Lawyer once helped debt-ridden owners hang on to homes. Now he helps cities take them away

Malekia and Maya McKinney were desperate to keep the property where they had grown up.

The city of St. Petersburg had filed a lawsuit to foreclose on it in March of 2018, citing unpaid property fines.

Malekia turned to someone she trusted for advice. He gave her a name:

Matt Weidner.

The St. Petersburg attorney had made a name for himself in the wake of the Great Recession by representing hundreds of Florida homeowners who were being foreclosed upon.

But Malekia was shocked.

“No, that’s the name of the attorney who we’re going up against,” she said.

What Malekia’s friend didn’t know was that Weidner had taken on a new line of work: helping cities foreclose on property owners who owed fines for violating the city’s property code.

Weidner saw the work as helping cities deal with the blight caused by poorly maintained properties, but it also meant that a lawyer once known for helping people keep homes was now helping cities take them away.

What’s more, property owners named in these suits have raised numerous issues about his handling of these cases, issues that in some cases Weidner had himself complained about when he was an attorney for homeowners.

‘The highest calling’

Weidner hadn’t started out as a foreclosure defense attorney.

After graduating from law school at Florida State in 1999, Weidner worked for trade groups representing pain care specialists who opposed making it harder for doctors to prescribe opioids — with Weidner at one point describing the “administrative nightmare” that would follow if doctors were forced to have follow-up appointments with their patients before automatically refilling their prescriptions.

Florida — and particularly Broward County — would soon become the painkiller capital of the East Coast, pockmarked with “pill mills” featuring lines of addicts snaking through the parking lot,

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