FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The president of the Florida Bar has withdrawn from a federal case after a defendant claimed she had a disbarred attorney working on his behalf.
West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer filed a motion last month to withdraw as the legal counsel of record for Anthony D'Amico. Fort Lauderdale attorney Jonathan Friedman is now representing him.
In a May 23 letter to U.S. District Judge James Cohn, D'Amico explained that he asked Suskauer to remove herself as his attorney because "every aspect" of his case was handled by disbarred West Palm Beach attorney John Garcia.
D'Amico claimed he had "only met Suskauer twice, for about 10-15 minutes total during the beginning of the case, once in office and once out of office," and then again April 24 and May 20. However, D'Amico claimed she was "only present for a few minutes at the latter meetings, left abruptly and requested that Mr. Garcia handle everything."
"Mrs. Suskauer and I have never spoken on the phone and never reviewed my full case together," D'Amico wrote.
D'Amico claimed he was "instructed to hire and pay additional money, $10,000," directly to Garcia, who was described to him as the firm's "federal court specialist." But D'Amico said Garcia has "completely misguided" him.
Making matters worse, D'Amico wrote, was learning that Garcia had been disbarred and convicted in federal court.
"He works out of a law office where I met him, has an attorney website and his business card seems to be that of an attorney," D'Amico wrote.
A Florida Supreme Court complaint from 2014 shows that Garcia "continued to practice law" after being disbarred in 2008.
"I am the victim of a disbarred and federally convicted former attorney giving me false advice and scare tactics, and Mrs. Suskauer was simply out of the loop," D'Amico wrote.
Suskauer told Cohn during a hearing Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale that Garcia was working as a paralegal and adviser at her office.
"He was never held out as an attorney," Suskauer said, according to court transcripts. "He was never held out as a practicing attorney. He was there to review documents with us. He met with Mr. D'Amico both individually and with us. Every time he met with Mr. D'Amico individually, there was a subsequent conference with me."
D'Amico pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He was supposed to have been sentenced Wednesday.
Suskauer wrote in her May 24 motion to withdraw that D'Amico refused to cooperate with her office in preparation for his sentencing and said the attorney-client relationship "is irretrievably broken."
Cohn told Suskauer during the Wednesday hearing that his concern wasn't "necessarily what you did or didn't do."
"My primary concern is the role of Mr. Garcia," Cohn said.
Cohn said he would refer the matter to the Florida Bar.