An attorney whose billboards used to be a common sight along Interstate 95 in Jacksonville and who represented families in suits against University Christian School for the 2011 murder of a daughter, and Florida A&M University for the hazing death of a son, is now the target of a Florida Bar petition requesting his emergency suspension.
The Florida Bar’s 12-page petition for Christopher Chestnut’s suspension, filed Aug. 31, asks the Florida Supreme Court to ban him from practicing law in Florida based on facts that show that he “appears to be causing great public harm” in a number of cases.
“The bar asserts that respondent has used, is continuing to cause, and is likely to continue causing, immediate and serious harm to clients and/or the public,” the petition says. “... immediate action must be taken for the protection of respondent’s clients and the public.”
Chestnut’s Facebook page, which hasn’t been updated since May, says the The Chestnut Firm is located in Gainesville. It also listed an Atlanta address on Peachtree Drive. The firm also has an office on Prudential Drive, where a staff member said Chestnut was unavailable. The firm’s website is inactive.
Chestnut has been involved in many high-profile cases in Florida.
In 2011, he sued Florida A&M over the deadly hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, representing his estate and parents. He also represented the family of Makia Coney, who sued University Christian School after she was shot to death by two classmates, saying the school failed to adequately protect her.
The current petition from The Florida Bar claims Chestnut agreed to handle the cases of clients in Georgia and Maryland, where he wasn’t licensed to practice law.
In the Maryland case, Johnny Winthrop Powell claims Chestnut agreed to represent him in a case even though he is not licensed in Maryland. As a result of Chestnut’s “neglect and his failure to comply with Maryland law,” Powell’s claims against the state were barred and the statute of limitations ran out, the petition states. Powell sued Chestnut for malpractice and received a settlement. In the Georgia case, Andrew Levy, claimed that Chestnut neglected his case for years, then discontinued his representation close to the end of the statute of limitations.
The attorney, admitted to practice law in 2006 in Florida, has faced other controversies in recent years in Florida.
Emanuel Baker, paralyzed after a 2012 accident, sued Chestnut in 2013 for trying to charge inflated fees, according to a complaint filed in Alachua County. The complaint stated that Chestnut tried to charge attorney’s fees that are “presumed to be illegal, prohibited and/or…clearly excessive,” under the Florida Bar’s rules.
In another instance, Chestnut was reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court in a 2015 court order following a wrongful death claim against a homeowner’s insurance policy at a rented home where a woman was shot and killed during a home invasion, according to the bar. Chestnut failed to provide the victim’s mother with accurate information, and she was not told there was a pending declaratory action that was dismissed when the statute of limitations expired, according to law360.com.
The petition states Chestnut also was the subject of nine bar disciplinary matters, some claiming “lack of competence, candor, diligence, and communication, solicitation, dishonesty, and excessive fee,” according to the petition. The petition also demands Chestnut accept no new clients and cease representing any 30 days after the Supreme Court responds to the petition. Chestnut must also cease acting as personal representative for any estate, guardian for any ward or trustee for any trust within 30 days of the court’s order and must turn over complete financial records of those to a successor. He has to stop withdrawing or disbursing any money from any trust account related to respondent’s law practice until further order of the court.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549