Boca Raton law firm Rutherford Mulhall has hired a receiver, Hollywood-based Michael Moecker & Associates, to wind down its operations and pay off creditors.
According to several former lawyers at the firm, including Julia Luyster, the firm voluntarily contracted with the receiver and liquidating trustee, which has offices in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. The action was not ordered by any court and Rutherford Mulhall has not filed for bankruptcy.
Michael Moecker & Associates did not return calls for comment. After 22 years in business, Rutherford Mulhall laid off most of its attorneys and staff late last month in preparation for dissolution. At the time, The Florida Bar said it was monitoring the situation to ensure clients were notified and trust accounts transferred.
On Thursday, The Bar said it has opened preliminary investigations into firm managing partner Charlie Rutherford and vice president John Mulhall. The investigations, which concern possible trust account violations, are at the staff level and no probable cause has been found, said Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker.
Rutherford Mulhall had been narrowing its geographic reach for several years, closing offices in Fort Lauderdale, Plantation, West Palm Beach and, in September, in Palm Beach Gardens.
Meanwhile, named partners Charles Rutherford and John Mulhall have split, each opening their own offices. Rutherford opened The Rutherford Law Firm with offices in upscale Mizner Park in Boca Raton. Mulhall opened the Law Offices of John T. Mulhall in Boca Raton.
Neither Rutherford nor Mulhall responded to telephone calls or emails seeking comment.
Other lawyers laid off by the firm are reportedly looking for jobs.
Luyster, who ran a Chinese drywall practice for the firm, said she found a job but declined to say where. She said she had no ill feelings toward her former bosses and was shocked when the firm imploded.
“I wish everyone well,” she said. “They were wonderful to me. It was completely unexpected. I think it’s our economy.”
Bill Brennan, a national law firm consultant with Altman Weil, said it is unusual for a law firm to hire a receiver during its wind-down. Such a measure would be intended to allow a firm to avoid filing for bankruptcy, a far more expensive and lengthy process, he said.
“Some firms have done this in the past that were imploding,” Brennan said. “They would set up a committee to wind down the firm and pay off all the obligations and collect as much as possible to ensure creditors were fully paid. It sounds like it is a step to preempt the need to go into bankruptcy.”
Rutherford Mulhall formed as Rutherford Mulhall & Wargo in 1990 when Rutherford, a Boca Raton lawyer since 1973, and John Mulhall joined forces. Rutherford became managing partner and Mulhall, vice president and head of litigation. Firm lawyers practiced in the areas of tax law, banking, foreclosure, family law, real estate planning and bankruptcy.
According to several former partners, the firm grew rapidly in the early 2000s in an unplanned way, opening small offices in expensive buildings in close proximity to each other.