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Law Firm in Trouble for Ads Related to Ship Lost in Joaquin
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Johns & Van Roenn has disgusted many Florida residents with an ad it released that targeted family members of the lost El Faro crew.

Summary: Johns & Van Roenn has disgusted many Florida residents with an ad that targets family members of El Faro.

According to, a Florida law firm has landed itself in trouble with the state bar after publishing an advertisement targeting the family members of the El Faro crew. Last week, the 40-year-old cargo ship left Jacksonville–but never reached Puerto Rico. It appears the ship was caught in Hurricane Joaquin and sunk near the Bahamas, CNN reports.


According to CNN, the ship had issues with taking on water. Some of the crew voiced concerns about whether the ship should sail at all, since there was a major storm in its path.

On Thursday, law firm Johns & Von Roenn placed an ad in the Times-Union just hours after the U.S Coast Guard called off the search for crew members on the cargo ship. According to ABC News, Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor called the decision to suspend the search “painful.” He added that personnel fought “horrific” conditions to try to find those aboard the ship.

In 2012, a German firm raised eyebrows when it released a particularly gory ad.

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According to Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker, Johns & Van Roenn did not pre-file its advertisement with the bar before publishing it. According to Florida state bar rules, advertisements must be submitted 20 days before they are published so they may be thoroughly reviewed and approved.

The attorney behind the advertisement, Chris Johns, claims one of his fellow partners gave him a heads-up that some advertising rules had changed with the Bar. Johns says he tried to fax and email the ad to the bar on Thursday.

The Florida Bar has already hit Johns with hundreds of dollars in penalties. Johns insists, “I didn’t do anything unethical. I bend over backward for my clients.”



John DeVault and Hank Coxe, two former presidents of the Florida Bar, have provided a joint statement:

“Regardless of whether this ad violates the Advertising Rules of The Florida Bar, it is offensive to the public and to the overwhelming majority of lawyers. It is an embarrassment to our profession that a lawyer would attempt to profit from a tragedy such as this.”

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As always, members of the public have taken to Facebook to air their grievances over the ad. One poster, Robert Johnson, comments:

“The front page of the paper has an article saying that the Coast Guard has called off the search for survivors of the tragic loss of the merchant vessel El Faro, and here come the lawyers. This is the kind of person who give the legal profession a black eye.”

Johns has defended the ad, saying it was not meant to be insensitive. Instead, it was published to help families pursue action against the company. Johns points out that the shipping company has almost definitely sought legal advice at this point: “I certainly believe the family members of the crew should have the same benefit of legal counsel and the same benefit of experience as TOTE has.”

In 2013, New Jersey businesses sued Lloyd’s of London for losses they sustained during Hurricane Sandy.

Though Johns wants to help the families of those who likely perished with the ship, he claims he had not even kept up with the latest news about the tragedy. He says he didn’t know that the search had been called off Wednesday night when he made arrangements to run the ad.

Johns says, “I would of course extend my deep condolences to the families and their loved ones. This is a terrible tragedy. Beyond words. I can’t imagine the horror they have experienced.”

A spokesman for the Seafarers International Union has joined others in slamming the ad. Jordan Biscardo says, “At best the timing seems incredibly insensitive. But I can’t say I’m completely surprised.”

Seventeen of the thirty-three missing crew members were members of the Seafarers International Union.


Photo credit: NY Post, (Johns)




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