Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Troubled Soul, and I ask Again How will you be Known?

In death, I hope we find good things to say about people. I embarked on writing this post with the hope of doing just that. I expected to find so much about community involvement, contribution, and participation. I hoped here to extol virtue and success. I failed. 

I think we all have something to contribute to this world. We decide what, when, and whether, but we all have it. I struggle periodical with particular individuals, but I try to remind myself that we can learn from anyone. Everyone has a value if we look beyond the veneers.  

In that vein, a friend recently reminded me that "you can learn as much from a bad example as a good one." I hope that is not what is left to say about me when my time comes. I am pensive and reflective this morning because last week I learned that an attorney I knew years ago had passed. It was a name I had not thought of for some time. There was no public announcement that brought the news, just a brief email from a judge. It forwarded an email he had received from an attorney and former employee of the deceased. That gentleman had found some nice things to say in announcing the death.

Another attorney was later kind enough to forward me the obituary. It was a disappointment. It provided no real information. Essentially, it told me that Ronnie Bloom was born in 1947 and died last week at the age of 68. 

When I knew Ronnie in the early 1990s he was a prominent attorney. He was somewhat larger-than-life with fancy clothes, fancy cars, and he was smart, self-confident and crafty. He represented injured workers in Jacksonville. I met him while defending cases. He knew every doctor in town, and his gregarious nature endeared him to various people. He was an interesting individual who even then had a reputation as a substance abuser. 

He was a tough negotiator. Regardless of the merits of his case, he could plead it and argue it with a straight face. But, I often felt like Ronnie cared much, much more about what was good for Ronnie than what was good for his clients. He once declined resolution of some issues in a case, explaining to me that he preferred to continue litigating so he could enhance his hourly attorney fee. 

With some research, I learned a bit more about him. Ronald Bloom ran for the Florida House of Representatives in 1978, long before I knew him. That's admirable. According to the Jacksonville Times Union, he was arrested in 2005 and charged with possession of a controlled substance. He was not prosecuted on the drug charges, after agreeing to enter a rehab program. 

I remember when Mr. Bloom was disbarred in 2007. It was not long after the arrest the Times Union noted. The Bar's formal complaint enumerated various complaints. 

For one, Mr. Bloom assigned his rights to various attorney fees to a financial company. In exchange for up-front payment immediately, he agreed the financial company would be entitled to attorney's fees eventually paid either at the close of litigation or settlement of some cases. When those cases were eventually resolved, the financial company did not get the money that was promised. 

Mr. Bloom negotiated loans from injured clients. When their cases settled, he asked for loans, and drafted handwritten repayment agreements. In various such situations, Mr. Bloom did not advise these clients that they could consult with "independent counsel" before entering such an agreement with their attorney, despite the obvious conflict of interest issues. 

Mr. Bloom did not properly maintain his trust account and related records. In one instance, he directed a client to meet him at a check-cashing business to cash a settlement check. He falsely told the client and business that his firm trust account was unavailable due to actions of his staff. When the Bar investigation sought closing statements regarding multiple cases, Mr. Bloom provided only one of those  statements requested. 

Mr. Bloom failed to keep clients informed as to the status of their case. He did not return phone calls. He failed to appear for scheduled meetings with clients and others. 

In one investigative instance, the Bar asked him to respond to certain charges. Despite two extensions of time to file a response, Mr. Bloom failed to do so. 

In another instance, a client asked Mr. Bloom to withdraw from his case. The client wanted this so that he could hire another attorney. Mr. Bloom failed to comply. 

Truth is stranger than fiction. In 2004, Mr. Bloom settled a case with an Orlando attorney. He then drove from Jacksonville to Orlando and presented at defense counsel's office demanding the settlement checks. Angry when he learned that the checks had been sent to his Jacksonville office, he took paintings from the walls in the defense attorney's office. When the attorney contacted him and demanded the return of the paintings, Mr. Bloom denied taking them. When confronted with the existence of video proof of his actions, he sent the artwork back to Orlando with his staff. Getting those settlement checks and stealing the artwork were important enough for his personal attention; returning the artwork was apparently something he could not face though. 

In December 2007, The Florida Supreme Court disbarred Ronnie Leon Bloom. The Court reiterated much of what is set forth above, and then some. The Court noted that Mr. Bloom had a twenty year history of substance abuse, which it characterized as "spiral(ing) out of control in 2004." This, it said, was a "product of his chosen lifestyle." 

The Court noted that the accounting issues had not all been resolved by 2007. Moneys were still owed regarding some of the allegations. The aggravation and mitigation were described in detail. And the conclusion was rendered. He left the practice of law thirty-five years after he began in 1972, after graduating from the University of Florida School of Law. 

This is a hard story to write. What did Mr. Bloom leave behind as his legacy? Well, he was an example of what substance abuse can do. He was perhaps examplary in his focus upon his self-interest; for the most part he took really good care of Ronnie's interest, at least financially. I Googled his name. The first hit is a link to the Supreme Court opinion disbarring him. Then a reference to the Florida Bar attorney directory, then news stories about his disbarment. Then a link to his obituary. Finding more about his life was difficult. 

I could not find any picture of Mr. Bloom. I did not initially find any news articles unrelated to his arrest. After some extended searching, I did find that he was President of Florida Blue Key in 1972, the year he was admitted to the Bar and presumably the year he graduated from law school. There was a time when he was concerned with community.

I know of his reputation for litigating. I ran his name through Westlaw, and the first two results are again the Florida Supreme Court case disbarring him. A couple of other results listed him as counsel in appellate cases, but the case names were not familiar to me; there was no Waffle House, Paradise Ford, Victor Wine, or Carpenter. 

What can we learn from the life and death of Ronald Bloom? Well, at the minimum we can know that there are warning signs of trouble. 

It might be when things get so financially tight at the firm that future fees are being sold/pledged to a financial services company. That might be time for getting help.

I have suggested that we must all assume we are being watched. Taking paintings from the walls of someone else's office (taking anything from someone else's office or home) might be a warning sign. 

Before we even get to the paintings, though, if someone is driving two hours to pick up settlement checks, that may be a warning sign. If there is that much urgency for the funds (unless that urgency is the client's imminent loss of housing, need for care, etc.) that in itself may be a warning sign.

If a lawyer is borrowing money from clients, or even thinking about it, that might be a warning sign. If a lawyer is missing appointments, lying to clients, refusing to follow client instructions, these may be warning signs.

How will you be known? For that matter, how are you known today?

Many years ago, reflecting on a life spent, the Eagles sang: "you can spend all your time making money, You can spend all your love making time, If it all fell to pieces tomorrow, Would you still be mine?"

If it all fell to pieces tomorrow, I hope that someone would remember more of me than "he was born, and he died." I am troubled because I set out to find "the rest of the story," and to describe the contributions, successes, and saving graces of this gentleman. I failed. I found a few redeeming facts like his attendance at a premier law school, his leadership of Blue Key, and his bid for elected office. But a great deal of research yielded minimal results. 

Despite his distractions, I remember Ronnie as a tough litigator. He was smart and at times focused and precise. Every case he had was a winner in his eyes. He pushed hard, persistently, contantly. He was taking "it to the limit" every time. A great many lawyers over the years confided in me that they had doubts about winning a particular issue or case; Ronnie never did. 

But Ronnie had a problem, for which he repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought help. As I reflect, I find it tragic that a life of such promise could end in such a way. I hope Mr. Bloom has found a better place. And I hope that his example can serve others. Maybe he reminds us to ask are there people in our lives that could use a hand, a shoulder, an ear?

In no way am I suggesting that Ronnie had no such help in his life. I know several who tried unsuccessfully to help him with his issues over the years. He had friends and loved ones. Their best efforts likely sustained him and supported him. 

How will you be known? For what will you be remembered? What will you leave behind that makes this world a better place? My condolences to Mr. Bloom's family and friends. I mourn his loss, but I hope we can all learn to be a better self from his example. 

Godspeed Mr. Bloom. 

Updated 02.01.16, an obituary was published January 31, 2016

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