Florida lawyer is disbarred over alimony dispute that led to imprisonment
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The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred a lawyer who “dodged discovery requests” in litigation with his ex-wife over $88,000 in missed alimony payments.
Koepke divorced in 1990. After Koepke got behind in alimony payments, the lawyer for his ex-wife that heard one of Koepke’s personal injury cases might have settled. The ex-wife’s lawyer requested documents regarding the settlement and filed a motion to compel when Koepke refused.
Koepke provided a copy of the fee agreement but did not produce documents related to the September 2016 settlement that would pay him a $400,000 contingency fee.
He said there were no documents responsive to the request, “there being no settlement.”
When a judge ordered Koepke to retrieve the client file, Koepke complied and the settlement was revealed. The ex-wife’s lawyer filed an order to show cause why Koepke should not be held in contempt.
“Undeterred, Mr. Koepke made a series of still more consequential decisions,” the Florida Supreme Court said.
Koepke wired his $400,000 fee to an irrevocable trust that he set up for the benefit of himself and his grandchildren.
Koepke then offered to settle the litigation with his ex-wife for a payment of $100,000—if the contempt motion and other motions were dismissed and if the ex-wife gave up all past, present and future claims to alimony and attorney fees. The ex-wife refused.
Koepke was found guilty of indirect criminal contempt and sentenced to 30 days in jail. He served 20 days.
A referee had recommended a one-year suspension. The Florida Supreme Court rejected the punishment as too light and imposed disbarment.
Koepke “abused the legal process in a way that resulted in a serious interference with his alimony proceedings,” the Florida Supreme Court said. Koepke “dodged discovery requests” and “refused to answer questions truthfully,” the state supreme court said. In addition, he “hastily” settled a trust to put the contingency fee funds out of reach.
“This was deceitful abuse of the process by someone who knew better,” the Florida Supreme Court said.
The trial judge had estimated that Koepke’s actions cost “100 or more hours of attorney time and hours upon hours of court time to resolve.”
“In reaching the conclusion that Mr. Koepke must be disbarred, we are mindful that divorce proceedings can bring out the worst in people,” the Florida Supreme Court said. “Yet even at one’s worst, we expect a lawyer’s oath to mean something. Indeed, we expect the oath to mean something then especially.”
Koepke didn’t immediately respond to an ABA Journal email request for comment.