Sedgwick isn’t the only law firm to file for bankruptcy this week.
Stay In My Home, P.A., the St. Petersburg, Florida-based firm of prominent foreclosure lawyer Mark Stopa, took the plunge by beginning Chapter 7 proceedings in Tampa on Oct. 2. Stopa was suspended indefinitely from practicing law this summer by the Florida Supreme Court, which found that he had violated professional conduct rules.
In late August, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement raided the offices of Stopa’s firm. State agents said Stopa was the subject of a criminal investigation into “equity skimming,” or essentially improperly acquiring client assets. The Tampa Bay Times, citing records subpoenaed by law enforcement officials, reported last week that Stopa had earned $4.8 million between Jan. 1, 2011 and April 1, 2018, via payments from individuals at properties controlled by his companies.
Foreclosure work in the Sunshine State can be a lucrative practice, as evidenced by the 2011 closure of so-called foreclosure king David Stern’s multimillion-dollar firm. Stopa was a frequent face in Florida courts in recent years, as Sunshine State residents turned to his firm in an effort to save their homes in the aftermath of the Great Recession. But now authorities claim that trust was misplaced.
A voicemail recording at Stopa’s law office said Thursday that Stay In My Home was no longer in business. Phone calls or emails to Stopa either bounced back or went unreturned. Todd Foster of Tampa’s Todd Foster Law Group, who has been representing Stopa, did not return a request for comment about his client. Nor did Richard Mockler, a divorce and family lawyer in Tampa who this summer sought to take over Stopa’s practice after he was suspended from practicing law.
In a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times, which last month noted the dire financial straits facing Stopa’s firm, Mockler said the decision to try and salvage Stopa’s practice had “ruined my life.” Mockler told the newspaper that after he saw the underlying financials for Stay In My Home, he realized the firm could not be saved. On Tuesday, the firm began liquidation proceeds in bankruptcy court.
Scott Stichter, a Tampa-based partner at insolvency specialist Stichter, Riedel, Blain & Postler, is leading a team from the firm advising Stay In My Home in bankruptcy court. Stichter himself did not return a request for comment by the time of this story. His firm has not yet filed billing statements with the bankruptcy court, which on Thursday approved the selection of Tampa lawyer Stephen Meininger as Chapter 7 trustee for Stay In My Home.
Lisa Castellano, Michael Friedman and Eric Jacobs from Miami’s Genovese Joblove & Battista have been retained as outside counsel to Meininger in his role as trustee. A declaration from Castellano filed with the bankruptcy court states that she will bill $415 per hour for her services, with other lawyers from Genovese Joblove billing between $260 and $650 per hour. The Chapter 7 petition filed by Stay In My Home does not include a list of the defunct firm’s largest unsecured creditors.
As for Stopa, he has other pursuits besides his now shuttered law practice to fall back on. Stopa writes columns about fantasy football for the website Rotowire, and his musings about that popular hobby can be found on his Twitter feed.