Fort Myers attorney accused of raping ex-employee, asking clients for sex as payment, lawsuit claims

A Fort Myers attorney is accused of raping an employee and asking clients to trade sex for legal fees, according to a federal lawsuit, in addition to a long list of other graphic sexual behavior.

Four women who used to work for Guichard St. Surin at The Guardian Law Firm have sued him for battery, sexual assault, emotional distress, forcible confinement and unpaid wages. The damages add up to nearly $5 million combined.

Bonita Springs labor and employment lawyer Benjamin Yormak is representing the ex-employees. He says that St. Surin preyed on women he deemed to be vulnerable.

“It’s our position that Mr. St. Surin selected these particular employees based upon difficult financial state that they were in, meaning they needed the job. He knew they couldn’t go anywhere,” Yormak said. “And also, he had them undergo psychological tests, personality testing. So he knew which folks were going to be vulnerable and which ones weren’t.”

In the complaint, one former employee says St. Surin raped her twice. The first time was on a business trip with St. Surin, which she only attended because she was “desperate for the job and income.” The second time was at his office. That same employee says he “showed [her] a gun he kept in his office while making it clear to [her] that it was in her best interest to have sexual relations with him.”

“The mental effect that it’s had on my clients has been absolutely devastating,” Yormak said. “What happened to these four ladies should never happen in any workplace ever.”

Yormak said while the women worked as paralegals at The Guardian Law Firm between June 2016 and April 2018, each of them suffered from “gross and continuing sexual harassment.”

One woman alleges St. Surin “locked her in his office” and “refused to let her leave unless she acquiesced to his sexual demands.”

In response to the question of why the women did not report the issues sooner, Yormak said it is often a battle just to get the courage to come forward.

“This isn’t like a car accident where you immediately report it. There’s no shame in having a car accident,” Yormak said. “When these kinds of things happen, the devastating impact psychologically is often crippling. And my clients are absolutely no exception to that.”

The suit also claims St. Surin took advantage of more than just employees, alleging that he would solicit sexual favors from clients who could not afford attorney’s fees. In a 2018 incident report obtained by WINK News, one client reported to police that St. Surin “grabbed her rear end” and “grabbed her breast” after asking her for sex as a form of payment.

Court documents show St. Surin eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery and served six months probation.

“It’s incredibly concerning that we hear that an attorney would basically trade sexual favors for legal services. It’s morally reprehensible, it’s a violation of the bar rules to do that,” Yormak said. “And to me personally, it’s offensive. Somebody like that shouldn’t have a law license.”

St. Surin is still a “member in good standing” according to the Florida Bar. He did not respond to WINK News’ multiple requests for an interview.

On his website, St. Surin promises to “make his clients feel cared for, unlike anywhere else.” It also features several bible verses and the slogan “Serving the One.”

Yormak says he hopes this case sends an important message.

“Coming together and banding together, it speaks to the Me Too movement and the power of it,” Yormak said. “That getting together is the right thing to do, to make things right, to get equality, and to make sure that predators don’t rule the workplace.”

Yormak said he is not pursuing a criminal case, rather he is hoping for civil justice for St. Surin’s former employees. He said the women have been interviewed by the Florida Bar as it conducts an investigation into St. Surin.

WINK News contacted the Bar to confirm, and they provided this response via email:

“The Florida Bar has a case open regarding Guichard St. Surin for the allegations you describe. The case is with a Grievance Committee and no additional information is available at this time. Grievance Committees include attorneys and public members. They investigate the case and recommend proceeding with discipline, a finding of probable cause, or not proceeding, no probable cause. They are considering the allegations vis a vis The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Once the Grievance Committee makes a finding, one way or the other, public records will be available.”

According to court documents, St. Surin has until Monday March 9th to respond to the lawsuit.

Reporter:Sara Girard
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