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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Attorney Candidate Joel Foreman
Ethics Questions Surface

Posted August 17, 2014  02:15 am | (1 comment)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County Florida is the only Florida County where the County Attorney, the attorney that represents the County Commission in civil matters, is elected by the people. Joel Foreman is running for the position. The Codes of Judicial Conduct and Professional Responsibility require the recusal of a Judge who is being represented by an attorney, who is appearing in front of him, and the attorney to advise the opposing party that he is the judge's attorney.

Non disclosure at every opportunity

From at least November of 2010, through March of 2012 when Third Circuit (Lake City) Court Judge, Paul Bryan, filed for bankruptcy, Joel Foreman was representing Judge Bryan as his estate planning attorney.

On April 7, 2011, recently elected Commissioner Rusty DePratter recommended that Attorney Joel Foreman be engaged to be County Attorney Marlin Feagle's conflict counsel (Mr. Foreman would automatically be assigned a case in which Mr. Feagle declared a conflict) and the attorney for the Economic Development Board. Instead of following the Board practice of adding items to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, Commissioner DePratter waited until the very end of the meeting, when most of the attendees had gone home to bring up this matter. 

Com DePratter fast tracked the matter by making a motion for a contract to be brought back at the next meeting, April 21. The motion passed unanimously.

At no time during either meeting did Commissioner Rusty DePratter or Board Chairman Jody DuPree volunteer that Joel Foreman was each one's personal-business attorney, nor did they fill out a conflict of interest form.

Attorney Foreman also did not volunteer the information.

Conflict in the Court

On May 7, 2011, the matter of Styons v. Styons was heard in the Chambers of Judge Paul Bryan. This was a domestic violence dispute. Joel Foreman represented the plaintiff, Brenda Styons. The defendant was her soon to be ex-husband, Jason Styons.

A review of the video revealed that at no time during the proceeding did Judge Bryan either reveal the relationship he had with attorney Foreman, nor did he recuse himself.

Attorney Foreman did not reveal in any way that he represented Judge Bryan.

This past Friday afternoon, August 15, 2014, Brenda Styons met with your reporter. She was asked about the case.

The Observer:  Could you tell me a little about the case?

Ms. Styons:  It was a domestic violence case that was against my ex-husband, Jason Styons. Joel came in and represented me. It was in front of Judge Paul Bryan.

The Observer:  Did Joel Foreman give you any reason that you should hire him?

Ms. Styons explained that she had known Mr. Foreman before through her work in the title business and that Mr. Foreman was engaged toward the end of the case.

She said she told Mr. Foreman that the Judge was Paul Bryan. Then she added, "He'd pretty much informed me that this was a shoo-in, because he had a close–knit relationship with Judge Bryan and we went from there."

The Observer asked, "Do you recall his words, at all? What he said exactly?"

Ms. Styons, "If I’m remembering correctly – it was that he was tight with Judge Bryan – they do lunch together quite often."

Attorney Foreman was obligated by the Rules of Professional Conduct to advise Mr. Styons of his relationship with Judge Bryan.

The Observer, "Do you know if Joel Foreman ever advised your husband that he had a relationship with Judge Bryan?"

Ms. Styons answered, "I know for a fact that he did not."

The Observer, "And how do you know that?"

Ms. Styons, "Because he never spoke with Jason, or at least he told me that he had not spoke with Jason during the Court case."

The Observer, "Did you think that the special relationship that Mr. Foreman had would benefit you in any way?"

Ms. Styons, "Of course."

The Husband Weighs In

Early on the evening of August 15th, your reporter spoke with Jason Styons.

Mr. Styons mentioned the conversation he had earlier with his ex-wife. He said he told her, "That guy only told me he was representing you. He never once said nothin’ about representing Bryan at the same time."

The Observer asked, "Do you think he should have told you?

Mr. Styons answered, "Well yeah. If the judge knew then he should have said somethin'. I didn't get to see my kids for two years after that."

The Observer followed up, "So you think both of them should have told you?"

Mr. Styons said, "Hell yeah I do."

The Observer, "That's for both of them?"

Mr. Styons responded, "Yeah. The only person he [Foreman] told me he was representin' was my ex-wife, Brenda.

Epilogue: Joel Forman responds

Mr. Foreman:  It was my practice to disclose my relationship with Judge Bryan as soon as possible to the opposing party or to counsel, but that sometimes occurred in conversations between myself and the attorney for the other side.

Mr. Foreman:  I have never denied that Judge Bryan was my client. In fact, the opposite is true in that I made no secret of my representation of him.

Mr. Foreman:  It is true I represented many different people on a wide variety of matters before I was asked to serve as conflict counsel for the County... It was not surprising to me that the Commissioners who had experience working with me wanted to bring me on as conflict counsel for the County. I also had a good working relationship with Marlin Feagle, so I was not surprised he was comfortable with me serving in the role.

 

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On August 21, 2014, HOH wrote:

Good morning, It is my understanding the the author of the article, Stew Lilker, is currently being represented by Kris Robinson in a local, Columbia County case of Lilker vs Lake Shore Hospital Authority (Columbia County case # 2013-401-CA). Kris Robinson is Bruce Robinson's son and is Partner at Bruce Robinson's firm. HOH

(This is a civil action regarding access to public records. Pub/editor - Lilker)

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

 
 

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