On Thursday, July 20, 2023, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that attorney Leo Benitez violated professional conduct rules and must stop practicing law for 12 months.

The case is entitled “The Florida Bar v. Benitez,” with case number SC2022-0649.

The Court found that Benitez violated the following Rules Regulating The Florida Bar:

Rule 4-3.3 (Candor Toward the Tribunal)

Rule 4-3.4(c) (A lawyer must not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal except for an open refusal based on an assertion that no valid obligation exists)

Rule 4-8.4(c) (A lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation)

Rule 4-8.4(d) (A lawyer shall not engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice)

According to the referee’s Amended Report filed on March 29, 2023. the violations stemmed from Benitez’s representation of a client in a lawsuit against the client’s former attorney and the respondent’s submission of a false affidavit from the client’s relative in that lawsuit. The referee found that Benitez knew the affidavit contained false statements but continued to rely on it to defeat summary judgment motions. This amounted to fraud on the court.

The report states:

“For these reasons, I cannot find that the respondent’s misconduct was negligent or unknowing. It cannot’be excused as the result of his “laser focus” on finding issues of fact to defeat summary judgement Rather, I find that, even after weighing his subsequent acceptance of responsibility and remorse, and compelling evidence of good character and reputation, the significant misconduct at issue herein requires the imposition of a significant rehabilitation suspension.”

In its order, the Supreme Court approved the uncontested amended report of the referee, suspending Benitez from the practice of law for one year. The suspension will take effect thirty days from the date of the order to allow Benitez to close out his practice and protect the interests of existing clients. However, if Benitez informs the Court in writing that he is no longer practicing and does not need the thirty days to protect existing clients, the suspension will be made effective immediately.

During the suspension period, Benitez must fully comply with Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 3-5.1(h) and Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 3-6.1, if applicable. Additionally, Benitez is not allowed to accept any new business from the date the order is filed until he is reinstated.

Benitez is also directed to comply with all other terms and conditions outlined in the amended report. Furthermore, the Court orders the respondent to pay The Florida Bar $3,190.00 in costs, and execution can be issued to collect this amount.

Leo Benitez is a lawyer who has been practicing law since 1989. He is the founder of Benitez & Associates, a law firm based in Coral Gables, Florida. He graduated from Georgetown University Law Center and specializes in civil litigation. More details about his profile can be found on the Florida Bar website.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.