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Florida Bar v. Rodriguez

959 So. 2d 150 (2007)

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Florida Bar v. Rodriguez

Florida Supreme Court

959 So. 2d 150 (2007)

Facts

Attorney Francisco Rodriguez was a partner in a firm that represented 20 clients who sued DuPont Corporation alleging its fungicide Benlate caused crop damage. Rodriguez was scheduled to serve as first chair at the trials and handled significant hearings. Before the trials, DuPont conditioned a $59,000,0000 settlement offer on the firm entering an agreement restricting its right to practice. Called an engagement agreement, the agreement said that the firm had completed settlement negotiations on behalf of its Benlate clients, it would not pursue future claims against DuPont, and DuPont retained the firm to do possible future hourly work. In exchange, DuPont paid the firm $6,445,000. However, the firm’s Benlate clients still had a right to reject DuPont’s settlement offers, creating a direct conflict of interest. Another firm partner traveled around Florida trying to convince the Benlate clients to accept the settlement. Only one of the clients knew about the engagement agreement. The rest thought the firm represented only their interests. When one client refused to settle, Rodriguez filed a motion to withdraw and a charging lien, pushing the client to settle. Rodriguez did not disclose the engagement agreement to the judge and misrepresented why he wanted to withdraw. Rodriguez also withdrew from representing a second client who refused to settle, again without disclosing the engagement agreement. Meanwhile, the firm held part of the settlement funds in escrow for two years to ensure the settlement agreements remained confidential. In 1997, a Benlate client complained to the Florida Bar (the bar), which initiated an investigation. Rodriguez’s counsel said the bar representatives never asked a question that required Rodriguez to disclose the engagement agreement. Five years later, the bar filed a complaint against Rodriguez. The referee recommended the Florida Supreme Court find Rodriguez violated 11 different ethics rules.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)

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