Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp is facing both a Florida Bar complaint and an ethics complaint, according to two reports filed in recent days.
Both allege Kemp has repeatedly, from the dais in her role as an elected official, improperly claimed she was a practicing attorney. Kemp is not an active member of the Florida Bar and therefore is ineligible to practice law in the state of Florida. The complaints allege Kemp participated in the unlicensed practice of law.
The Florida Bar complaint comes from conservative activist Tom Rask. It claims Kemp failed “to affirmatively share her inactive Bar status, rendering legal advice, and misrepresenting herself as an attorney and/or holding herself out as generally able to practice law in Florida.”
Florida Bar rules require members, or past members, to “affirmatively represent their membership status as inactive members” and blocks them from holding “themselves out as being able to practice law in Florida or render advice on matters of Florida law unless certified as an emeritus lawyer,” which Kemp is not.
The ethics complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics comes from Kelso Tanner, a conservative political consultant and former Republican candidate for the Hillsborough County School Board. It makes similar allegations.
Both complaints include 17 examples in which Kemp says things like, “as an attorney” or “as the only lawyer on this board” during official discussion on county matters. One example appears moot, as Kemp refers to her legal practice in the past tense.
While unlicensed practice of law (UPL) complaints are typically civil in nature and handled through UPL committees and decided by the Florida Supreme Court, “engaging in the unlicensed practice of law in Florida is also a crime,” according to the Florida Bar.
“It is a third degree felony. For this reason, the State Attorney also has the power to bring criminal charges against an individual for practicing law without a license,” the Bar’s frequently asked questions on the topic reads.
However, in most cases, upheld UPL complaints typically end in either a cease and desist to the non-lawyer, a civil injunction or an agreement with the non-lawyer to discontinue practicing law without a license.
Rask’s complaint raises additional concern, however, because Kemp’s comments come during discussion on official county business and in her capacity as an elected county official.
“Perhaps most egregious, Ms. Kemp is a sitting public official, and it is in that role that she repeatedly flouts prescribed Bar rules by claiming to be an active lawyer/attorney,” Rask writes in his complaint.
“Ms. Kemp intentionally seeks to self-aggrandize and impute legal authority to her personal opinions so she can influence decisions (by fellow board members or the public) that may cause genuine detriment to the health, security, and well-being of more than 1.5 million people.”
Kemp is required to respond to the Bar complaint by Oct. 9, according to a letter she received from the Florida Bar.
From there, the complainant, Rask, has ten days to also respond. If Rask provides an addition rebuttal, that response must also be sent to Kemp, just as hers must be sent to Rask.
Kemp, a Democrat, is currently running for reelection to District 6 on the Hillsborough County Commission against Republican Sandra Murman. Both complaints were brought about by local conservatives who likely support Kemp’s opponent, though their motives for filing the complaints do not matter in the overall investigation.