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Is the Florida Bar branching into Viagra and gambling? Some 30 lawyers throughout the state who received a recent fax featuring what appeared to be the Florida Bar letterhead wondered just that. As first reported by The Florida Bar News, the faxes, which were sent to former Bar presidents as well as an assistant attorney general, invited recipients to buy Viagra, Xanax or Valium without visiting a doctor, and to visit gambling and pornographic Internet sites. They bore the Bar’s letterhead and address at the top. But the faxes were bogus, the letterheads were fraudulently created and the fax numbers were lifted from the Bar’s public Web site, which lists the names and contact information of every lawyer in Florida. The Bar did not send the faxes, Bar general counsel Paul Hill emphatically told the lawyers who called to complain earlier this month. Hill promptly contacted the office of Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist seeking an investigation, stating in a memo that “we’d like our good name protected. And if there’s other relief, the Bar would like to explore it.” Preliminary investigations by the Bar were not fruitful. “We learned how hard it is to capture a phone number when people use phone cards,” Hill said in an interview. “We discovered it was done offshore, probably in the Philippines.” If the Bar had been able to find the culprits, criminal and civil prosecution “would be a slam dunk,” said Barry Richard, a Greenberg Traurig shareholder in Tallahassee who represents the Bar. The charges, he said, would be fraud and infringement of the Bar’s name. The Bar has been unable to determine whether the culprit sent the faxes for mischief or to make money, Hill said. The Bar most likely will discontinue the investigation, since no more faxes were sent. This is the second time in recent months the Bar has come under fire for controversial communications sent to Bar members using information about lawyers made public by the Bar. In January, the Miami Daily Business Review first reported that the Bar sold its mailing list and labels to a neo-Nazi Web site spewing anti-Semitic and racist views. As a quasi-public agency, the Bar was required to sell its mailing list to any group that sought it, Hill said. But, he said, Bar leaders may explore changes to Bar policy to avoid future problems like this. However, if someone wants to take fax numbers off the Bar’s Web site and create a fake letterhead, there’s nothing the group can do. The names and addresses of all 74,000 licensed Florida lawyers are public record and are listed on the Bar’s Web site.

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