A Coral Springs-based attorney accused of misconduct while pursuing thousands of cases against Florida insurance companies should be found guilty and suspended from practice for two years, a referee recommended after an eight-day trial.

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The state Supreme Court has final say for how Scot Strems will ultimately be punished. The Florida Bar, which petitioned for an emergency suspension that began on June 9, argued that Strems should be disbarred.

Property insurers saw the Strems suspension and trial as vindicating their often-voiced stance that misconduct by a dozen or so law firms, which they call “bad actors,” are abusing the court system by bombarding insurers with lawsuits that drive up insurance costs for consumers.

Strems Law Firm P.A., they say, is among a dozen or so firms operating as lawsuit mills that target insurers, often without the knowledge of property owners named as plaintiffs, to generate lucrative legal fees worth many times more than the home repairs in dispute.

Strems’ firm, which employed 20 attorneys in six offices across the state, filed 8,756 suits against property insurers before his emergency suspension. Of them, nearly 5,000 were filed in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

The Oct. 8 recommendation by the referee in the proceedings against Strems, Judge Dawn Denaro of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami, followed a trial that lasted from Sept. 8 to 16.

Denaro found in September that the Bar had proven Strems and his firm violated 11 rules that govern attorneys’ behavior in the state. They include a rule barring attorneys from engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, or from knowingly filing evidence known to be false.

Strems also violated rules requiring attorneys to represent clients with reasonable diligence and promptness, Denaro found.

Between 2016 and 2018, Strems’ firm had about 700 cases “which was impossible to properly manage,” Denaro found. “The result was the mishandling of numerous cases which resulted in a plethora of court sanctions ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 a week, case dismissals, neglected clients and a frustrated judiciary.”

Strems’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Denaro’s recommendation.

Both parties have 60 days to appeal. A Florida Bar spokeswoman declined to comment on the recommendations, saying any appeal would be filed with the Supreme Court.

In an emailed statement, the Consumer Protection Coalition, formed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce to lobby the state Legislature for reforms aimed at reducing litigation abuses, called the recommended two-year suspension “a victory for consumers who have been harmed by his law firm and for taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for his firm’s outrageous litigation-for-profit schemes and systematic disregard for judicial procedures across Florida.”

“This suspension should serve as a strong warning for other trial bar firms across the state whose business model is also to solicit unsuspecting homeowners and file thousands of often questionable lawsuits to drive up their attorney fees,” the statement said.

The organization called on the Legislature to “examine the attorney fee provisions in state law that fuel this type of litigation abuse” and on officials to “examine and improve the system for identifying and addressing attorneys who are abusing consumers and the court system.”

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©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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