FORT MYERS, Fla. - While she says it was a misunderstanding, Michelle Berthiaume doesn't deny signing the document that put a hold on her 11-year career.
"I was the licensed attorney in the office. That was a mistake," says Berthiaume.
In November, the Florida Supreme Court found the Fort Myers attorney guilty of sending a fraudulent subpoena to a bank in order to obtain bank records for a client's case. She was ordered to stop practicing law for 91 days, give up her clients, and refuse to take any new ones.
In the court's ruling, it says, "Such dishonest conduct demonstrates the utmost disrespect for the court and is destructive to the legal system as a whole."
"My goal and my life has been working in the law as an attorney, and it was just suddenly stopped," says Berthiaume, who says the subpoena incident happened in 2004, early on in her career.
Since the ruling, many of Berthiaume's clients have written the court on her behalf, many of them citing her years of Pro bono work.
Terrence Davis, a former client, says Berthiame is set apart from other lawyers due to types of cases she would take, often for little to no money. He believes the punishment is too harsh.
"If she feels you've been done wrong, she's going to make that wrong a right," says Davis.
Some legal experts, like former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, say it's hard to tell exactly how the suspension of Berthiaume's license would affect her future career. Taylor says she will most likely be readmitted to the bar, but the damage might already be done.
"Reputationally it's significant," says Taylor, who teaches Ethics at Ave Maria Law School. "It may change how the legal community thinks of her and how the legal consuming public thinks of her.
Berthiaume says regardless of what happens, she's proud of the work done in her 11-year career and is grateful for the people who've stood up for her.
"I thank them for their kindness and their faith in me," says Berthiaume. "I'm sorry I let them down."
Berthiaume can apply for readmission to the bar in February.