Sunday, April 30, 2023

Senate passes coastal demolition bill with new exclusions for small cities. (Jesse Scheckner, Florida Politics, April 28, 2023)

The bill has been amended and may be dead. In whatever form, it threatens historic structures, whether or not there is a carve-out for St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach in any final version.  What do you think?  From Florida Politics:

Senate passes coastal demolition bill with new exclusions for small cities. 

Jesse Scheckner, Florida Politics, April 28, 2023

Last-minute changes to the bill carve out cities like St. Augustine and Surfside, but not Miami Beach.

A bill that would erode local protections of historic buildings in storm-prone coastal areas across Florida has cleared the Senate after undergoing changes meant to cushion its impact on small cities.

Proponents say it will improve safety by preventing local historic boards from obstructing the replacement of old, weather-worn structures at risk of collapse.

Detractors of the measure (SB 1346), dubbed the “Resiliency and Safe Structures Act,” argue it will cause irreparable harm to the architectural character of some cities like Miami Beach, opening them up to an unprecedented redevelopment free-for-all.

Those concerns are overblown, according to Miami Springs Republican Sen. Bryan Ávila, the bill’s sponsor, who successfully amended his bill on the Senate floor to alleviate some criticism it’s received over the last couple weeks.

Contrary to what some suggested, he said, “Ocean Drive is not going to get bulldozed — that’s not going to happen.”

But that doesn’t mean every building a local historic board adds to its list is historically relevant, he continued, noting the more than 2,600 structures identified in Miami Beach’s historic preservation regulations as an example.

“And some of them, with that coastal erosion (and) natural disasters, become hazardous,” he said.

SB 1346 would allow private developers to demolish buildings in high-hazard coastal areas, including locally recognized historic sites, with limited interference by local governments.

The bill applies to structures that don’t conform with National Flood Insurance Program requirements for new construction that are both within Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zones and either partially or wholly inside the seaward Coastal Construction Control Line, which is about a quarter-mile from the coastline.

Until the Senate approved Ávila’s amendment to the bill Friday, the language applied to all nonconforming properties in FEMA flood zones within a half-mile of the coast.

The bill would also apply to buildings determined unsafe by a local building official or ordered demolished by the local government under whose jurisdiction it falls.

After tearing the building down, developers would automatically be authorized to build a new structure on the site at the maximum height and density for which the area is zoned. Local governments would otherwise have little to no say in what the building looks like, including whether it’s a replication of the original structure.

The bill does not apply to single-family homes or sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are roughly 50 such sites in Florida, including eight in Miami Beach.

Ávila’s amendment also added new exceptions for nonconforming buildings in frequently flooded areas that stand in municipalities with at least three buildings older than 200 years or populations of 10,000 people or less.

Those concessions would exclude cities like St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, and Surfside, a town of fewer than 6,000 people that in June 2021 was the site of the deadliest non-deliberate structure engineering failure in U.S. history.

The bill would still leave Miami Beach’s historic structures and areas, including its Art Deco Historic DistrictVersace MansionEspañola Way and Delano Hotel, among many others, unprotected from potential razing.

That’s something of a paradox, Hollywood Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said, considering Surfside and Miami Beach are right next to each other, and both contain buildings of similar age, composition and proximity to the ocean.

“Just saying 10,000 or fewer (residents) is completely inequitable when we have neighboring and contiguous cities. It’s just not fair,” he said. “If it’s about life safety — if it’s about unsafe structures and repetitive flooding and danger — shouldn’t it be uniform?”

Ávila explained that in learning about the issue, he determined larger cities tend to have more bureaucratic layers, some of which manifest in historic preservation boards to which local governments bestow too much power.

He successfully asked Senators to reject an amendment Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach proffered on behalf of Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, who was absent, that would have added language to the bill preserving the Miami Beach board’s ability to limit redevelopment of historic sites.

“What we’ve seen is that the larger cities have, for several reasons which I cannot necessarily speak to, given authority to some of the boards, particularly their historic preservation boards, (and) empowered these boards to essentially take punitive actions with owners who want to demolish an unsafe structure, even when the local building official says it’s unsafe, even when the local building department says it should be demolished,” Ávila said

“Even though these structures are important to the municipality, they cannot all be historic.”

SB 1346 and its House companion (HB 1317) by North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach are among nearly 60 bills filed this Legislative Session seeking to wrest more control of local regulatory oversight from counties and cities across Florida.

Some, including a measure banning local governments from enacting rent controls, even in declared states of emergency, have already received Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature. Others, including a bill that would allow businesses to sue local governments to stop the enforcement of ordinances they deem “arbitrary or unreasonable,” are close to passing through the Legislature.

Miami Beach preservation advocates have suggested developers at odds with city building strictures governing historic properties could be behind the legislation.

Among them: Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who backed a $1 million campaign last year to build a pair of towers exceeding local zoning limits, and 13th Floor Investments, a development firm that owns a vacant building in the city’s Art Deco district and gave $10,000 apiece to Ávila and Roach days before they filed their bills. Both parties denied involvement.

Until about two weeks ago, when Democratic Miami Beach Commissioner Alex Fernandez sounded the alarm about the “Resiliency and Safe Structures Act,” the measure had been quietly advancing this year amid a wave of attention-grabbing culture war measures. He has since worked to generate press coverage of the issue and traveled to Tallahassee multiple times to fight the bill.

Fernandez told Florida Politics that Miami Beach’s lobbyists have had “good conversations” with Roach, whom he described as “gracious with his time, attentive and understanding.”

“He’s been open to hearing all of these concerns and very willing to try to find solutions,” he said.

“His point to me was that from his end, from the House bill’s side of this, it is not targeting Miami Beach. It was not about destroying this community. I don’t know if that applies to the Senate bill, if it was crafted with the same intention. But I know that with the House bill, his intention was not to destroy Miami Beach architecture, erase our history and strip away American history.”

Fernandez this week wrote a letter to North Bay Village Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe, whose district covers Miami Beach, to schedule a Friday meeting on the matter. The two traded barbs recently after Basabe abstained from a vote on Florida’s new six-week abortion ban, for which he blamed Democrats, and voted in favor of bills restricting LGBTQ-inclusive instruction in public school and banning underage admission to adult live performances.

Basabe, who also opposes the coastal demolition legislation, initially agreed to Fernandez’s request to meet. But he later announced that his own efforts behind the scenes had all but led to the measure’s demise.

“The bill is dead,” he told Florida Politics. “The bill’s House sponsor and our state leadership considered the reservations of my district, after I presented environmental, infrastructure and density concerns along with further damage to our already volatile brand identity and the irreplaceable value of our historic integrity.”

As such, he said, the bill “will not move forward this Session.”

Asked to confirm that the legislation would not reach the Governor’s desk, Roach did not provide a direct answer.

“I believe the bill will pass off the Senate floor with bipartisan support this week, and then it will be sent to the House for consideration,” he said. “(As) the saying goes around here frequently, nothing is dead until Sine Die.”

After being asked to clarify whether he will bring Ávila’s bill forward for a vote once it reaches the House, Roach said, “I am certainly going to try.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

One party rule leads to what, my friends?

The other-directed, unqualified, inbred maladministration of our  overdeveloping St. Augustine and St. Johns County, our two (2) itty-bitty Cities, and our horribly mismanaged County government here could not manage a two-car funeral. We now know that they are not "conservatives" -- taking other people's money to subsidize secretive developers like developer-Senator TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON. Enough. 

County Officials Indicted for Civil Rights Conspiracy. (USDOJ press release)

The FBI and USDOJ are on alert for civil rights conspiracies and corruption.  Here's the USDOJ press release on the latest criminal indictments against local criminals violating civil rights in Rensselaer County, New York.  

USDOJ is targeting civil rights and antitrust crimes.  Should discriminatory, retaliatory St. Johns County, Florida officials be hiring criminal defense lawyers?  You tell me. 

Press release from the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York:

Rensselaer County Officials Indicted for Civil Rights Conspiracy
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of New York
Alleged to Have Conspired to Cast False and Illegal Ballots in Elections Held in 2021, in Violation of Rensselaer County Voters’ Rights

ALBANY, NEW YORK – Richard W. Crist, age 55, of Nassau, New York; James R. Gordon, age 42, of North Greenbush, New York; and Leslie A. Wallace, age 35, of Troy, New York, were arrested and arraigned today on an indictment charging them with conspiring to violate the rights of Rensselaer County voters in connection with elections held in 2021.

United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman and Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), made the announcement.

Crist is the Director of Operations for Rensselaer County, Gordon is the Director of the Bureau for Central Services of Rensselaer County, and Wallace works for the Rensselaer County Executive’s Office. 

The indictment (copy attached) alleges that during local elections held in 2021, Crist, Gordon and Wallace conspired to use their official positions, and actual and apparent authority over Rensselaer County employees, to obtain absentee ballots in voters’ names through fraud and intimidation; these voters did not intend to request absentee ballots, nor did they seek voting assistance from Crist, Gordon or Wallace.

Crist, Gordon and Wallace then conspired to cast false and illegal votes in these voters’ names in primary and general elections held in Rensselaer County in 2021. Their conduct violated the constitutional rights of Rensselaer County voters to have their votes counted equally as compared to votes cast by other voters, and made it more likely that the defendants’ preferred candidates would win the elections.

Gordon is also charged with one count of witness tampering, and Wallace is also charged with one count of making false statements.

The charges in the indictment are merely accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Crist, Gordon and Wallace were each arraigned today before Chief United States Magistrate Judge Andrew T. Baxter, and ordered released with conditions pending a trial before United States District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino.

If convicted of conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison.  If convicted of witness tampering, Gordon faces up to 20 years in prison.  If convicted of making false statements, Wallace faces up to 5 years in prison.  A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.

The FBI is investigating this case, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Barnett and Steven D. Clymer are prosecuting this case.

Updated April 27, 2023

Friday, April 28, 2023


 St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach and St. Johns County are not unlike Chicago writ small. See Mike Royko's classic book, "BOSS" about Mayor Richard J. Daley, suggesting that Chicago City Hall be adorned with a suitable Latin motto, carved in marble, "UBI ES MEA?" ("Where's mine?")

Former St. Johns County newspaper headquarters sold for $8 million (Jackonsville Daily Record)

Brian and I attended the open house and tour for the St. Augustine Record building on News Place when the building was opened.  The St. Augustine Record had a brand new $5 million Goss press, and a wonderful facility that allowed local civic groups to hold meetings.  Under mismanagement by MORRIS COMMUNICATIONS, GATEHOUSE and GANNETT, our Nation's Oldest City is now without a functioning daily newspaper. This situation stinks.  Blame the titans of tedious hedge funds, who are destroying journalism.

From Jacksonville Daily Record:

Former St. Johns County newspaper headquarters sold for $8 million

Florida real estate investment firm ESJ Capital Partners bought the former home of The St. Augustine Record.

The former St. Augustine Record building at 1 News Place in Saint Augustine. The property is at State Routes 312 and 207.
The former St. Augustine Record building at 1 News Place in Saint Augustine. The property is at State Routes 312 and 207.
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The former St. Augustine Record building at 1 News Place in St. Augustine sold April 24 for $8 million. 

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, through 1 News Place LLC, sold the building. The property is at State Roads 207 and 312.

ESJ Capital Partners, a real estate investment firm from Aventura, bought it through ESJ 1 News Place, LLC.

Vivian Sanchez, the university’s chancellor and CEO, signed the deed.

The  building was constructed 2001 on 14.54 acres. It is 34,400 square feet. 

Besides being home to the St. Augustine newspaper, it provided office space and was a distribution center for the U.S. Postal Service, according to St. Augustine Record archives.

The building was constructed by Morris Communications when it owned the St. Augustine newspaper. Morris also owned The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

Morris sold its newspapers to GateHouse Media, Inc in 2017. In 2019, GateHouse’s parent company, New Media Investment Group, merged with Gannett Co. Inc., which now owns both publications.

In October 2020 Morris Communications through MPG St. Augustine Property LLC sold the property to The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences for $7.535 million.

In 2022, Morris sold the Times-Union property in Downtown Jacksonville for redevelopment.

Why Is Worker Memorial Day NOT Observed By St. Johns County County Commission?

April 28 is Worker Memorial Day, honoring the workers killed and maimed in American workplaces.  It is observed by the federal government and civilized state and local governments. 

An OSHA Establishment Search records reveal a fine of $29,004 to Silverleaf contractor J.B. COXWELL for a workplace death that violated OSHA construction industry standards. 

Investigation Summary

Investigation Nr: 148080.015
Event: 07/21/2022
Employee Is Killed When Ejected From Bulldozer

At 8:30 a.m. on July 21, 2022, an employee was driving a bulldozer, when he was ejected from the cab over a steep drop. The employee was killed and suffered a crushed skull, brain injury, chest trauma, crushed pelvis, amputated leg, and dislocated limbs.

Later that night, Silverleaf's devious developer, State Senator TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON, was allegedly observed partying heartily at Casa Monica, seemingly unmoved by a preventable workplace death.

But in fast-growing St. Johns County where a worker was killed in developer-Senator TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON's Silverleaf construction site, developer-Senator HUTSON's cat's paw, then County Commission Chairman JEREMIAH RAY BLOCKER, unilaterally used his Philistine's veto to halt a proclamation for Worker Memorial Day, as wells as proclamations for LGBQT Pride and School Choice.  Feckless fellow Commissioners let him get away with it, fearing adverse reactions from fascists, knowing that without a Democrat on Commission, there's no downside to being afraid, very afraid. 

We, the People, defeated bumptious bigoted blockhead bully BLOCKER, expecting change.  

But our St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners is still all Republican. 

It is still unencumbered by any dedicated legislative staff.   Everyone you see on GTV works for County Administrator, Dull Republican Lord of All He Surveys, thrice duked into the job without considering any other candidates, without a background investigation of federal court bribery allegations. 

It still lacks a working committee system, an Ombudsman, or an independent Inspector General.

Its tiresome tedious worship of wealthy Dull Republicans affords developer hucksters unlimited time to drone on in favor of clearcutting projects, while not swearing in witnesses under oath.

All County Commission employees are under the suzerainty of an unctuous, unqualified political appointee, HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD.   Employees who do their jobs "too well" are subjected to the Capital Punishment of the Workplace.  Exhibit A:  August 2022 forced resignation of Cultural Resources Coordinator Trey Alexander Asner, still not addressed or remedied by the ineffectual BoCC.

Our St. Johns County Executive Branch has some 1200 employees.  

Our legislative branch, our Commission, have no staff reporting to them.  

Our St. Johns County Commissioners once had dedicated legislative staff reporting to them, but it was eliminated during the twelve-year reign of error of County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK.

We have three branches of government -- executive, legislative and judicial.  The County Commission is truly the sapless branch.  FYI: I've filed to run for County Commission in 2024.

Pray for these people, 40% of who (SJC BoCC Chairman CHRISTIAN WHITEHURST and Vice Chair SARAH ARNOLD, center), never matriculated (and it shows).

St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners

Here's more on Worker Memorial Day from our National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: 

Workers’ Memorial Day 2023: Statement by NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.

Posted on  by John Howard, M.D.

Each year, NIOSH pauses on April 28th, Workers’ Memorial Day, to honor those who were killed or injured on the job. While tremendous progress has been made since Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act on this day in 1970, much still needs to be done. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021 more than 5,100 workers were killed and 2.6 million more were injured on the job. The societal costs—not just economic, but the toll on families and loved ones—is untenable. Several opportunities and resources are available to support the occupational safety and health of workers and raise awareness within several industries.

Dangerous occupations still exist. Commercial fishing, for example, remains one of the most dangerous in the U.S., particularly when vessels are miles away from harbor, characterized by hazardous working conditions, strenuous labor, long work hours and harsh weather conditions. The hazards fishermen face varies widely by type of fishing vessel and fishery, including the associated gear used to catch our seafood. Safety research and training grants are available to address what works best in a specific fleet and/or region and is critical to help prevent injury, or death among U.S. fishermen.

Mining is an age-old occupation, and often runs in families. Coal mine dust causes a range of serious but preventable lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly called black lung, and lung function impairment. New research finds that coal miners are at an increased risk of death from several of these diseases, including lung cancer. The NIOSH Coal Worker’s Health Surveillance Program offers free, confidential black lung screenings to coal miners through its mobile unit, with this spring’s screenings offered in Indiana and Texas. In recent years, the mining industry has made efforts to increase workforce diversity through the recruitment and retention of women miners. It is critically important to identify occupational safety and health concerns unique to populations that have been understudied to meet the needs of a diverse workforce.

Numerous studies show that firefighters’ exposure to smoke and hazardous chemicals released from burning materials may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, but we do not fully understand how firefighters’ cancer risk has changed or will change over time. Just this month, NIOSH launched the National Firefighter Registry for Cancer online enrollment system for firefighters across the nation, the largest effort undertaken by the nation to help scientists better understand the link between cancer and firefighting to ultimately improve firefighter health. All U.S. firefighters are encouraged to enroll.

In the construction industry, falls remain the leading cause of death, accounting for almost 40% of all construction fatalities. Next week, NIOSH and several partners, along with thousands of construction companies and workers, will participate in the tenth annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, a chance to collectively take a break during the workday to focus on fall prevention through safety demonstrations, talks, and trainings. Plan, participate, and send in a success story.

Recently, a blastomycosis outbreak occurred among workers at a paper mill in Escanaba, Michigan. NIOSH was asked by management to conduct a health hazard evaluation of the worksite. The goal of these evaluations is to learn whether workers are exposed to health or safety hazards on the job and to make recommendations to workplaces to prevent work-related injury and illness by controlling hazards. Employees, employee representatives (unions), or employers can ask NIOSH to determine if health hazards are present in their workplace.

Finally, we cannot forget that workplace violence can happen in any workplace. Even public health workers, who are shepherds of community health and safety, can themselves experience an increase in violence, and physical and mental stress. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and NIOSH is actively working to help address the risk millions of U.S. health workers face for mental health problems through its new Health Worker Mental Health Initiative. It is also important to acknowledge that employers, supervisors, and managers can play a vital role in suicide prevention within all industries. NIOSH continues to strive to protect against both visible and invisible workplace injury and illnesses.

We must each do what we can to protect those who show up to work each day to provide goods and services to our Nation and continue to ensure safe and healthful working environments for every worker.  The challenge of generating new research, recommendations, and interventions to protect the safety and health of workers is one that NIOSH staff meet every day. This has been NIOSH’s mission since the Institute was created and will continue until every worker comes home each day safe and healthy.


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Former St. Augustine mayor, elder law attorney suspended for misconduct, conflicts of interest (First Coast News)

JOSEPH LESTER BOLES, JR. has been suspended from law practice for 90 days.  BOLES is disgraced former St. Augustine Mayor, defeated for re-election by 119 votes in 2014 by newcomer Nancy Shaver. 

BOLES, a former debt collection lawyer, long practiced "elder law," leveraging his position as Council on Aging Chair to write "free wills," in which he appointed himself as substitute trustee and substitute beneficiary. 

By April 20, 2023 Order, the Florida Supreme Court suspended BOLES' law license for 90 days. 

Read The Florida Bar complaint and Florida Supreme Court paperwork here and here:

BOLES and his stepson and law firm associate, WILLIAM MASSON -- a graduate of now-defunct Florida Coastal School of Law and a member of the City Code Enforcement Board and former City Planning and Zoning Board member -- co-host a Council on Aging radio program on Thursday mornings at 8-9 am on local Hate Radio station WFOY, 102.1.  MASSON also hosts a news program on Monday mornings at 8-9.  Listen for their coverage. 

JOE BOLES' law firm website is currently inoperable. Links go to an error page. 

BOLES was long the developers' cat's paw in St. Augustine. We, the People, questioned, exposed and defeated this petty tyrant.

Ask questions. Demand answers. Expect democracy.  

From First Coast News:  

Former St. Augustine mayor, elder law attorney suspended for misconduct, conflicts of interest

 7:34 PM EDT April 26, 2023

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court suspended prominent St. Augustine attorney and former city mayor Joe Boles after he admitted to misconduct and conflict of interest following an investigation by the Florida Bar.  

The 90-day suspension comes after a judge determined Boles showed "a pattern of misconduct" in violating Bar rules governing conflicts of interest. The Bar filed its complaint against Boles last November after receiving two complaints from Boles' clients and discovering a third concerning case while investigating.

Boles, who specializes in estate planning and elder law, serves as the president and chairman of the St. Johns County Council on Aging. He served as St. Augustine mayor from 2006 to 2014, and as a City Commissioner for two years before that.  

According to court records in the case, Boles designated himself as a surrogate designated beneficiary or backup successor trustee without getting written consent from his clients. 

The original complaint names three victims.

In the first victim's case, the complaint says Boles was hired in 2020 to create a trust for a woman with aggressive cancer. The woman's designated successor trustee said Boles appointed himself as backup successor trustee against both women's wishes. Boles denied this and told Bar investigators he did so with the client's permission. But Bar investigators determined he failed to obtain written consent to do so, as required.

In a second case, a woman said she met with Boles in 2015 for his offer of free will preparation and then again in 2021 to modify her will and request a trust. She alleges that after reviewing the documents, she discovered that Boles was named as trustee of the trust, and Boles' law partner (and stepson) was named backup successor. 

The complaint says "[Boles] unilaterally appointed himself as the personal representative in her will, appointed, himself as her healthcare surrogate, and appointed himself as [the client's] preneed guardian in the event of her future incapacity."

The client ultimately hired a different attorney to assist her with revoking the trust and drafting new estate planning document. 

Boles said he had the client's permission, but acknowledged he "failed to obtain the written informed consent ... to appoint himself," as required by law. 

During its investigation into the two complaints, the Bar also discovered a third case in which Boles named himself as a surrogate designated beneficiary in the will.

The complaint says Boles; "drafted and filed affidavits for the beneficiaries designated in the will ... in which they gave up all of their rights and responsibilities in the estate and designated respondent as the surrogate beneficiary." 

Boles told investigators he was asked to do so by his clients, but investigators found he failed to advise them to seek independent legal counsel before signing the waivers. Ultimately, Boles handled this case on a pro bono basis and distributed the proceeds of the sale of the home to the beneficiaries.

In recommending discipline in the case, the designated "referee," 4th Circuit Judge Meredith Charbula said she took into account several mitigating factors, including Boles' "absence of a prior disciplinary record; timely good faith effort to make restitution or to rectify the consequences of the misconduct; full and free disclosure to the bar or cooperative attitude toward the proceedings; character or reputation; and remorse."

The judge also found no evidence that Boles wrongfully appropriated any money or assets to his own use.

As part of the suspension, Boles is prohibited from accepting new business until he is reinstated. He will also pay disciplinary costs of $2,565. He will be automatically reinstated after the suspension is completed.

Former St. Augustine mayor, elder law attorney suspended for misconduct, conflicts of interest