The Florida Supreme Court has made an example of Hillsborough attorney Kelsay Dayon Patterson, disregarding a court-appointed referee’s ”far too lenient” recommendations in favor of more severe punishment over Patterson’s ”incendiary and disparaging comments” against judges.
The referee, Pinellas Circuit Judge Pamela A.M. Campbell, found Patterson guilty of professional misconduct — one of four charges brought against him by the Florida Bar — and recommended admonishment and a $2,827.09 fine.
The other three bar violations included conflict of interest, impugning the integrity of judges and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of law.
But the Supreme Court justices found him guilty of all charges, adding that Patterson’s “lack of civility” is a problem the court “is striving to curb in the legal profession.” They then suspended him for one year.
“This court is greatly troubled by the general lack of respect and professionalism Patterson displayed toward judges and other professionals,” the court opinion said.
In August 2016, the Florida Bar accused Patterson of acting unprofessionally and pursuing his own interests while representing Johanna Faddis in two civil lawsuits against the City of Homestead, council members and an investigative firm on its payroll.
In November 2012, the circuit court found that Faddis’ testimony about the same issue was inconsistent across two different lawsuits, and that Patterson “should have been aware” of that before filing the complaint. Faddis and Patterson were both struck with a final judgment, doling out sanctions and awarding more than $160,000 in attorney’s fees to the defendants.
According to the court opinion, this award gave Patterson “a significant financial interest” in the outcome of later appeals, at which point he should have obtained Faddis’ informed consent to stay on as her lawyer, but did not.
Read the full court opinion:
The way referee Campbell saw it, a suspension would only exacerbate Patterson’s existing financial problems, so she considered a mitigating factor in her decision. She also factored in Patterson’s clean disciplinary record and “respectful, humble and professional” attitude toward the proceedings.
In another civil rights claim against the City of Homestead the following year, Patterson sent a letter to federal judge presiding over the case, Jose E. Martinez in the Southern District of Florida, along with various Miami-Dade Circuit and Third DCA judges.
It didn’t go well.
In the letter, sent Sept. 20, 2013, Patterson allegedly described what happened in Faddis’ circuit court case and outlined his belief that the presiding judge was biased in favor of the opposing counsel.
“We cannot all be judges, politicians, wealthy businessmen or local big named firms with tremendous influence who can supersede all laws on the books,” the letter said.
Patterson labeled this “class of influential citizens” as “elders” and cautioned Martinez against deciding to “elevate” people to a status of “being above the laws they are complicit in, further corroding any remaining sense of justice and fair play left within these elders.”
In a later appeal, Patterson wrote in a reply brief, “Law is whatever the judge or judges that day say it is.”
Patterson’s letter also mentioned that Third DCA Judge Kevin Emas, who handled Faddis’ appeal, was “curiously” pictured with certain “elders” at his investiture ceremony.
Patterson and his attorney, Russell S. Prince of Palma & Prince in Tampa, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But in his answer to the bar’s complaint, Patterson said he’d written “a heartfelt letter to the judge, pointing out all the peculiar and inexplicable rulings that appear to be hurting an otherwise meritorious case.”
Patterson also claimed he’d written the letter based on advice from Judge James Lawrence King Jr. years earlier.
Referee Campbell found that Patterson’s decision to send the letter was “flawed,” but that he believed sending it was the right thing to do.
The Florida Supreme Court instructed Patterson to accept no new business and to close out his practice by Nov. 18.