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Ex-city attorney's license suspended for client neglect


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001

The Florida Supreme Court has suspended former Brooksville City Attorney Douglas G. Bevins from practicing law in Florida for two years because he showed a pattern of client neglect starting in late 1999.

The court also placed Bevins, 49, on probation for three years afterward, with the condition that he proves depression no longer will prevent him from doing his job. Bevins had a psychiatrist tell the court that he suffered from depression, which rendered him disabled and unable to perform his duties as a lawyer.

While the court accepted this contention as a mitigating factor in rejecting the Florida Bar's push to disbar Bevins, it did not deem the explanation an excuse.

"The respondent's medical condition did not prevent him from knowingly violating rules regulating the Florida Bar," Elzie Stanford Sanders, referee for the court, wrote in a 18-page report released Tuesday. "The medical condition does not excuse his behavior, and he should have taken the necessary steps to address the depression and protect his clients' interest."

Bevins, who was placed on emergency suspension last April, said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times that he regretted the problems he caused his clients.

"They are truly the innocent victims of this situation," Bevins wrote. "Every day, I think of them and wish their faith in me had not been so badly invested. I wish it could be otherwise for my former clients and again apologize to them."

He also said he wished the Florida Bar and Supreme Court had other ways to deal with lawyers who have such problems.

"I am not the first Florida lawyer to feel that the prosecutorial approach of the Bar's ethics enforcement is misplaced when a member of the Bar is incapacitated by depression," Bevins wrote. "On the other hand, I have always supported the efforts the Bar undertakes to ensure that the public is well-served by licensed attorneys.

"I was proud to be a Florida lawyer and proud of the energy the Bar put into policing its own," he said. "I have no doubt the Bar ethics enforcement folks were acting in good faith and as best as they could see their duty."

Starting in late 1999, several people could not find Bevins to confer with him about their cases, the Bar reported. Lacking any contact with Bevins, more than 20 clients reported him to the Bar.

One client, Walter B. Sprague, filed a complaint against Bevins because, after paying $150 for work on a will, Sprague could not contact the lawyer for 21/2 months. When Sprague finally reached Bevins in November 1999, Bevins promised the papers would be done in a few days. Bevins then electronically blocked Sprague's calls and "to Mr. Sprague's knowledge, the respondent has done no work on the matter," according to the court.

Most of the cases involved estate, bankruptcy and will work. Clients paid Bevins as much as $1,400 for work not done.

The court has ordered Bevins to make restitution to some clients and to cover the court costs associated with his hearing.

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