Sherri Renner: The Case of My Career

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.com

June 18, 2019.

I am overwhelmed and deeply grateful for the support I received after “going public” with my story on Monday. I have been asked to provide some guidance on how others can get involved and help right this wrong. So I am publishing here (1) a statement about the lawsuit with a link to the amended complaint, (2) reasons I have chosen now to break my silence, and (3) some suggested offices to contact, and how to do so.

You also can help me by helping LawYou America with a sponsorship, advertising, or donation. And a donation to Pursuing Justice Foundation (a s. 501(c)(3) nonprofit) will help me help others.

The Lawsuit

I have sued both The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court for violating my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA). The ADA and RA are similar, but the ADA was enacted later and is much broader than the RA. 

Although I have included more acts of discrimination in my claims against the Bar, the issue at the heart of my claims against both is the absence of any published procedure that conditionally-admitted attorneys can invoke to initiate confidential review by a judge, referee (a type of hearing officer), or by the Florida Supreme Court. “Conditional admission” is a type of probation. Frequently, probationary periods last only for defined periods of time, but others last indefinitely. Mine was indefinite. If there was a procedure for seeking review, I would have used it.

I also sued them for retaliating against me. The ADA prohibits discrimination (i.e., retaliation) against those who have opposed acts or practices that violate the ADA. I had spoken up and asserted my rights under the ADA. I threatened to sue the Bar, and argued that continued enforcement by the Florida Supreme Court of the conditions on my admission would violate the ADA. Considering the innocuousness of my so-called offense, and the fact that countless other attorneys commit contempt of court and are not disbarred, the outrageous punishment inflicted upon me constitutes retaliation.

Why Now?

Why, after nearly two years, am I choosing now to break my silence? To best answer the question, I start with the reasons I stayed silent and conclude with the tipping point.

  • The Humiliation. At the beginning I kept silent because I was utterly humiliated. I told who needed to be told, and no one else.
  • The Shock. For the first month or two following the order of disbarment, I appreciated that I was too shocked to reliably weigh possible outcomes. I had no way of knowing whether publicizing my plight would help or hinder the next steps I needed to take to rebuild my life, and the trauma made it too risky to follow my gut feelings. There simply was no template for this. So, maintaining the status quo — silence — was the wiser, safer route.
  • The Multitude of Biases. Silence was wiser and safer also because I was acutely aware of all the unfavorable biases at play. After all, I was a disbarred woman with a mental health history who couldn’t get a lawyer to represent her. To repeat, I was a disbarred (the bar and court wouldn’t do anything that violates the ADA because they’re all about fairness and equality through the rule of law) woman (too emotional to be truly credible), with a mental health history (extreme lack of credibility, perhaps a weak grasp of reality, especially considering her sex) who couldn’t get a lawyer to represent her (even her own kind has rejected her). With all these biases strung together, I knew the optics would not favor me.
  • Being a Good and Responsible Litigant. Courts frown upon litigants trying their cases “in the court of public opinion.” There’s good reason for that: Too much publicity can taint the jury pool, making it difficult to find jurors who haven’t already formed opinions about the matter. I also knew that the judge in my case was not immune from the biases described above, and if I took my story to the media, that might be enough to convince him to develop a reason to dismiss my case.
  • Giving the Bar and Court Space for Correction. I have friends who urged me to broadcast my story, but I held back for the reasons noted above and because I held hope. I hoped that the bar and court would accept that they are not above the law that requires them to refrain from subjecting their attorney members to ADA-prohibited discrimination. I hoped they would take full responsibility for the wreckage they have made of my life. My silence gave them dignified space to reverse their course and even craft a public relations win for themselves. A successful early resolution would have benefited me, as well, because it would have halted my descent into financial ruin.
  • Hope Ends. Of course, they have neither corrected their course nor accepted responsibility to comply with the ADA. In fact, their worsening conduct in the lawsuit (I’ll write more about that later) has liberated me from the hope I held. In its place are left a memory of folly and an iron will.
  • Hypocrisy Grows. The Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar has recently launched a campaign known as #stigmafreeyld. It is an honorable initiative with the laudable goal of helping “end the stigma over mental health and illness in our profession.” Do these young members know that stigma and discrimination are baked into the system that regulates their livelihoods? Do they know that the Bar cabal is not their friend, is not their partner in breaking the stigma? Do they know about me? They should. The hypocrisy of the Bar, especially current Bar President Michelle Suskauer, in praising these efforts publicly while vigorously defending against my lawsuit is nauseating.
  • Hypocrisy Deepens. Speaking of hypocrisy and the current bar president, Suskauer is now under investigation for violating professional conduct rules concerning the employment of disbarred attorneys. The hypocrisy deepens.
  • The Last Straw. More recently, the Florida Bar Board of Governors has been congratulated for its unanimous vote in support of considering a rule amendment “designed to eliminate outdated language in Rule 1-3.2(b) that refers to ‘conditionally admitted members’ with ‘a prior history of drug, alcohol or psychological problems.'” (To clarify, this change would not end conditional admissions for bar applicants with histories of mental health treatment.) Where’s the amendment to create a procedure that conditionally-admitted members can invoke to obtain confidential judicial review of their statuses? I put the bar on notice of the need for such a procedure four or five years ago. Their obstinance supports my allegation that the bar and court covet their “power to seek disbarment of second-class Bar members who are protected by the ADA.” The hypocrisy has become unbearable, so here I am. 

Who and How to Contact

I am posting daily about this on Facebook (personal and LawYou pages), Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you use social media, feel free to share this website in your posts or just the YouTube video. You also can share the posts I’ve already published on these platforms.

I am using the hashtags #breakthestigma, #stigmafreeyld, #mentalhealth, and #ada. On Twitter I am tagging @TheJusticeDept, @ABADisability, @GovRonDeSantis, and @marcorubio.

Please also feel free to tag @TheFlaBar, @FLBarPresident, and @flcourts. Because they are the defendants, I do not feel comfortable tagging them in my posts. Maybe I’ll change my mind about that.

Here are the defendants and their contact info. Call or email them and tell them whatever moves you: how you feel about what they did to me, that you’re paying attention to what they’re doing now, what you want them to do to make things right, etc.

Joshua Doyle, Executive Director
The Florida Bar
651 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300
Main: (850) 561-5600
Mr. Doyle: (850) 561-5757
jdoyle@floridabar.org

John A. Tomasino, Clerk
Supreme Court of Florida
500 South Duval Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1927
(850) 488-0125
tomasino@flcourts.org

If you are a Florida resident, you can contact your state representative. These representatives usually are quite accessible and responsive to their constituents. You can find your representative’s contact information here.

Below is suggested text for letters or emails to Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Ron DeSantis with contact info and links for both. The text is the same for both except for the call-to-action paragraphs near the end. Feel free to use it as is or change it as you like.

Dear Senator Rubio:

I write to bring your attention to the matter of Sherri Renner. For many years Sherri has helped self-represented litigants across the nation, most of whom are domestic violence survivors with no means to pay her. Because of that, people across the nation are watching what is happening to her.

She was a Florida attorney for many years before she was unjustly disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court. Her disbarment was unjust because she had never been charged with violating any professional conduct rule. In all the years she was an attorney, her bar membership status was conditional (probationary) because of a history of mental health treatment. We believe her conditional status violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and she was entitled to have it changed. The problem was that there was no procedure for her to invoke to initiate the required supreme court review. Only the Bar could initiate such a review. We believe the lack of a review procedure also violates the ADA.

Sherri requested the Bar voluntarily initiate judicial review, but the Bar refused. So she forced the issue by intentionally pausing her compliance with the requirements of her conditional status, which obligated the Bar to act. That was the sum total of her “crime.”

Instead of changing her status to unconditional, the Florida Supreme Court found her in contempt of court and summarily disbarred her. Sherri then sued The Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida for violating her rights under the ADA. That case is still pending.

Although as Senator you have no legal authority over how the state supreme court regulates attorneys, you certainly can use your position and platform to admonish the Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court to bring their bar regulatory system into compliance with the federal ADA. You also can call attention to the continuing problem of ADA noncompliance, particularly in matters concerning mental health when those issues are in the distant past.

I ask you to do whatever you can to persuade the Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court to take the necessary steps to correct their mistake and resolve the litigation. For more information you can visit this website: https://slrennerlaw.com.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Senator Marco Rubio
402 South Monroe Street
Suite 2105E
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Dear Governor DeSantis:

I write to bring your attention to the matter of Sherri Renner. For many years Sherri has helped self-represented litigants across the nation, most of whom are domestic violence survivors with no means to pay her. Because of that, people across the nation are watching what is happening to her.

She was a Florida attorney for many years before she was unjustly disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court. Her disbarment was unjust because she had never been charged with violating any professional conduct rule. In all the years she was an attorney, her bar membership status was conditional (probationary) because of a history of mental health treatment. We believe her conditional status violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and she was entitled to have it changed. The problem was that there was no procedure for her to invoke to initiate the required supreme court review. Only the Bar could initiate such a review. We believe the lack of a review procedure also violates the ADA.

Sherri requested the Bar voluntarily initiate judicial review, but the Bar refused. So she forced the issue by intentionally pausing her compliance with the requirements of her conditional status, which obligated the Bar to act. That was the sum total of her “crime.”

Instead of changing her status to unconditional, the Florida Supreme Court found her in contempt of court and summarily disbarred her. Sherri then sued The Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida for violating her rights under the ADA. That case is still pending.

Although as Governor you have no legal authority over how the Supreme Court regulates attorneys, you do have influence with the Attorney General and budgetary authority to discuss the expense to the Florida taxpayers of defending against this just lawsuit. You also can set an example for other states to follow by helping encourage ADA compliance and ending mental health stigma.

I ask you to do whatever you can to persuade the Attorney General to take the necessary steps to resolve the litigation. For more information you can visit this website: https://slrennerlaw.com.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Office of Governor Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

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Sherri Renner: The Case of My Career

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