This is one bar tab Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) may regret not paying.
Faced with an onslaught of accusations that he engaged in underage sex trafficking—and bracing for criminal charges—Gaetz has allowed his license to practice law in his home state of Florida to lapse.
As of Wednesday, Gaetz had not paid the fees he owes to The Florida Bar, which regulates lawyers there, prompting the organization to deem him “delinquent” and “not eligible to practice law in Florida.”
This may look like an oversight, but Gaetz’s office is chalking it up to a career change.
“Congressman Gaetz is no longer actively engaged in the practice of law. He is focused on representing his constituents in Congress, not the courtroom,” said his office’s communications director, Joel Valdez.
That explanation may sound reasonable enough. But four attorneys who spoke to The Daily Beast noted that it is extremely rare for lawyers to do this. Instead, attorneys taking a step back from their legal duties normally pay a smaller $175 fee to remain “inactive” but still a “member in good standing.”
“He clearly doesn’t take his law license very seriously when he doesn’t take the time to pay the $265 dues,” said Daniel Uhlfelder, a Santa Rosa Beach attorney who lives in Gaetz’s district. “He’s not a serious lawyer. He’s not a serious congressman. He’s not a serious person. This is one small but symbolic example of that.”
The Daily Beast has learned that the Florida Bar has branded Gaetz as “delinquent” twice in the past two years. The organization temporarily cut him off in 2019 and again in 2020, because Gaetz failed to affirm that he is properly handling and protecting any clients’ money in trust accounts. Lawyers must abide by strict rules to ensure they are not stealing or misusing money that belongs to the people they represent.
In 2019, he also ran afoul of the professional organization’s “standards of civility” for serving the role of Trump attack dog. Gaetz threatened Trump Organization attorney-turned-whistleblower Michael Cohen on the eve of his tell-all congressional testimony, tweeting at him: “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” When Gaetz later apologized, the group’s grievance committee let him off the hook—but not before issuing a “letter of advice” that said his behavior was “unprofessional, reckless, insensitive, and demonstrated poor judgment.”
Although Gaetz is a Republican who rails against government financial assistance and hurricane disaster relief, he started his legal career by making money by suing local governments. In one saga that made news headlines in the Florida panhandle, Gaetz represented a woman who successfully sued her county and raked in thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Gaetz’s former client, Suzanne Harris, was quoted recently in the Northwest Florida Daily News saying, “I think Walton County government shakes in their boots every time they hear his name.”
Gaetz got his start at Keefe Anchors & Gordon, a law firm in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. When he made his way to Congress, he played an instrumental role in getting his former mentor, Larry Keefe, appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump.
Gaetz has been under intense public scrutiny since March following a bombshell New York Times report that he is being investigated for his role in underage sex trafficking, and The New York Times reported Thursday night that two top federal prosecutors had joined the legal team investigating the child sex trafficking allegations against Gaetz.
The Daily Beast has previously revealed how Gaetz befriended a local Florida tax official and allegedly used him to arrange paid sex with college girls. The Daily Beast also obtained a confession letter from his wingman, Joel Greenberg, noting how Gaetz paid for sex with multiple women—as well as a girl who was 17 at the time.
Although Gaetz has not been charged with a crime, Greenberg has pled guilty and is cooperating extensively with federal investigators. Meanwhile, Gaetz has put together a legal team in preparation for a possible indictment.
It’s that potential criminal case, however, that has some thinking Gaetz failed to pay his lawyer dues to avoid having his license unceremoniously revoked.
“It might be a calculated move. I think he’s preemptively trying to remove a level of scrutiny from the Bar,” said Cris Dosev, a real estate developer and Marine Corps veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He ran unsuccessfully against Gaetz in a Republican primary last year.
Gaetz failed to pay his $265 annual dues before the Oct. 1 deadline, which means that he now owes an extra $150 reinstatement fee, a $50 late fee, and would need to sign a petition asking the group’s executive director to let him back in.
Gaetz could have sent in a paper check or paid online via credit card with a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.
“I don’t think they take Venmo, so maybe that was the problem,” Uhlfelder said.