A workers’ compensation defense lawyer was suspended from the practice of law this month after covertly coaching an adjuster with text messages during her deposition and then lying about his actions to his opposing counsel. His misconduct came to light when he inadvertently sent to the opposing counsel some of the texts that were intended for the adjuster.
Derek Vason James, an Orlando-area lawyer, was suspended for 91 days by the Supreme Court of Florida because of his misconduct during the deposition.
The adjuster – James’ client – was being deposed by telephone, and she, James, and the Claimant’s counsel were in three different locations. While the adjuster was testifying in response to questions from James, she and James exchanged text messages. They included the following exchanges:
10:12 a.m. (James to adjuster) Your doing great she is just trying to rattle You with objections
10:12 a.m. (Adjuster to James) (Emoji face with tongue stuck out)
When the Claimant’s counsel began questioning the adjuster, James sent texts to the adjuster to coach her answers. They included the following suggestions from him to her:
10:19 a.m. You don’t
10:20 a.m. As to settlement checks expiration
10:20 a.m. You remember the deposition but not discussing checks
10:20 a.m. yes
10:21 a.m. Just review notes from 2/20/2018 forward
10:23 a.m. Be careful just say
10:23 a.m. You may not see today
At some point, the Claimant’s counsel heard typing sounds, and she asked James if he and the adjuster were texting. James denied texting the adjuster and claimed that he was receiving a text message from his daughter. The Claimant’s counsel asked James to stop texting and put his phone away and James agreed.
After a break, and after the Claimant’s counsel resumed her questioning of the adjuster, the Claimant’s counsel received text messages from James which he had intended to send to the adjuster. They included the following instructions:
11:55 a.m. Don’t give an absolute answer
11:55 a.m. It’s a trap
11:56 a.m. Then say that is my best answer at this time
When the Claimant’s counsel noticed the texts from James on her own phone, she stopped the deposition and filed a motion for production of all texts sent during the deposition. James produced two pages of text messages but never produced any texts involving his daughter, despite being ordered to so do by the Judge of Compensation Claims and despite his assurances to the Claimant’s counsel during the deposition that the typing sounds she heard involved a text from his daughter.
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