By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
A Deerfield Beach lawyer who just got slammed in federal court for crafting Donald Trump’s Deep State conspiracy lawsuit can expect a grilling from the Florida Bar — or worse.
It would be Peter Ticktin’s fourth round with lawyer regulators, his first based on a Trump case. More than a decade ago the Florida Supreme Court had him briefly shut down his practice twice, ruling in 2009 that he’d shown “poor professional judgment” resulting in “misconduct … unbecoming of a member of The Florida Bar.”
Ticktin is a QAnon conspiracy booster and Trump loyalist whose devotion to the former president dates back to high school. He wrote a book, “What Makes Trump Tick,” about serving as Trump’s platoon sergeant when the two teens were classmates at New York Military Academy in the early 1960s.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks of West Palm Beach ordered Ticktin and others on Trump’s legal team to collectively pay $50,000 to the court as a sanction and another $16,274 to defendant Charles Dolan, a Democratic PR executive, for his attorneys’ fees and costs.
Middlebrooks determined the Trump lawyers violated federal court Rule 11 by filing a fact-free, “performative” political lawsuit. He granted Dolan’s motion for sanctions.
JUDGE TARGETS TRUMP’S LAWYERS
On Sept. 8 Middlebrooks dismissed Trump’s entire complaint, a meandering list of grievances, with a trenchant 65-page opinion. The judge followed up last week by inviting scrutiny of Trump’s lawyers’ conduct.
“The rule of law is undermined by the toxic combination of political fundraising with legal fees paid by political action committees, reckless and factually untrue statements by lawyers at rallies and in the media, and efforts to advance a political narrative through lawsuits without factual basis or any cognizable legal theory,” Middlebrooks wrote.
“Lawyers are enabling this behavior and I am pessimistic that Rule 11 [sanctions] alone can effectively stem this abuse. Aspects may be beyond the purview of the judiciary, requiring attention of the Bar and disciplinary authorities,” he wrote. “Additional sanctions may be appropriate.”
Middlebrooks may inspire New Jersey Bar regulators to take a close look at Bedminster, N.J.-based Alina Habba, another Trump lawyer in the Florida case who is jointly responsible, along with Ticktin, for paying the sanction, fees and costs.
JUDICIAL REBUKE IS ‘DEVASTATING’
According to Ken White, a Los Angeles criminal defense and First Amendment lawyer, Ticktin should brace for what’s ahead.
“This is not the sort of order you want hanging around your neck careerwise. It’s a devastating rebuke,” said White, a former federal prosecutor and host of “Make No Law: The First Amendment Podcast.”
“It’s an extremely strong call-out to the state Bar,” he said. “Usually, to get them interested you have to steal money from a disabled client’s trust account. The one other thing that will get them involved is a call-out from a federal judge.”
“This lawyer’s problems are just beginning,” White said.
TICKTIN’S CANADIAN CAREER
Officially, Florida Bar ethics investigations are confidential unless and until they result in charges. The state Supreme Court is the final arbiter of punishment for Florida lawyers, ranging from admonishment to suspension and disbarment.
Ticktin did not respond to emailed questions from Florida Bulldog. CNN reported that he called Middlebrooks’ sanction “a kick in the teeth” and he plans an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.
Florida Bulldog could not verify parts of Ticktin’s resume on LegalBrains.com, the website of his Deerfield Beach firm The Ticktin Law Group.
The resume says Ticktin started his practice in 1972 as a barrister in the criminal courts of Ontario, Canada. Through his appellate work “he changed the law regarding breaking and entering before the Supreme Court of Canada.”
STARTING OVER IN FLORIDA
An internet search did not turn up the “important legal precedent” that made this change, cited as “Her Majesty the Queen vs. Jewell.”
On two different LegalBrains.com website pages the ruling is sourced to two different courts, the Supreme Court of Canada and Ontario Superior Court—the latter a place for trials, not appeals that produce landmark rulings.
“His record in Ontario was impeccable,” the website says. Yet in 1985 Ticktin relocated to Florida, where he had to spend two years in law school and pass a Bar exam before he could open his practice.
Ticktin did not respond to Florida Bulldog’s questions about his decision to move and about substantiating his record as a Canadian lawyer.
DUBIOUS ‘CUTTING EDGE’ VICTORY
In Florida, Ticktin set out to establish himself “on the cutting edge of the law.” For example, his firm’s website extols his fight in the 1980s to prevent doctors from disclosing patients’ HIV status to their employers.
But the 1996 decision that LegalBrains.com highlights, Doe vs. Potash, didn’t advance Ticktin’s cause a millimeter.
In fact, it backtracked. The Third District Court of Appeal refused Ticktin’s request that the judges apply to a 1987 case a more recent law that prohibits doctors from disclosing medical records. He lost that one.
Yet Ticktin inexplicably takes credit for reforming the law. “We found that by fighting the fight, the objectives [sic] of changing the world around us was accomplished,” the website says.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE DISCIPLINE
Details of two notable episodes from Ticktin’s career are missing from the LegalBrains.com website. They are the one about his longest, 91-day suspension and a Florida Bar probe of a fishy fee arrangement.
Ticktin also agreed to a 15-day suspension in 2010 as part of a secret deal with the Florida Bar. A docket entry shows that the Supreme Court file, unavailable online, was destroyed on Sept. 12.
Previously, Ticktin got into trouble with the Bar for continuing to represent businessman Paul Johnson after taking his place as CEO of the Pony Express delivery company in 2002.
Both men knew Johnson was about to be arrested and charged with defrauding investors out of $20 million, according to the Florida Supreme Court’s 2009 opinion in the public facing Ticktin disciplinary case.
(Coincidentally, Middlebrooks was the judge who handled Johnson’s trial, ending with a 20-year sentence in 2004.)
SWITCH TO FORECLOSURE DEFENSE
While his client was in custody Ticktin “actively worked against Johnson’s ownership interests,” the Florida Bar complaint against him says. Ticktin denied wrongdoing but the Supreme Court decided he’d flouted conflict of interest rules and ordered him to pause his practice for 91 days.
Later Ticktin blamed the hyperactive hurricane season of 2004 for depressing Pony Express’s client base and bankrupting him. In 2010 the Sun Sentinel reported that Deutsche Bank was trying to foreclose on his 3,920-square-foot home in Boca Raton.
By then Ticktin knew something about mortgage foreclosure defense because, he said, he was helping 3,000 clients hang onto their property. Ticktin took credit for exposing the widely condemned lenders’ scam of using robo-signed documents in foreclosure actions.
The Florida Bar investigated Ticktin again after a story appeared in The New York Times about his “unconventional” fee deals in some of these cases: He let clients take out second mortgages to pay him. The Sun Sentinel revealed the Bar investigation in November 2010; apparently it didn’t lead to charges.
A ‘RELATIVELY HIGH’ SANCTION
The Ticktin Law Group still lists mortgage foreclosure defense among the firm’s practice areas.
In recent years the 10-lawyer firm’s namesake and senior partner has focused on his MAGA activism and legal work for Trump.
After Middlebrooks’ sanction, though, Ticktin may want to consider moving on to another specialty.
“The sanction is relatively high. It’s fair and it won’t cover all the expenses of fighting the lawsuit, but it’s unusual to be that high,” said former prosecutor White.
“It’s sort of a reflection of the fact that Trump and his lawyers are perceived to be continuing to abuse the system in a way that federal judges just don’t like,” he said. “The usual strategy is just not gonna work.”