By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Daniel M. Zavadil no longer carries a badge. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department fired him last fall after he admitted to signing someone else’s name on an official document.
Zavadil lost his job after authorities concluded he was unfit to serve as a city police officer because of a “lack of integrity and poor judgment.”
But he’s still good enough to be a Florida lawyer.
The Florida Bar identifies Zavadil as a “member in good standing” on its public website. It lists Zavadil’s 10-year discipline history as “none.”
Officer Zavadil was admitted to the practice of law on May 4 while relieved of duty with pay and under investigation by police internal affairs. He was dismissed by the city in November for falsifying a defendant’s signature and conduct unbecoming a police officer.
Zavadil is appealing.
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners screens aspiring lawyers for good moral character “to protect the public and safeguard the judicial system.”
Once they’re admitted to the Bar, rules established by the Florida Supreme Court prohibit attorneys from conduct involving “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
But no rule requires lawyers to disclose findings of such misconduct to the Bar.
“If you are a member of the bar and have an adverse employment action there is no obligation to report yourself to the Bar,” said Arne Vanstrum, who oversees complaints about lawyers as director of the Bar’s central intake program in Tallahassee.
Even if the Bar becomes aware of fraud or dishonesty by a lawyer, it typically won’t investigate unless prodded.
“Somebody would have to file a sworn complaint,” Vanstrum said.
That lack of regulatory initiative is a disservice to the public, and damaging to the legal profession, according to Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
“That doesn’t seem to be a very effective way of running the system because it says it’s okay to be a liar or a cheat or a fraud, as long as nobody complains,” he said. “It is an embarrassment.”
Zavadil, a Fort Lauderdale cop for four years, contends he was forced out of the department in retaliation for a lawsuit he brought against the city early last year alleging a hostile workplace environment.
“The defamatory allegations against me are untrue and based in a wild, reckless, rush to judgment,” Zavadil said.
Zavadil got into trouble last March after handing a notice to appear in court to Daniel Roberts for violating the city’s panhandling ordinance. The violation allegedly occurred at the intersection of Federal Highway and Southeast 17th Street.
Zavadil had Roberts to put his inked thumbprint on the notice, but did not have him sign it. A signature on a notice to appear is an agreement to show up in court to answer the charge.
When Zavadil submitted the notice and offense report back at headquarters a supervisor noticed the signature was missing and kicked it back to him.
A few days later, Zavadil submitted the documents again. This time, the notice had a signature.
Sgt. Steven Greenlaw questioned Zavadil about the signature. Zavadil admitted he signed the notice, police records say.
[Greenlaw has his own troubles. Last month, he was suspended with pay amid an internal investigation into possible policy violations regarding his off-duty security work for imprisoned attorney/con man Scott Rothstein.]
Records say Zavadil, an assistant general counsel for the National Rifle Association in Virginia in the early 2000s who now lives in Weston, later told investigators he signed the notice after he was unable to locate Roberts. He explained he considered the signature a formality because of the thumbprint, but police officials up the chain of command disagreed.
“Your contention…is without merit,” Police Chief Frank Adderly wrote in an Oct. 27 termination letter to Zavadil. “If you believed this, it would have negated the reason for your claimed subsequent search for the defendant and your justification for falsifying the defendant’s signature after the report was returned to you.
“A genuine fingerprint on the rear of a notice to appear does not constitute a defendant’s acceptance of the document and agreement to appear in court.”
[Adderly also has Rothstein troubles. The Sun-Sentinel reported last week that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating Adderly’s role in a police car crash probe last summer involving a mutual friend of Rothstein and the chief. The city’s Office of Professional Standards cleared the chief of impropriety in the matter last week.]
City police forwarded the case against Zavadil to Broward prosecutors to review for a possible forgery prosecution. Assistant State Attorney Timothy Donnelly declined saying there was “insufficient evidence” of intent to injure defendant Roberts, and “little likelihood of conviction.”
Roberts was never prosecuted because the notice to appear and the panhandling charge were never processed, authorities said.