In November 2017, a friend of mine from West Palm Beach, Florida forwarded me an article from a local newspaper, which was headlined “Local Attorney Disbarred.” The disbarred local attorney was me. Simply put, I could no longer practice law in Florida. I was no longer an attorney.
I was stunned for several reasons. First, I had closed my law practice three years priors and no longer practiced law. Second, the Florida Bar actually had a process for disciplining attorneys and a key part of that was notifying them. And, third, I was 15,000 miles away in Thailand – unaware that something I had worked so hard for had been taken away from me.
But, for you to understand the gravity of this, it’s best for me to start at the beginning of my legal journey. I started law school in 2006. To pay for tuition and living expenses, I worked nights as a security guard and built websites for others. When I graduated in May 2009, I was happy to have graduated but anxious because I would have to take the New York Bar three months later. I studied on my own for the New York bar exam – fully understanding that my chances of passing the exam were significantly lower since I did not take a review course. When I received my New York bar results in November 2009 – that I had passed – I was ecstatic. My happiness could not be contained and I was ready to take the world by storm. I had a job offer in New York starting in February 2010 and nothing could dampen my spirit.
Or so I thought. In January 12, 2010 a massive earthquake struck Haiti, instantly killing thousands of families and leaving many in need of urgent medical care. As a Haitian-American, it was the first time I regretted obtaining my law degree. At that moment, I also realized that if law school taught me one thing, it was how to solve problems. After spending three days trying to connect with others to get news about friends and family in Haiti, I decided that although I could not provide medical assistance to those in need directly, I could respond to the call for help by marshaling my resources. Within a week after the earthquake, I formed a non-profit organization that had enlisted hundreds of nurses and doctors who were willing to go to Haiti to help. Within a week, we were able to borrow planes to help these volunteers get there. We found driveways for everyone to sleep on because building structures were shaky and aftershocks were expected. With limited experience in a disaster area, these amazing groups of volunteers and I, were able to help thousands of people. You can read the story of how Jude Brena, a six-month old with skull fractures was helped by Sean Penn or how Link Haiti was instrumental in saving the lives of Catalina (a toddler) and Daphne (a teenager).
By January 12, 2011- a year after the earthquake, I decided that the organization’s work was complete, although we would always be available as a resource. Since Florida was my base for nearly a year, I decided to study without a review course for the Florida bar exam, passed it, and started working as in-house counsel. By 2014, I had filed lawsuits on behalf of several clients in regards to approximately five-hundred federal violations by Florida law enforcement officers, cities, police departments and state agencies. There were dozens of articles published about it but you can read more about it, here, here and here.
But, after reaching several settlements on behalf of my clients, I left law practice. I left for one reason – I was exhausted. After seeing kids die and families destroyed (mostly due to the earthquake, but also due to poverty) for an entire year; fighting with law enforcement officers and agencies in federal court after they improperly accessed client records and harassed them; and then being hospitalized for three days after giving birth due to complications, I said enough was enough decided to close my law practice in 2014,and gave myself permission to breathe.
During my time in law practice, after working with dozens of clients, five complaints were filed against me. The first two complaints were promptly addressed and were resolved in my favor. The next three complaints that were filed against me, which led to my disbarment, were never addressed because I never had the opportunity to defend myself.
At the time the Florida Bar filed the complaint for disbarment in 2016 or 2017, more than two years after I left law practice, I was not residing in Florida and did not receive notices for the proceedings, as my Florida P.O. Box address on record was no longer an appropriate address. As a result, I was not aware of the complaints or any of the claims made by the Florida Bar. The Florida Bar then disbarred me because of the lack response.
I am now in the process of addressing this issue with the Florida Bar directly. It’s not because I am interested in practicing law again, because I’m not. I am addressing it because when my 4 year-old daughter searches my name on the Internet in a few years, she will see that there is more behind a headline.
 John Lantigua, “In Haiti, Palm Beach volunteers help amid broken buildings,bruised hearts,” The Palm Beach Post (July 5, 2010).
 Internet Archive Wayback Machine, “Link Haiti 2011 Update,” Link Haiti, 2010.