Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay
By Susan Taylor Martin
October 25, 2018
TAMPA ó A bankruptcy judge has ordered a temporary
halt to all state and appellate court proceedings in which suspended
foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa and his former law firm are
counsel of record.
order, effective until Nov. 6, could give dozens of
Florida homeowners a temporary respite from the threat
of foreclosure. But many have been surprised and
dismayed to find that the trustee overseeing the law
firmís bankruptcy case has been cashing post-dated
checks they wrote to the firm.
"Itís a hot mess," Tonya McKendree, a former client of
Stopa, said Wednesday. She said trustee Stephen
Meininger cashed four checks totaling $1,250, causing
her account to be overdrawn by about $400 and costing
her more than $100 in overdraft fees.
Tampa lawyer Richard Mockler took over Stopaís law firm
and 4,000 active cases in July, shortly before Stopa was
suspended for professional misconduct. The firm was
unable to continue operations after its accounts were
frozen and its computers seized in the wake of an Aug.
21 raid by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The firm, Stay in My Home, P.A., filed a petition for a
Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation Oct. 2.
In his motion for the emergency order, Meininger said it
has been "challenging" to identify the cases in which
Stopa and the firm were still listed as counsel because
paper records were incomplete and the firmís electronic
case management system had been suspended for
A bankruptcy judge has ordered a temporary halt
to all state and appellate court proceedings in which suspended
foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa and his former law firm
are counsel of record. Here, Stopa is shown during a court
hearing in March.
"The Trustee and his counsel are diligently working to get their armís
around the Debtorís case load so they can administer related assets and
otherwise carry out the Trusteeís duties to the estate," the motion
said. "But additional time is needed."
Among the potential assets are attorney fees awarded but not yet paid to
Stopa in cases in which he prevailed. Meiningerís motion said third
parties also have expressed interest in buying the firmís large case
load, which could generate "significant value" for the bankruptcy
estate. But that value would "quickly dissipate" if cases moved forward
and clients hired other attorneys, the motion said.
Judge Roberta Colton granted the motion, although it does not apply to
any foreclosure sales scheduled between Oct. 11 and Nov. 6. Nor does it
cover motions to withdraw as counsel during that period.
As trustee, Meiningerís duties include collecting as many of a debtorís
assets as possible in order to pay creditors. Stopaís firm typically
charged a $2,500 annual retainer but allowed clients to pay in
installments with post-dated checks. Those, too, could be considered
assets of the estate.