Florida Bar clears Gulfcoast Legal Services chief

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 12, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Florida Bar has found no evidence that the executive director of Gulfcoast Legal Services Inc., a nonprofit that provides free legal aid to the poor, engaged in the unlicensed practice of law, an investigator has concluded.

Bar officials announced their decision in a letter to an attorney representing Kathleen Mullin, the agency's executive director, who was the target of complaints that she had practiced law without a law license.

"The Sixth Circuit Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee 'A' closed the above-referenced case with a finding of no evidence of unlicensed practice of law," said the letter, dated Wednesday.

"Please note that the action in this case will not preclude future investigations in the event we receive additional complaints."

The letter was signed by Maria L. Torres, bar counsel for the Unlicensed Practice of Law Department in Tampa.

"Of course, I am personally thrilled, and we have been confident all along, but we're grateful for the thorough investigation of the claims and the resolution thereof in our favor," Mullin said Friday.

Mullin said she is the organization's executive director and is involved in administrative matters only.

The agency serves poor clients from offices in Bradenton, Sarasota, Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

A complaint to the Florida Bar filed against Mullin was from Carlos Betancourt, an immigration paralegal who resigned from the agency in August, according to documents released by the Florida Bar on Friday.

Betancourt wrote that after a Tampa office in which he had been working closed, Mullin had directed him to work in the agency's Clearwater office, where he was not accredited to practice.

"She's not admitted (to the Bar) in Florida, and I believe she was forcing me to engage in UPL," he wrote, referring to the unlicensed practice of law.

He could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Manatee County Commission has asked its staff for a report about its recent funding to Gulfcoast, which amounts to about $10,000 annually. The Sarasota County Commission has halted its $89,000 annually funding to the agency.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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