Land-use lawyer Keith Bricklemyer says in court documents he did not violate his employment contract or financial responsibility to his former firm when he discussed taking his legal talents elsewhere.
Bricklemyer’s statements are made in his motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by the firm Smolker, Bartlett, Schlosser, formerly known as Bricklemyer Smolker.
The lawsuit charges Bricklemyer was plotting to leave the firm while acting as its managing shareholder and did not disclose to the other partners his talks with other firms. The plaintiffs allege the secret negotiations represented a violation of his fiduciary responsibilities to the firm because Bricklemyer was the managing shareholder.
Bricklemyer denies that, citing Florida Bar and state Supreme Court rules that prohibit a law firm from restricting a lawyer’s right to practice law after termination of employment. Discussing post-termination employment cannot be barred in employment agreements, Bricklemyer argues in the motion.
The motion does not address other allegations in the lawsuit, including that Bricklemyer and fellow attorney Brian Bolves entered into a business venture without disclosing it to the other shareholders at the firm.
Later, when the business venture went bust, the lawsuit alleges, Bricklemyer tried to cover for Bolves as Bolves took more money from the firm than he was covering with hours he booked for legal work.
The plaintiffs also accuse Bricklemyer of hiding Bolves’ plans to file for bankruptcy protection, which would affect the firm because Bolves was a guarantor of the firm’s line of credit with the Bank of Tampa.
Bolves, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said he did have a “negative” balance of $88,000 when he left the firm, but that it was secured by $100,000 of stock he had in the company. Bolves said all his withdrawals were approved by shareholders.
“So everyone knew what amount of funds was being taken from the firm,” he said.
What’s more, Bolves said his negative balance was wiped out within 10 days of his leaving when the firm collected more than $150,000 for his legal work.
Regarding his business venture with Bricklemyer, Bolves said the other shareholders were aware of it even before the two lawyers invested in the deal. The venture did not endanger the firm’s credit worthiness with the Bank of Tampa, Bolves said.
Bricklemyer’s attorney, Seth Mills, said the lawsuit was an attempt by his client’s former partners to deny Bricklemyer retirement benefits.
“These guys decided to come out swinging against their former managing partner,” Mills said. “After he announced his retirement, they took action to terminate him. All of this was done, we believe, to avoid their lawful obligations.”
Ethan Loeb, attorney with Smolker, Bartlett, Schlosser, said the firm was not commenting on the lawsuit.