Department in legal dispute with in-house arbitrators

Article Courtesy of The Tallahassee Democrat

By Jeffrey Schweers

Published October 15, 2016


The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has rankled several lawyers by holding a hearing Wednesday on whether to seek and certify outside lawyers to handle condominium association disputes.


The hearing comes two months after a lawsuit filed by several female attorneys who handle condominium cases claimed they are paid 50 percent less than their male counterparts. They called the hearing unlawful retaliation for the lawsuit on the part of the DBPR and its Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.

"Neither the Chief Arbitrator nor any of the arbitrators were given notice of the public meeting," Leah Simms, one of the plaintiffs, wrote. "Interestingly, the meeting is not scheduled to be held at DBPR as most public hearings in Tallahassee are held. The meeting is scheduled for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Bryant Building at 620 S. Meridian St.

It is also scheduled on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday. The hearing begins at 1 p.m.

Eric Glazer, a condominium attorney from Fort Lauderdale, asked that the hearing be rescheduled. He noted his objection “to having this very important public hearing on the most holy holiday of the year for people of the Jewish faith.”

In a letter to Kevin Stanfield, director of the DBPR’s Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes, Glazer said the Florida Statute regulating mandatory nonbinding arbitration requires full-time, salaried attorneys.

That statute says the division “shall employ full-time attorneys to act as arbitrators to conduct the arbitration hearings provided by this chapter. The division may also certify attorneys who are not employed by the division to act as arbitrators to conduct the arbitration hearings provided by this section.”

Glazer interpreted that to mean the division is required to employ staff attorneys. “Unless the statute is amended, the Division must have arbitrators on its payroll,” he said.

Eric Glazer, a condominium attorney from Fort Lauderdale, asked that the hearing be rescheduled.


Changing the system could lead to forum shopping, feeding cases and paying fees to the same private arbitrator over and over, tainting the arbitration process and creating the appearance of impropriety, Glazer added.

“An arbitrator may fear ruling against the hand that feeds him or her,” he said.

As it stands, the arbitration keeps legal costs down, too, he said. State-paid arbitrators make about $26 an hour. “I cannot imagine private attorneys being able to arbitrate cases for anywhere close to that amount,” he said.

Using private attorneys as arbitrators will only drive up the costs, he said.

The Legislature passed a law in 1994 requiring the division to hire full-time attorneys to act as arbitrators as an alternative to lengthy and costly court cases.

The division is self-funded. It receives $4 a year from every condo unit in Florida, as well as fees from timeshares and mobile home homeowners associations.

In August, four women whose job is to arbitrate such cases sued the state, and demanded they be reclassified and given commensurate raises.

"The female arbitrators can only deduct from this secretive behavior, the timing, and the past threats from Mr. Stanfield that this action is retaliation for our assertions that the Division is not complying with the Equal Pay Act of 2009," Simms said.

The DBPR and the Department of Management Services have denied any violation and said the court doesn’t have jurisdiction.

"There are no statutory provisions that require DBPR to match the salaries of other agencies,” said Alison Parker, office of the general counsel for the DBPR.