Two well-known Tampa attorneys drew suspensions from the Florida Supreme Court Thursday for pilfering clients from a law firm they worked for before they set out on their own.
William Winters and Marc Yonker were found guilty of professional misconduct by the state high court. Winters drew a 91-day suspension, while his law partner was handed a 60-day suspension.
The attorneys, partners in the firm of Winters and Yonker, which advertises heavily in billboards and on television in the Tampa area, were the subject of a Florida Bar inquiry stemming from separate complaints filed in July 2010.
The complaints focused on the time the two were employed by the law firm of Richard Mulholland, dating back to 2001, when Winters and Yonker "made secret plans to leave the Mulholland Firm and begin practicing together,'' according to the complaint.
Winters was hired by Mulholland in 1985; Yonker was hired in 1995.
The two were accused of soliciting Mullholland clients to quit the firm and be represented by them in their new law practice, according to the 11-page Florida Supreme Court ruling made public Thursday.
Specifically, Winters and Yonker were accused of making misrepresentations to the Mulholland firm and to its clients, making copies of and taking possession of client files without authorization and "improperly using a third attorney's name who never actually joined the new firm," though the third attorney did discuss coming to work for them.
The case was taken up by the Bar after Mulholland sued the pair and won a jury verdict of $3 million. The verdict was reduced in 2008 to $1.7 million.
The suspensions begin in 30 days to allow the attorneys to "protect the interests of existing clients," the ruling said.
Neither Winters, Yonkers nor their attorneys could immediately be reached for comment.