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Two for one.

Recently, there was a story in the Central Florida news involving a man posing as a contractor who could be hired out of a local Home Depot. He took $16,000 from a 92-year-old widow to renovate her storm damaged home, and then simply disappeared.

Her home remained decimated in deplorable condition and she was left penniless. He had apparently done this several times before, doing "business" under different corporate names.

In my 28 years of practice, I've seen this kind of thing too many times. There exists a shadowy, predatory element of unscrupulous individuals operating on the fringes of society. No one seems to talk about it very much, but it's a serious problem. The state attorneys will not prosecute them due to a lack of resources. Almost invariably, the victim will be advised that it's a "civil matter." But the perpetrators don't respect the civil process as it's not adequate to sanction their misdeeds. A paper judgment against an individual like our "contractor" isn't worth the paper it's written on. He's already adept at playing the system and exploiting it to his advantage, ergo the multiple incorporations.

An idea occurred to some of us that could possibly be adapted to address this kind of situation. Based on the evidence in a case like this, any sitting judge presumably has the ability to find probable cause that a crime has been committed. This would include a sitting judge in a civil case based on evidence at a preliminary hearing. The prosecuting civil attorney could then be commissioned through the local state attorney's office to prosecute the case both civilly and criminally. No additional compensation or judicial resources need be expended.

If there's some compelling constitutional reason why this cannot be done in cases like the one described, we're not aware of it. We're not even sure that it would require a change in any laws currently on the books. Perhaps a simple understanding between the bench and Bar, including its prosecutorial arm, would be enough. Food for thought.

Austin N. Aaronson


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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Aaronson, Austin N.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:May 15, 2016
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