Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jacksonville lawyer faces Bar probe on overbilling claims

A Jacksonville lawyer accused of overbilling taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent poor defendants could face discipline by The Florida Bar, where a formal complaint has been filed against him.

The complaint accuses David Taylor of submitting grossly excessive bills, including 41 days when his invoices show him working more than 24 hours.

It was filed Friday by Florida’s Justice Administrative Commission and obtained Wednesday by the Times-Union. Bar complaints normally aren’t public until action is taken, but the commission, which oversees funding for court-appointed counsel, is subject to Florida’s public records law.

“Whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer or whatever your line of work, there are only 24 hours in a day, and to bill your client in excess of that is an insult to the intelligence,” said commission Chairman Dennis Roberts, the public defender in Lake City. “I can’t think of a worse case ... in which the taxpayers of the state have been ripped off by an individual attorney.”

Taylor said the allegations in the complaint are the same as those raised by the commission when it terminated his contract in February. He said he has hired a Tallahassee lawyer to represent him before the Bar. Beyond that, he wouldn’t comment.

The Bar, which regulates lawyers’ conduct, could do nothing or recommend that the Florida Supreme Court impose sanctions ranging from a private reprimand to suspension or disbarment. A Bar investigator confirmed that the organization already was looking into the issue after a Times-Union report last month.

Taylor was one of about 100 lawyers in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties who accept court appointments for indigent criminal defendants when both the Public Defender’s Office and the Regional Conflict Counsel office have conflicts of interest. That most frequently happens in cases with multiple defendants or when the victims or witnesses have their own criminal records.

The commission removed Taylor from the court appointment list after determining he had billed Florida taxpayers almost $700,000 since July, including about 100 days when his invoices show more than 16 hours. The amount was more than twice as much as the next highest paid court-appointed lawyer in Florida, who billed exclusively for death penalty cases in Miami.

Since then, Taylor has shaved about a third of the hours from his invoices, citing clerical errors and saying the initial bills were drafts, the complaint says. He also said he subcontracted legal work to other lawyers when he overcommitted himself, a violation of his contract with the commission.

Neither explanation is reasonable or logical, the complaint says. The overbilling was too excessive to all be attributed to clerical errors, and nothing in the invoices indicates the involvement of any other lawyers, the complaint says. Taylor hasn’t returned any money, it says.

The commission said Taylor has misrepresented to two judges that he has resolved the issue and that the initial allegations against him are less dramatic than initially presented.
“In fact, that was far from the truth,” Roberts said.

paul.pinkham@jacksonville.com,
(904) 359-4107

2 comments:

Dr Derrick Norbert Morris said...

These Public Defenders donot work for the poor; they work for the Court and DCF. They sit down and get your children taken because many have adoption businesses. They have characteristic they want and each let those and mnore children be taken; DCF gives them to adopt. The Public Defenders Office should be abolish. Poor citizens should be given a voucher to appoint good attorneys to defend them.

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