Most of the documents in the original proceedings in criminal court before Miami-Dade County Court Judge Luise Krieger Martin have been redacted, but an appellate ruling paints a grim picture about the interaction among a group of South Florida attorneys.
The case involves allegations of stalking against Fort Lauderdale attorney Jose P. Font of Font & Nelson, brought by Miami litigator Brandy E. Raulerson of Barnard Law Offices. It raises questions about unprofessional conduct versus harassment, credible threats, litigation privilege and legal limits for protecting alleged victims.
Raulerson’s allegations are among the latest in a slew of incendiary claims by both sides, including a few from Font, accusing his opponent of insurance fraud and other behavior that could cause her to lose her law license. Raulerson and her firm fired back with claims that Font had systematically abused the female lawyer.
The Third District Court of Appeal on Aug. 1 upheld the trial judge’s decision to throw out an stalking injunction against Font, but in doing so, also laid out several sordid details.
The decision showed Raulerson accusing Font of harassment after she rejected his alleged “crude sexual advances.” But the court rejected the case on procedural grounds, deciding that Raulerson’s claims fell short of harassment. It also found Raulerson’s 11-page petition “sparse” on underlying details, such as “dates, times, locations, specific threats – verbal, nonverbal, or implied.”
According to the opinion, “Font allegedly told Ms. Raulerson that he was having her watched by means of remote drones.”
In addition to the “possible drone,” Raulerson’s allegations include crude comments, wasted time because Font allegedly subpoenaed her to attend hearings she had no involvement with, allegedly filed in every case her law firm handled a false affidavit from a former client accusing her of fraud, and threatening to report Barnard Law Offices attorneys to the Florida Bar.
But “typical hallmarks of stalking and cyberstalking simply are not present,” the Third DCA found.
Examples of stalking in Florida’s Domestic Violence Benchbook include threats of violence, surveillance and harassment by telephone or personal visits. But the court concluded that the claims raised in the attorneys’ dispute could belong under the umbrella of “unprofessional behavior” or conduct subject to ethics charges by the Florida Bar.
The Florida Bar told the Daily Business Review it has no open investigation against Raulerson or Font.
Raulerson originally sought an injunction against Font on Jul. 31, 2017, alleging that he behaved unprofessionally toward her during litigation.
The two insurance attorneys had met in January 2016 for a deposition. Raulerson is an associate representing insured homeowners and other parties in disputes with insurance companies. She was admitted to the bar in 2015 after receiving her Juris Doctor from St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami.
Font, meanwhile, represents insurers, and “has expressed a particular interest in identifying fraudulent insurance claims for prosecution,” according to the appellate ruling. He has practiced law since 2004 and was named “Insurance Attorney of Year” in 2015 by the Florida Insurance Fraud Education Committee, according to public records and his firm’s marketing information.
But at that meeting in 2016, Raulerson claimed Font launched an inappropriate conversation by asking one of her male colleagues if that attorney “was having sexual relations” with her.
Raulerson claimed she was upset by this and confided in the founder of Barnard Law Offices, Andrew C. Barnard, who called Font to express his concern. But Font allegedly told Barnard to “F*** off,” according to the ruling.
Barnard is also Raulerson’s attorney in this case, along with Garrett William Haakon. Neither responded to requests for comment by deadline.
‘Bullying, at the Very Least’
According to Raulerson, Font threatened her, prompting her to seek an injunction that would keep him at least 500 feet from her family, associates and law firm. She also claimed Font “forced” her to appear at insurance case trials she was not involved in, and then threatened to jeopardize her bar license, livelihood and reputation.
Font, meanwhile, published an affidavit signed by former Barnard Law client Barbara Santos, which claims that the firm acted in a “fraudulent, frivolous, deceptive, unfair and unethical fashion” by staging insurance claims and splitting fees with nonlawyers.
The Barnard Law Offices claim the information in the affidavit is false.
As a result of the alleged harassment, Raulerson claimed to have suffered from hives, vomiting, lost sleep, loss of enjoyment of life, disparagement of reputation and “applied for and obtained a concealed weapons license.”
In defending against Raulerson’s claims, Font filed a 422-page motion to dismiss the petition and dissolve the injunction. His pleadings raised “the applicability of the litigation privilege, the paucity of details in the allegations, the petition’s reliance on ‘psychoanalytical analysis’ and ‘theatrical representation of facts,’ and an argument that emailed and electronically-filed pleadings and communications between attorneys in legal matters may not be relied upon as predicates for ‘cyberstalking’ or ‘harassment for purposes of the stalking statutes.”
The appellate court noted the Miami-Dade judge, Martin, dissolved the injunction after “a lengthy, thorough, and patient hearing on the motion to dismiss.” But Martin appeared sympathetic to Raulerson.
“As a young female attorney, you deserve better, because in making this ruling I’m assuming that — and presuming that everything that has been said is true,” the county court judge said during the hearing. “I want you to know that. That’s what the law requires me to do to make this determination. I find that if those things were said to you, then you were the victim of bullying, at the very least.”
After the online publication of this story, Font sent in a statement.
“All reasonable indications are that the motivation and impetus for the petition were driven by a desire to unfairly prejudice my firm’s pursuits on behalf of insurers by destroying our reputation in the community and deflecting from their own misconduct that had been evidenced in overwhelming form,” Font said.
Read Font’s full statement:
The appellate panel agreed with Martin, with a ruling that also referenced an American Bar Association article designed to held law students develop a “thick skin.”
“It also true that an attorney relatively new to the practice of law and high-conflict litigation … should develop a ‘thick skin,’ but such an attorney is also entitled to refer improper conduct by opposing counsel to the bar and, in a particular case, to the presiding judge,” the opinion said.
Judge Vance Salter wrote for the unanimous panel, with Judges Richard Suarez and Ivan Fernandez concurring.
Read the opinion: