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January 8, 2004

False Fla. Bar Complaint Brings a Criminal Perjury Charge

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 4:37 pm

As Tim Chinaris of sunEthics reports today, “Filing a false Bar complaint against a Florida lawyer may subject the complainant to a criminal prosecution for perjury.”   An appellate court in Florida concluded that the absolute immunity from retaliatory civil suits brought by attorneys who were the subject of bar complaints against complainants [Tobkin v. Jarboe, 710 So.2d 975, 977 (Fla. 1998)] “does not go so far as to shield a complainant from an action by the State for abusing the process by filing a false complaint under penalties of perjury.”  State v. Rutherford, ___ So.2d ___ (Fla. 4th DCA, No. 4D02-3765).   Rutherford was an ex-employee who allegedly knew her complaints were false when she filed them against her former employer. 


This is the only appropriate result — the disciplinary process needs to be protected from intentionally false complaints (to preserve its integrity and resources), as do members of the bar.  Likewise, complainants who act in good faith deserve protection from civil liability (especially when bar counsel fail to adequately review/investigate a complaint).

Update (01-11-04)  In a Law.Com Daily Legal NewsWire article covering this case (Miami Daily Business Review, by Laurie Cunningham, 01-12-2004) the reporter notes that:

Carter called the Rutherford matter “one of the most embarrassing and humiliating experiences” of his life. He said he was satisfied with the 4th DCA’s decision. “Lawyers have rights, too,” he said. “The state now has the ability to protect the rights of lawyers.”

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