Supreme Court of Florida

Referee Level

At the referee stage of a Florida Bar case, the lawyer is on trial. No lawyer should be representing himself at this stage, if that can be avoided at all. The action is an original proceeding in the Florida Supreme Court, and is presided over by a referee; that is, a circuit, county, or senior judge. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure apply in Florida attorney discipline cases, except where they are superseded by Rule 3-7.6, Procedures Before a Referee. Thus, Florida's civil discovery rules and methods apply, as do most familiar motion practices. Only the referee can issue subpoenas for witnesses and documents. It takes zealous advocacy to defend a Florida Bar disciplinary proceeding at the referee level, because the rules and case law favor the Florida Bar. The Rules of Evidence are relaxed, and hearsay is admissible if reasonably reliable. The referee is charged with trying the case and issuing a report within an expedited time frame. Some cases can be compromised pre-trial. Sometimes the attorney is found not guilty after trial. [ext. link] The referee makes factual findings and recommendations as to guilt and proper sanction, if any. A recommendation of guilt can carry liability for costs, but never attorney’s fees. Once the Report of Referee is issued, either party can appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, which has the final say over any discipline to be imposed.