Senate moves bill to upgrade UPL to a felony
Senate moves bill to upgrade UPL to a felony April 15, 2004 Senior Editor Regular News Senate moves bill to upgrade UPL to a felony Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Legislation increasing the penalties for the unauthorized practice of law has passed the Florida Senate, while a key House committee has approved a similar bill.The March 31 passage at the House Judiciary Committee, though, came only after an attempt was made to add restrictions on lawyer advertising to the bill. Those restrictions were rejected after committee members said that would violate constitutional single subject requirements.The committee had considered the bill, PCB JU 04-11, a couple weeks previously, but members had questions about the language.The bill increases the penalty in F.S. §454.23 for an unlicensed person performing legal services from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony. It also increases the penalty from a first degree misdemeanor to a felony for a disbarred or suspended attorney to practice law, and from a second degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony of a lawyer or any other person to assist a disbarred or suspended attorney in the practice of law.“This statute was a very vaguely written statute; now it has been sharpened up,” said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who presented the amendment to the original bill. “If you are not authorized to practice law, you will come under the unauthorized statute.”Rep. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, appeared before the committee and asked them to amend Gelber’s amendment to include language prohibiting lawyers from running advertisements that urge potential clients to file lawsuits.The language was identical to HB 1357 that Simmons sponsored and which had already passed both the committee and the full House, and had been sent to the Senate. (See story in the April 1 Bar News. ) He said it was necessary to attach it to the UPL legislation because the Senate was unlikely to take up the advertising bill on its own.He said the House could then amend its version onto the already passed Senate bill and send it back to the upper chamber, which could then address the advertising issue. “If the Senate does not like it [the advertising provisions], they can strip it off and send it back,” Simmons said, adding this was an expedient way to have both ideas considered.He rejected arguments that adding advertising would violate the single-subject requirement since both UPL and advertising deal with the practice of law and elevating the practice of law.Most committee members, however, disagreed. Gelber argued adding the advertising language would jeopardize the UPL bill that has broad support in both House and Senate, with the result that neither issue might pass.“You already have a [advertising] bill that has the support of everybody and it’s a clean bill,” said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Pompano Beach. “If they [the Senate] want to do advertising, they can pick up the bill that’s already over there.. . . It doesn’t make any sense to confuse these two bills.”The committee rejected Simmons’ amendment on a voice vote, and then unanimously approved the UPL bill.Committee Chair Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, noted the Senate had already unanimously passed its version of the UPL legislation in SB 1776, and that it had been sent to the House.The Senate bill, unlike the House one, only increases the penalty to a third degree felony for an unlicensed person performing legal services. The bill does not up the penalty for disbarred or suspended lawyers practicing or for those who knowingly assist them in practicing law.