Fla. bar drafting complaint against ex-lawyer of runaway Ohio teen Muslim-to-Christian convert

A professional organization for lawyers said Thursday it is drafting a misconduct complaint against the former attorney of a teenager from Ohio who ran away to Florida after converting to Christianity.

John Stemberger, an Orlando, Fla., lawyer, represented Rifqa Bary after she alleged her Muslim parents in suburban Columbus would harm her for converting.

The Florida Bar's grievance committee found enough evidence of alleged misconduct to prepare a complaint, said bar spokeswoman Karen Kirksey.

The bar looked into the matter after a formal complaint was filed with the group by Ohio lawyer Omar Tarazi, who represented Bary's parents in Ohio juvenile court.

Tarazi alleged Stemberger misrepresented himself as Bary's lawyer during Fox News interviews in December and January after Bary returned to Ohio and had new lawyers. Tarazi, who is Muslim, also accused Stemberger of alleging that Tarazi has terrorist ties.

The bar committee expects to file its complaint with the Florida Supreme Court this fall.

Stemberger on Thursday called Tarazi "the disgruntled opposing lawyer" in a high-profile politically and religiously charged case that Tarazi lost.

"Every public statement I made on Fox News was in good faith, based on facts known to be true, but have obviously been misconstrued," Stemberger said. "I have no doubt that, in time, this matter will be resolved in my favor and I will be fully exonerated."

Stemberger is also named in a $10 million federal defamation lawsuit Tarazi filed earlier this month raising some of the same complaints.

Stemberger called that lawsuit a frivolous publicity stunt and said he welcomed the chance to document his statements about Tarazi.

Tarazi applauded the Florida Bar for moving ahead, saying disparaging comments against any group, including Muslims, are not acceptable.

Bary ran away to Florida last year when she was still 16 with the help of Christian ministers she met on Facebook. She said she could be hurt or killed because she converted to Christianity. Police investigations in Ohio and Florida did not find evidence she was in danger.

Stemberger represented Bary after Florida took custody of her. After authorities returned Bary to Ohio, she was represented by new attorneys while a juvenile court judge tried unsuccessfully to reconcile Bary and her family.

Bary, who was an illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka, left the custody of the county children's service agency after turning 18 last month. She received her green card a couple of weeks later. She has refused all interviews.