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Lawyer agrees to give up her license
Jessica Miller has been under investigation by the Florida Bar.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published February 1, 2008
Officials have another complaint of missing money from Jessica Miller's accounts.
Jessica Miller has surrendered.
Her law license, that is. The embattled attorney, who has already been jailed for contempt of court and investigated for missing client money, has agreed to give up the practice of law for at least five years.
It's essentially a plea deal between Miller and the Florida Bar, according to Bar staff attorney Jodi Thompson. But Miller's disbarment has to blessed by the Florida Supreme Court before it becomes official.
The deal is also an admission on Miller's part, Thompson said, to all the Bar has accused her of these past months: that Miller took money without rendering services or rendering services ineptly, left clients in the dark about their cases and improperly billed them for whatever work was done.
By agreeing to hand over her law license, the 29-year-old Port Richey lawyer is pleading guilty to violations of Bar rules. In exchange, the Bar's many investigations into Miller will cease.
Miller signed the order Monday, a day before she was to answer questions from Bar investigators.
"I think she did it to avoid having to defend herself further," Thompson said. "I think she just wanted it all to be done."
But Miller's troubles are far from done.
The attorney's fall was precipitated last year by the discovery that more than $28,000 in client money was missing from her trust accounts.
That led a judge to have Miller jailed for contempt of court after she left the state to avoid a court hearing. And the missing money sparked a criminal investigation of Miller, her law practice and her staff.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office said Thursday that it is investigating a new complaint of money missing from Miller's accounts.
And just like in the first case, Assistant State Attorney Mary Handsel said, it involves thousands of dollars that Miller was supposed to be holding for a divorce client.
"There is no money," Handsel said. "It's another $40,000 missing."
Miller's attorney in the contempt case, Holiday lawyer Steve Bartlett, said that his client has nothing to hide in the ongoing criminal investigation.
"All I can tell you is that Jessica Miller did not steal any money from the trust account," he said, "and we're helping the state attorney find out who actually did steal the money."
Giving up her license is almost a fait accompli for Miller.
The missing $28,000 led the Bar to get an emergency suspension of her law license last month from the Florida Supreme Court. A judge had stripped Miller of her cases in December and appointed another attorney to administer them. And her office closed while she was on the lam.
Bartlett, however, said Miller gave up the fight for other reasons.
"She didn't want to have to go through the stress of fighting through everything," he said. "She's a new mother. She'd rather be a stay-at-home mom than to have to deal with the stress."
After five years, there is a process by which Miller can regain her law license.
But she can only become a lawyer again if the Florida Supreme Court lets her.