Newly elected judge hit with Bar complaint

Court: Laura Watson misrepresented clients, helped engineer secret $14.5M settlement in civil case

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. - An attorney who was elected as a circuit judge in Broward County faces allegations of misconduct and could be suspended before even presiding over a case.

Laura Watson defeated Julio Gonzalez for 17th Judicial Circuit Judge on November 6th. But voters who supported her may not have known she was in hot water with the Florida Bar Association.

"The findings of misconduct are fairly extraordinary, even for Florida lawyer misconduct," said Tony Alfieri, a law professor who heads the University of Miami's Center for Ethics and Public Service.

The Bar found probable cause that Watson violated several rules in a civil case involving Progressive Insurance. A trial court found that Watson misrepresented clients and helped secretly engineer a $14.5 million settlement where the victims got $420,000 and the lawyers split more than $10 million. It also ruled that Watson and other lawyers owed a fellow attorney, Larry Watson, nearly $1 million in fees that had been shortchanged him in the case. 

"She has violated a number of very important core rules of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct," said Alfieri.

Alfieri said the findings are serious enough to warrant a suspension before she presides over a case.

"It's very possible under the circumstances that the Florida Bar Association will go forward, but at the same time, the commission (Judicial Qualifications Commission) may turn around and suspend her and prevent her from taking the bench," said Alfieri.

It's unclear if the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees all judges in Florida, will investigate.

Watson declined comment on the allegations through her attorney.

Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.