Bar suspends local attorney over mishandling of money

Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 6:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 6:25 p.m.

Gainesville attorney William B. Watson III has been suspended by the Florida Bar for reportedly misappropriating money for a development deal by a client.

The case involves client Jason Meyer, for whom Watson in November 2007 arranged a line of credit for a development deal in Arizona, according to documents filed by the Bar.

In January 2008, a Texas investor, Steven Hooks, agreed to provide money for Meyer's line of credit. Hooks sent $300,000 on Jan. 22, 2008, to Watson's trust account for the line of credit.

Hooks believed the money would be held for 48 hours and then returned to him with a profit, according to the legal document. Instead of being held, the money was disbursed to Meyer. Hooks later reached an agreement with Meyer to recover part of the money, according to the document.

The various parties dispute whether the money was to be held or disbursed.

A similar case involving different investors occurred in 2009.

A referee who heard the case, Fifth Circuit Judge Lawrence J. Semento, found that Watson was wrong to disburse the money.

"The essence of the dispute is whether Mr. Watson had authority to disburse the third parties' funds from his trust account," wrote Semento. "The factual disputes are resolved against Mr. Watson. The evidence is credible, clear and convincing that he disbursed funds contrary to the investors' intent, and without their consent."

Semento wrote that the situation could have been avoided had Watson gotten written agreements from the parties on how the money would be handled.

A phone message left for Watson on Tuesday was not returned.

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