Weeks after she filed a Florida Bar complaint against a lawyer who tried to take her picture in a public hallway, Broward Clerk of Courts Brenda Forman tried to get appointed to the board that could ultimately decide the merits of her complaint.
Forman applied on Jan. 4 to become a “public member” of the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, which sets ethical and professional policies that must be obeyed by every lawyer in the state. Her application was turned down by a screening committee on Feb. 13.
The application raised eyebrows in the courthouse because Forman stated under oath that she had never “been a party to a lawsuit either as a plaintiff or as a defendant,” even though court records show she was a defendant in a 2014 foreclosure case and was sued for divorce by her now ex-husband Horward Forman in 2017.
While divorce cases typically list the parties as “petitioner” and “respondent,” legal experts said those terms carry the same meaning as “plaintiff” and “defendant.”
“The point of the question is whether they’ve been involved in a lawsuit, and that’s something that can work against them or in their favor — someone who understands what it means to go through the process could be an asset to the Florida Bar,” said Nova Southeastern University Law professor Bob Jarvis. “I don’t think a reasonable person could misunderstand what’s being asked here. At best, she blacked out here when she was filling out her application.”
It would be nearly impossible to prove she was being deliberately deceptive, Jarvis said.
Efforts to reach Forman by phone and email Friday were not successful.
Last December, Forman filed a Bar complaint against attorney Bill Gelin, who runs a courthouse news and gossip blog that frequently criticizes judges, the clerk’s office and sometimes prosecutors.
Gelin drew Forman’s ire in October when, during a conversation about one of his clients, he referred to her as “Brenda” instead of “Mrs. Forman” or “Clerk Forman.” Gelin said he was amused at her insistence on formality and decided to write about the encounter on his blog. She balked when he tried to take Forman’s picture on multiple occasions.
Forman responded by accusing Gelin of stalking her and putting her in fear for her life. She filed a stalking complaint and a Florida Bar complaint in December.
In a Feb. 5 letter to the Bar obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Forman said she wanted Gelin to refer to her in formal terms when communicating with her staff, not when talking to her directly.
The stalking complaint was assigned to a Miami judge, but Forman dropped it before a public hearing could be held. The judge wanted Forman to answer questions about why she was dropping the complaint, but the law does not require her to explain herself and the hearing was canceled.
But the Bar complaint is still pending. In her latest letter to the Bar, Forman said she dropped the stalking complaint because Gelin “was making a circus out of the upcoming court date.” Gelin had printed embossed invitations and handed them out to lawyers and friends in mid-January. “I did not want to subject my staff to his bullying tactics,” she wrote.
Forman asserted that her dispute with Gelin is over his professional conduct, not his blog.
“My photo frequently appears in a number of places,” she wrote. “However the photographers or media representatives … have never shoved a camera in my face, snapped a photo, made sarcastic remarks and then walked away as Mr. Gelin likes to do.”
Videos of the encounters show Gelin holding his camera and asking questions, but not getting closer than two to three yards away from Forman.
Gelin has accused Forman of lying in her Bar and stalking complaints.
“I have no comment on Brenda’s latest assertions,” he said, adding that he is referring his concerns to the Broward State Attorney’s Office. Forman is a former employee of that office — allegations of wrongdoing on her part would likely be referred to prosecutors from another part of the state.