JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Bar is investigating an attorney’s failure to appear at repeated Duval County court appearances, after suddenly withdrawing from all of his cases.
The situation has befuddled judges and infuriated defendants, who say they’ve been unable to contact attorney Benjamin Buck, despite paying him thousands of dollars in legal fees.
On Friday, Circuit Judge Mark Borello’s addressed the issue with Buck’s client Lawrence Bethel.
“Mr. Bethel, I would say I apologize,” Borello said. “But it’s nothing the Court did. Your lawyer that you hired, he’s, uh -- I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you. But he’s no longer practicing law.”
Bethel’s unexplained absences engendered a cascade of chaos after Buck withdrew from all of his cases without warning. Court records show Buck began filing formal motions to withdraw in mid-January, but has since failed to show up for hearings on those motions, as required.
As of Tuesday, the Florida Bar listed Buck as a member in good standing. But his law firm website has been shut down, as has his professional Facebook page. Buck did not return emails or phone messages from First Coast News.
Buck also failed to return an urgent message from Judge Roberto Arias. After Buck missed a Thursday hearing on his motion to withdraw, Arias ordered him to appear the next day.
But Friday, Buck was again a no-show, sending a random attorney in his stead. Determined to reach Buck, Judge Arias instructed Buck’s stand-in counsel to arrange a Zoom session. Following a court break, however, the attorney told Arias she couldn’t reach Buck: He was on a plane.
Undeterred, Arias called Buck himself, from open court. “Hi Judge,” Buck answered. “I just landed.”
Arias was skeptical. “Where did you land?
“Uh, New York City,” Buck answered. He explained he was there to be with his mother, who’d suffered a stroke, which he said was the reason he chose to close his Tampa based law firm.
Arias was unmoved. “When you file a motion to withdraw, you must appear,” he said.
“Yes judge,” Buck agreed.
“When are you going to be back in Jacksonville?” Arias demanded.
“That’s not certain…” Buck began.
“Well, you need to be certain,” Arias said, cutting him off. “Because I’m going to pass this case [to a new date] for you to make a personal appearance.”
Arias set the date for late February, and is requiring Buck to appear. But other judges have simply reassigned his cases to other attorneys. Court records show Buck has at least five cases pending in Duval County. At least two defendants said they already paid Buck and were not informed he was withdrawing.
In assigning a new lawyer, Judge Borello told Lawrence Bethel, “Sorry you’ve been just sitting there for a few months with what I’m assuming is nothing going on in your case.”
He added, “Did your people pay any money to Mr. Buck?”
Bethel nodded. “Well,” Borello said, “I mean this: Good luck with that …
The Florida Bar confirmed Tuesday that are investigating Ben Buck. That process remains closed unless or until probable cause of a rule violation is found.