1000’s of abandoned confidential client files found in public garbage bin . . .
FORT MYERS, FL – A defunct law firm abandoned tens of thousands of confidential files containing personal information on their clients for years until a landlord threw them in a public garbage bin, a local television station is reporting.
Attorneys for the former firm of Annis, Mitchell, Cockey, Edwards and Roehn, abandoned the files after their firm closed. Ten thousand files of closed cases – ranging from divorces to sexual harassment – ended up in the hands of a reporter for WBBH, the television station reported. The files have since been turned over to a local attorney who was formerly employed by Annis Mitchell. The majority of the files remain in the landlord’s possession.
The firm had offices in Tampa, Fort Myers, Naples and Tallahassee before it was dissolved in 2001. A company that was formed as a remnant of the firm has since declared bankruptcy and an order in the bankruptcy case made each Annis Mitchell attorney responsible for their client’s files. “With identity theft the way it is, everything concerns me,” said former client Howard Wheeler, who hired the firm for a number of cases and whose files ended up in the garbage bin.
“It’s totally irresponsible,” said Herb Donica, the firm’s own bankruptcy attorney. “I can’t imagine why those files aren’t protected.”
The TV station reported in broadcasts Friday that the landlord of the former law offices repeatedly contacted the firm’s partners over the past two years asking them to pick up their files. The attorneys only took active files with them, George Vukobratovich told the station. Vukobratovich threw the files out when he finally had to make room for new tenants. The TV station said it was given files marked “confidential” The station said it told former Annis Mitchell attorneys it had the files more than a month ago, but still none of the attorneys tried to get them.
Elizabeth Tarbert, an ethics lawyer for the Florida Bar Association, said attorneys have to protect client files, even if the case is no longer active. The Florida Bar advises attorneys seeking to dispose of closed files to first contact their clients and ask them what they want done with the documents. If the files are to be disposed of, it needs to be done in a way which protects confidential information, such as shredding.
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