A former attorney with one of Florida’s top insurance defense firms has been disbarred after the Bar said she engaged in repeated acts of neglect, deception and forgery.
Erika Lynn Muller, until recently a partner with the Cole, Scott & Kissane firm, based in Fort Lauderdale, can no longer practice in the state, the Florida Supreme Court said in an order last week. The court agreed with the Bar’s complaint and a referee’s recommendation that she be disbarred, following months of disciplinary proceedings.
The Bar’s complaint lists several issues, including lack of truthfulness, misconduct and lack of communication, and details one case in particular that unfolded in 2020 and 2021. In a slip-and-fall claim against Rooms To Go furniture company in Miami, Muller offered to settle the claim for $325,000, even though she was not authorized to do so, the Bar said.
She then sent the plaintiff’s attorney a photocopy of a check that she had allegedly fabricated. The plaintiff’s lawyer filed motions to enforce the settlement, which resulted in a court judgment in March 2021 of $425,000, the complaint explains.
Despite garnishment actions against the law firm, the money never materialized. Muller then agreed to send $550,000 to stop the garnishments. She allegedly sent a photocopy of another fabricated cashier’s check, then said she would hand-deliver the check.
But on the day of the planned transfer, she falsely said she was in an automobile accident, the bar said.
Meanwhile, Muller told the furniture company and an adjuster for the insurance company that the case was still in mediation, the Bar said.
On April 7, 2021, Muller informed Cole, Scott & Kissane attorneys that she was resigning.
In an affidavit, “respondent acknowledged that she made misrepresentations to multiple parties and presented altered documents to plaintiff’s counsel,” the Bar’s complaint reads. “In her affidavit, respondent further stated that she was suffering from a mental health crisis during the time of the misconduct.”
Muller later failed to respond to any of the Bar’s inquiries into the matter. The Rooms To Go litigation, brought by an independent contractor who was injured at an RTG parking lot, was dismissed in June 2021.
A referee judge who reviewed the case against Muller agreed with the disbarment action.
“It is imperative that a clear and unmistakable message be sent that callous disregard for clients, the Florida Bar, and the attorney disciplinary process are serious infractions which may not be committed with impunity,” Judge James Martz II wrote in April of this year.
The state Supreme Court, which in recent years has often disagreed with referees’ recommendations, accepted it in this case and said the disbarment will be effective Sept. 25. Muller must also pay $1,315 to cover the Bar’s costs in investigating the case.
The case made headlines in Florida in 2021 and raised eyebrows around the legal community. Court records show that Muller was listed as an attorney on four cases before Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals, including an insurance claim appeal that is still pending.
Muller is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and was a member of the Florida bar since 2008. The Cole, Scott & Kissane website notes that she focused on bad-faith litigation, personal injury defense, premises liability and insurance defense litigation. She and the law firm’s leadership could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
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