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Rothstein asks to voluntarily give up law license
Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein has asked to voluntarily surrender his license to practice law, the latest fallout of his alleged $1 billion Ponzi scheme.
The Florida Bar's executive committee approved Rothstein's request for disbarment Tuesday afternoon, a day after he submitted it to the Fort Lauderdale office. Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said the request will be sent Wednesday to the Florida Supreme Court, which disciplines lawyers.
If disbarred, Rothstein would no longer be able to serve on the 4th District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission, Walker said Tuesday night. Rothstein won the coveted gubernatorial appointment in August 2008, three years into the alleged Ponzi scheme.
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist's office said it had no immediate plans to remove Rothstein from the commission, which helps select appellate judges in South Florida. Rothstein has not yet been charged.
Rothstein will continue to serve on the commission "unless he resigns or is charged with a felony,'' Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an email to the Sun Sentinel. "The Governor's Office will wait for the filing of formal charges before removing an elected or appointed official.''
Rothstein reached out to Crist in August 2007, seeking an appointment.
"I am driven to insure (sic) the integrity of our judiciary,'' Rothstein wrote. "I will accept nothing less than professionalism and integrity.''
Rothstein was a major contributor to Florida's Republican Party and donated to Crist's campaign for attorney general and governor. A photo hanging in Rothstein's law office when the investment scandal broke late last month shows Crist hugging the lawyer with a handwritten note from the governor: "Scott – You're amazing!''
Ivey did not respond to questions about whether the governor's relationship with Rothstein or his political support influenced the appointment. Rothstein's term is up in 2012.
Earlier this month, the Florida Bar removed Rothstein from a Broward County grievance committee that hears complaints against attorneys.
The Best Lawyers in America had included Rothstein in its lawyer referral database since 2005 but removed him on Nov. 4, the day of an FBI raid on Rothstein's office, a spokesman said.
Rothstein touted his inclusion in Best Lawyers in his gubernatorial application. He also noted that he had handled more than 150 jury trials, and he had a "unique insight into the judiciary.''
"I am a confidante (sic) of many members of the judiciary and am called on regularly for counsel,'' Rothstein wrote.
Rothstein listed auto magnate Ed Morse Jr. as one of three character references. Morse's family now says that Rothstein swindled them out of millions.
The governor selected Rothstein and two other attorneys for the commission from a pool of 24 applicants.
At the time, Rothstein, his partner and their immediate families had donated over $200,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, and Rothstein had contributed $8,500 to Crist. Four days after the appointment, Rothsteincontributed $140,000 to the GOP.
Federal authorities allege that Rothstein began running a Ponzi scheme from his law firm in 2005, selling investors bogus legal settlements.
The scheme was well under way by last summer, prosecutors say. Rothstein had already bought seven waterfront estates and a New York City condo and amassed a collection of exotic cars.
Dozens of federal agents are now investigating Rothstein, and his firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler has nearly collapsed.
Investors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the firm last week and now want Rothstein to give a deposition about where their money went.
Investors' attorney John Genovese filed a notice Tuesday in the bankruptcy case, saying he had scheduled Rothstein for a deposition at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Genovese's law office. The notice said the deposition would go on "day to day until completed." Genovese could not be reached.
"I wouldn't hold your breath,'' said Rothstein's lawyer, Marc Nurik, adding that he planned to file a response in court.
Also Tuesday, the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler logo and name was removed from the Bank of America building in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Partner Stuart Rosenfeldt stood outside at noontime and said the sign's removal took him by surprise. He said the law firm is still open, but that only a few employees remain.
Rosenfeldt said he was waiting for someone to pick him up to go look for new office space.
Database specialist Dana Williams contributed to this report.
Sally Kestin can be reached at skestin@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4510.