Chuck Webb will be suspended from practicing law for 60 days if Florida Supreme Court justices agree with his plea and a referee’s recommendation.
Webb, a licensed attorney for 31 years and former Anna Maria city commissioner, having served several terms before losing a bid for re-election in 2016, signed a “conditional guilty plea for consent judgment” Oct. 10. The referee, 20th Circuit Judge Alane Cheryl Laboda of Lee County, accepted his plea the same day.
Webb said his law partner Dennis Wells will take over the practice for the two months of his absence and he blamed judges and the judicial system for his plight.
“I had to settle. I didn’t have any choice. It was trial by ambush,” Webb told The Islander Nov. 16.
Facts underlying Webb’s disciplinary case pertain to his representation of David and Jane Guy.
Webb’s plea and Laboda’s report were filed Nov. 6 in the disciplinary case, now pending in the state’s highest court.
David Guy is deceased, according to his daughter, Nina Guy, who wrote to The Islander in May, saying her parents lost three properties and their life savings due to Webb’s “unethical actions.”
Laboda recommended Webb be found guilty of violating ethics that govern attorneys, including rules prohibiting conflicts of interests, certain transactions and pursuing non-meritorius claims in the Guys’ representation.
Although Webb said research led him to believe he had “good faith legal basis” to pursue the security interests, he admitted to breaking the rules in the conditional plea.
If the justices agree with the recommended discipline, Webb’s license to practice will be suspended — with an automatic reinstatement after two months — and he will be ordered to stop foreclosing liens against clients’ homes, as well as a one-year probation, which requires:
• Attending a Florida Bar Ethics School.
• Implementing recommendations from a Florida Bar-appointed consultant’s analysis of Webb’s office procedures and record -keeping.
• Paying the cost of the consultant as well as about $4,000 in costs to the Florida Bar.
According to facts outlined in Webb’s plea and the referee’s report:
• Webb represented the Guys for several years. He prepared an attorney/client agreement that purported to give him the right to lien the Guys’ property, including their homestead property, but Jane Guy did not execute the agreement.
• Webb later drew up a security agreement and recorded it.
• Webb did not advise the Guys to seek independent advice regarding the agreements.
• The Guys fell behind on Webb’s fees as he represented David Guy in a mortgage foreclosure on a property in Palmetto.
• With Webb’s help, David Guy foreclosed the Palmetto property, but a bank holding a superior position also sought to foreclose. Webb then withdrew as Guy’s counsel and intervened to foreclose his security interest to obtain fees under the security and attorney/client agreements.
• Webb obtained a deficiency judgment against David Guy but failed to give him credit for the value of the property. Webb sold the Palmetto property.
• Webb continued pursuing his fees with foreclosures against the Guys’ two other properties, including the Guys’ homestead, without disclosing his prior foreclosure to the courts.
The Florida Bar filed the complaint against Webb in March after 12th Circuit Senior Judge Thomas Gallen brought the matter to the bar’s attention and its grievance committee found probable cause.
According to Gallen, Webb was motivated to delay foreclosure by the rental income he was receiving from the properties, including 522 68th St. and 3200 Sixth Ave. in Holmes Beach.
Webb said the disciplinary case began after Gallen told an opposing attorney “how to win” and Webb reported the judge for breaking an ethical standard.
“A month later I got the bar complaint,” Webb said.
Webb said he was forced to settle because the bar was “looking for nine-months suspension” at that point.
“I have a family. I can survive two months. I can’t survive nine,” he added.
Webb’s plea is conditioned on the high court’s approval. It will have no effect if not “finally approved,” according to the plea document.
The Florida Supreme Court, which regulates the admission and discipline of attorneys, typically accepts the referee recommendations and finalizes consent judgments.
Nina Guy wrote to The Islander in a May 18 email:
“My parents lost three properties, their life savings and everything they had ever worked for because of his unethical actions.
“My father was sick with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his brain when Webb had him sign property over as collateral.
“Webb knew he was ill, and my father subsequently passed away after Webb took the opportunity to prey on my family to benefit himself greatly through our real estate investments.”
Although Webb’s conditional plea references restitution payment, according to Francine Walker, director of public information, there is none being considered “at this time” because it was not recommended by the referee.
Walker said no other complaints are pending against Webb.
Tangled web in Holmes Beach
Attorney Charles Webb maintains a law office in Holmes Beach in the same building as the medical practice of Scott Kosfeld.
Kosfeld, a physician with Island Family Physicians LLC, Holmes Beach, went to Webb in 2010 for legal help with an Anna Maria property he owned.
In April, Webb filed suit in 12th Circuit Court against Kosfeld and wife Erin seeking payment of his fees.
Webb alleges the couple is delinquent on more than $48,000 since October 2013 — and asks the court to enforce his attorney-client and security agreements.
The Kosfelds contend the agreements are unenforceable.
Scott Kosfeld also complained about Webb’s practices to the Florida Bar in July.
“We later found out he typed information on the back, which we did not see, initial or sign. We have since learned it stated I would forfeit my homestead, real and personal property,” Scott Kosfeld told the Florida Bar.
Charles Hughes, counsel for the Florida Bar, declined Oct. 25 to pursue Kosfeld’s ethics complaint.
The bar has no jurisdiction in a fee dispute “unless the amount demanded is clearly excessive, extortionate or fraudulent,” Hughes wrote to Kosfeld.
Meanwhile, Webb filed a second amended complaint in the case seeking fees against the Kosfelds.
The civil case, including actions for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraud and foreclosure, is pending before 12th Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith Jr.