith, of Tampa.

"They were caught up in, for lack of a better term, a vendetta," he says, "a consuming attitude by this gentleman, Mr. Mulholland, who wants to maintain some revenge ... and does that through the legal system.''

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Lawyer’s Affair Leads to Firm Breakup, $2M Verdict"

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