Since October, George Sheldon has been running to be the Democratic nominee for Florida Attorney General, the state’s top lawyer.
So it didn’t help his campaign any when he learned Tuesday that, according to The Florida Bar, Sheldon could no longer -- wait for it -- practice law in Florida.
By late Wednesday, Sheldon managed to get his license and membership restored. But what happened?
Turns out he hadn’t been reporting his continuing legal education, a Bar requirement.
“A delinquent member shall not engage in the practice of law in this state and shall not be entitled to any privileges and benefits accorded to members of The Florida Bar in good standing,” The Bar’s executive director, John Harkness, Jr., wrote in a July 7 letter to Sheldon.
“We assume this is an oversight,” Harkness wrote. “However, under the Supreme Court Rules, in order to correct your CLER delinquency, you must complete the required general hours, including five hours of ethics, professionalism, substance abuse or mental illness awareness, or show eligibility to claim an exemption.”
Sheldon’s been running for Attorney General since October, raising nearly $300,000. How could he have overlooked the requirements to be an actual lawyer in Florida?
On Wednesday, Sheldon said that because he had been working out of state in Washington, D.C. the past four years, (he had been the assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) he thought he was exempt from reporting the continuing legal education.
“I need to inform (the Bar) that I was out of state,” Sheldon said. “So I think that issue is resolved. I don’t think it’s a problem.”
Still, Harkness’ letter makes clear that Sheldon needs to respond promptly “as removal of your CLER delinquency depends upon the completion of the required hours or proof of eligibility to claim an exemption, receipt of your properly executed petition, and payment of the required fee.”
Even more ominously, Harkness warns that if it’s determined that Sheldon has been delinquent for five years or longer, he won’t be reinstated except upon the application to and approval by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.
Sheldon said he reported the continuing legal education in 2012, so he doesn’t think the five years delinquency applies to him. He said he received the letter by certified mail on Tuesday, even though the letter is dated July 7. He said the letter had originally been mistakenly sent to his Washington D.C. home.
His opponent in the Democratic primary, Florida House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, is also a lawyer and a member of the Bar. But he wouldn't comment on Sheldon's lapsed license and what he thinks it means for his eligibility to run for Attorney General.
Late Wednesday, Sheldon informed the Times/Herald that his status had been restored. He sent e-mails showing as much.
I have removed the delinquency from your record as were a non resident member during the reporting period ending 5/31/2014. If you would like, you can email me a copy of the signed petition instead of mailing it to my office.
Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Education Compliance and Accreditation Manager
Sure enough, the Florida Bar website shows that Sheldon's membership is in good standing.
Sheldon said he was able to show the Bar that he had been out of state and therefore hadn't needed to complete and report his continuing legal education.
"I want to get this behind me," Sheldon said. "I take my law license very seriously."