Can you imagine the glee on the face of the investigator for Florida’s Department of Financial Services as he walked in with the big news that Chip Merlin has no Florida Bar License? It probably went down something like this:

“Hey boss, you know that attorney who criticizes us and whom the insurance companies hate because he exposes them as well, Chip Merlin? Well, he has no Florida Bar license! Yep, I looked it up, and this guy is an imposter!”    

In the file of “truth is stranger than fiction,” the Chief of the Bureau of Investigation for the Division of Insurance Agent & Agency Services filed a Bar complaint that yours truly does not have a Florida license to practice law. There was more than one reason I wrote yesterday’s post: “Are Florida’s Department of Financial Service Investigators Competent or Simply Refusing to Investigate Alleged Insurance Company Corruption?.

My personal experience with most civil servants working in Departments of Insurance or as insurance regulators is that they are hardworking and honest people who want to do a great job protecting the public. Many have surprising expertise, and I find myself learning from them. In many instances, the state does not have enough money allocated so they can keep up with the demands of their jobs. Except for top leadership, many are career people and not in the circle of going back and forth from the insurance industry.   

So, what is up with Florida’s insurance investigators? I have been a member of the Florida Bar in good standing since 1983. This was part of our response to the Florida Bar:

“…both within legal circles and in the public sector, it is clear that he has not been out to confuse anyone or conceal his real identity from anyone. Not only has he often included both ‘William F.’ and ‘Chip’ in the same instance, he also habitually includes both his firm name and his image, so no concealment could be fathomed, and no confusion claimed in good faith. [See attached Exhibits.] It is hard to find another member of The Florida Bar who has been more openly public about his identity than Mr. Merlin. The fact that this circumstance has not been a problem for anyone for nearly four decades should speak loudly.

Currently, by all searches, we’ve been able to find only one living “Chip Merlin” in the United States, and that is William F. Merlin, Jr. William F. Merlin, Jr. was named for his father, a Coast Guard Officer. His parents did not want to confuse people, so they took the advice of his grandfather and adopted the moniker ‘Chip’ after one of his favorite cartoons in the Sunday comics. Long before law school, and except for the manner by which he executes formal documents, he’s been known to the world as ‘Chip Merlin.’      

Arguably, what is more confusing about the reporting citizen’s dilemma is the dilemma itself. His direct supervisor, James ‘Jimmy’ Patronis, recently met with Mr. Merlin on the Friday before Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida. Jimmy Patronis consistently addressed Mr. Merlin as ‘Chip’ throughout the meeting as they discussed Mr. Merlin’s Florida law practice. Had the reporting citizen taken two seconds to ask his supervisor, merely Googled ‘Chip Merlin,’ or taken any effort whatsoever before reporting his confusion to The Florida Bar, all would have been clarified. What is most confusing is that the reporting citizen identified himself as a professional investigator.

The complaint was obviously dismissed. I have no ill will about this matter. I do have concerns.  

Part of my presentation regarding the Champlain Towers made at this week’s Windstorm Conference was the lesson that all of us will make mistakes which usually provide a “last chance” to correct before a tragedy occurs. My sincere hope is that insurance regulators and investigators can correct whatever mistakes have been made regarding the allegations I noted in yesterday’s post. My hope is they are trained, motivated, and provided adequate resources so that the allegations can honestly be investigated and then critically examined. If true, the allegations suggest that Hurricane Ian policyholders are having insurance benefits stolen from them. Failing to take action to prevent such conduct would be a tragedy.

Thought For The Day   

A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.

—John Wooden