An Indiana attorney who was illegally practicing law in Florida has been suspended in Indiana for 18 months without automatic reinstatement.
The Indiana Supreme Court Tuesday issued a per curiam opinion in In the Matter of: Divina K. Westerfield, 49S00-1505-DI-321, writing that the justices had found that Divina Westerfield had committed attorney misconduct by improperly soliciting employment and failing to refund unearned funds, in addition to engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in Florida.
Earlier this year, Westerfield told Indiana Lawyer that she hadn’t practiced law in Indiana for years and that instead she was in the real estate business in Florida, though she was never admitted to the Florida bar. Multiple Floridians claimed they were scammed by Westerfield & Associates LLC, prompting an investigation by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission that began in May 2015. Westerfield repeatedly contended that her work in Florida did not constitute the practice of law and referred to the complaint against her as a witch hunt.
, the justices wrote that according to the disciplinary hearing officer, Westerfield began working with Wayne Tope, a marketing representative, in 2011, and together the two advertised quiet title actions as a strategy for homeowners to gain leverage against mortgage holders and/or to obtain “free and clear title” of a house.
Tope signed up several clients for representation by Westerfield, and those clients exacted flat fee contracts that were paid up front. She entered into partnerships with Florida attorneys, in which she would retain 90 percent of the profits from the fees billed to Florida clients and the partner would retain 10 percent. When Westerfield decided to close the Florida office of her law firm, she assigned another attorney to perform any outstanding work for the flat fee clients. However, that attorney decided to discontinue his works with those clients two months later.
In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all.
In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004.
Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse.
Westerfield’s suspension becomes effective Jan. 3. She will be eligible for reinstatement after 18 months only if she proves her remorse, rehabilitation and fitness to practice law.
All justices concurred except Justice Steve David, who dissented believing that more severe discipline is warranted.