The Florida Bar Association has dismissed a grievance filed against the leader of a pro-family organization accused of anti-Muslim bias after he volunteered to represent Rifqa Bary, the Ohio Muslim girl who ran away from home for fear of reprisals after converting to Christianity.
The complaint against Florida attorney John Stemberger was dropped a week after Bary blasted the bar action a “grave injustice” in a deposition
. She testified that Stemberger had helped save her life.
Bary ran away from home in late 2009, and told Florida authorities she believed her life was in danger because of her decision to convert to Christianity.
Stemberger said Bary’s family threatened to repatriate their daughter to her native land of Sri Lanka, an island nation just southeast of India where the per-capita income is less than $5,000.
Stemberger, an Orlando attorney well known in Florida conservative circles who also serves as president and general counsel of the nonprofit Florida Family Policy Council, had defended Bary on a pro-bono basis.
According to Stemberger, the bar complaint, which could have cost him his license to practice law had it been upheld, alleged that he had disparaged Muslims.
The grievance was filed by Omar Tarazi, an attorney representing Bary’s family.
Stemberger denied that allegation, telling Newsmax in February: “I made it clear there are millions of Muslims in the country that are peaceful, law-abiding citizens. And there’s also the radicals.
“The former need to be protected, the latter need to be exposed. I was very clear on the record in writing about the distinction . . . I don’t remember disparaging or humiliating anyone.”
In its action Thursday, the Florida Bar apparently agreed. The judge hearing the allegations dismissed them “with prejudice,” meaning the complaint will not be reconsidered by the bar. The judge’s finding is subject to approval by the Florida Supreme Court.
Bary’s deposition in the case was taken by telephone from an undisclosed location to ensure her safety. She reportedly testified that Stemberger had conducted himself with a high degree of professionalism throughout the course of his voluntary work on her behalf.
Stemberger isn’t out of legal trouble yet, however. He still faces a $10 million defamation lawsuit that Tarazi filed in Ohio federal court. That lawsuit alleges that Stemberger and a blogger made remarks that damaged Tarazi’s reputation.
Stemberger reportedly did not mention Tarazi by name, however, during the brief Fox News interview that Stemberger says is the basis of that lawsuit. Stemberger said he believes that case probably won't come to trial until 2013.
After the bar grievance was dismissed Thursday, Bary released a statement: “I believe the bringing of this case was a great injustice because I would not be here without the aid of this man's counsel in my court hearing.
“With a wife and four children, he still spent countless hours each day, without pay, fighting for my freedom and safety… even to the point of it costing his health,” she stated. “I believe Mr. Stemberger to be a man of absolute integrity and honesty.”
Stemberger maintains that many bar associations are “becoming increasingly ideological and political,” and seek to enforce political correctness among attorneys. He also says the lawsuits could discourage other attorneys from accepting pro bono cases in similar cases.
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