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Discipline Report

Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California

August 2016

Disbarment

Suspension

Probation

Public Reproval

Disbarment

Trezanay Michelle Atkins
State Bar # 249968, Indianapolis, Indiana (June 17, 2016)

Atkins, 34, was disbarred following a streamlined disciplinary proceeding. She had earlier been suspended from practicing law in Indiana after the Supreme Court of Indiana found her culpable of committing criminal conversion while acting in a fiduciary capacity and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty in violation of that state’s Rules of Professional Conduct. While serving as an officer of the Marion County Bar Association in Indiana, Atkins admitted to misappropriating more than $9,100 of the organization’s funds for her own use.

Because the misconduct is also prohibited by “substantially identical” California rules and statutory provisions, the State Bar Court judge determined it warranted discipline in this jurisdiction.

In aggravation, Atkins committed multiple acts of misconduct involving moral turpitude, demonstrated a lack of meaningful insight into the wrongfulness of her actions at trial, and displayed a “serious lack of cooperation” with the California State Bar by filing an “obviously untimely and meritless” motion seeking to disqualify the assigned deputy trial counsel on the day of the trial.


Hugh Walter Berry
State Bar # 149416, Mill Creek (June 17, 2016)

Berry, 50, was disbarred by default after failing to appear at his disciplinary proceeding either in person or through counsel, despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was found culpable of a single count of professional misconduct: failing to comply with conditions of an earlier-imposed probation order.

Specifically, he failed to contact and meet with the State Bar’s Office of Probation, failed to participate in fee arbitration, failed to submit two quarterly written reports, and failed to update his current address with the State Bar. He had one prior record of discipline.


Gregory L. Bonzer
State Bar # 237096, Los Angeles (May 29, 2016)

Bonzer, 37, was summarily disbarred after pleading nolo contendere to grand theft of personal property—a felony involving moral turpitude (Cal. Penal Code §487(a)).


Lloyd Douglas Brown
State Bar # 44908, Encino (June 17, 2016)

Brown, 72, was disbarred following his appeal of a hearing judge’s decision finding him culpable of breaching his fiduciary duty as an escrow holder and of misappropriating the escrow funds—both acts of misconduct involving moral turpitude.

Brown agreed to act as an escrow agent for the administrator of a longstanding client involved in a commercial transaction. A Lending and Borrowing Agreement specified the escrowed funds were to be held until the receiving bank confirmed that a Standby Letter of Credit was accepted. After $22,500 had been transferred into the escrow account, however, Brown disbursed $6,500 of the funds to the administrator and $126,000 to himself in 36 withdrawals—using it for personal expenses. He distributed the funds without first confirming he was authorized to do so.

In aggravation, Brown failed to make any restitution payments over a period of three years, concealed the fact the funds were gone and misrepresented that they had been transferred to a “third party.” In mitigation, he had not been disciplined in more than 42 years of practicing law, entered a partial stipulation of the facts, and offered evidence of substantial public and community service.

On review, Brown had urged a sanction less severe than disbarment, arguing his actions were “errors of judgment rather than dishonesty,” greatly mitigated by his long discipline-free career. The State Bar Court panel, however, noted that “the seriousness of his misappropriations, coupled with his surrounding dishonesty and his failure to make any restitution, compel the conclusion that a lesser sanction than disbarment will not protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession.”


Hector Arnoldo Cavazos, Jr.
State Bar # 226400, Sacramento (June 18, 2016)

Cavazos, 47, was disbarred after he stipulated to failing to return client files after being requested to do so, failing to withdraw as counsel of record in at least four cases after being suspended from practicing law, failing to timely file a declaration of compliance as required by a previous disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20), and falsely declaring he had filed the compliance declaration—an act involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Cavazos had a prior record of discipline and made several misrepresentations in the late-filed declaration. In mitigation, he entered a full stipulation prior to trial, saving the State Bar time and resources.


Joseph DeCarlo
State Bar # 230256, Los Angeles (June 17, 2016)

DeCarlo, 63, was disbarred by default. After his conviction for reckless driving (Cal. Veh. Code §23103) became final, the matter was referred to the State Bar’s hearing department for a determination of whether the facts and circumstances involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting discipline. Though DeCarlo had actual notice of the hearing, he failed to respond to the notice of the hearing or to have the default order set aside or vacated.


Mario Estuardo Diaz
State Bar # 76235, Los Angeles (June 18, 2016)

Diaz, 63, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing four counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter, including failing to maintain a proper balance in his client trust account. He also committed several acts involving moral turpitude: signing a client’s name on settlement checks without permission to do so and twice misappropriating the client’s funds.

Diaz was retained to represent a widow in a wrongful death action after her husband was killed in a traffic accident. He associated with another attorney experienced in handling catastrophic injuries who settled the case for the insurance policy limit of $1 million. That lawyer then issued six checks totaling nearly $420,300, payable to the client; he gave the checks and a disbursement sheet to Diaz, who promised to deliver them to the client. Instead, Diaz endorsed two of the checks with the client’s name, without her permission. Diaz then presented both checks to another attorney to process through his client trust account, claiming he did not maintain one—and misrepresented that the funds were his share of the settlement; that attorney wrote checks to Diaz for $100,300, which he misappropriated for his own use.

In aggravation, Diaz had a prior record of discipline—which also involved misappropriating client funds, acted dishonestly by endorsing the checks without the client’s permission, and harmed the client, who had limited knowledge of the English language, by depriving her of funds for more than a year and making it necessary for her to hire new counsel to recover her money.


Richard Gardner Engel
State Bar # 117405, Newport Beach (May 28, 2016)

Engel, 72, was summarily disbarred after pleading guilty to three counts of filing false tax returns and five counts of failing to file tax returns (Rev. and Tax Code §§19705(a)(1) and 19706). Both offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.


Archer Bryant Hudson, Jr.
State Bar # 92402, Yucaipa (June 18, 2016)

Hudson, 71, was disbarred after a hearing of two consolidated cases.

The first underlying case concerned the proper discipline to be imposed after being convicted of four felony offenses involving moral turpitude: two counts of lewd acts on a child under age 14 (Cal. Penal Code §288(a)), one count of a lewd act on a child under 14 by a person at least 10 years older (Cal. Penal Code §288(c), and one count of solicitation of murder. After a court of appeal found Hudson had committed lewd acts on minor boys on three occasions, Hudson hired a hit man to kill one of the boys who was to testify against him. The would-be hit man instead went to the police; Hudson had paid him a total of $5,000 after seeing a photograph purportedly showing the boy had been killed and buried in a shallow desert grave.

After his conviction, the State Bar review department ordered Hudson to comply with former California Rule of Court 955 (now Rule 9.20) requiring him to notify clients, courts, and counsel of his suspension from practice and then file a declaration of compliance with the State Bar Court. Hudson did not file the declaration until nearly 20 years after being ordered to do so.

In aggravation, Hudson committed multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed his victims—who were highly vulnerable. In mitigation, he had practiced law for approximately 11 years without a discipline record.

Underscoring the criminal convictions, the State Bar Court judge noted: “Even without consideration of Respondent’s violation of former Rule 955, no reasonable justification exists to recommend any level of discipline short of disbarment.”


Charles Gadsden Kinney
State Bar # 66428, Oakland (June 24, 2016)

Kinney, 66, was disbarred following a review of a hearing judge’s order recommending suspension after finding him culpable of two counts of maintaining unjust actions and one count of misusing the judicial system, which involved moral turpitude.

The present discipline involves Kinney’s action both as a plaintiff and attorney in several lawsuits.

In one protracted matter, he and partner purchased a home as tenants in common, then brought a series of six lawsuits against their neighbors, the previous homeowner and her real estate broker, as well as the city of Los Angeles. When all those cases were lost, Kinney appealed—the appeals failing as duplicative or frivolous, incoherently briefed, or for failing to present a discernible theory of recovery. Kinney was ultimately declared a vexatious litigant by both a superior and appellate court.

For these actions, the State Bar Court panel agreed Kinney was culpable of maintaining unjust legal actions. It also found him culpable of moral turpitude as he “sought to use the judicial system as a weapon to inflict onerous litigation costs on the neighborhood’s long-term residents for his own benefit” and acted in bad faith for years by disregarding the court’s vexatious litigant pre-filing order.

In another matter, Kinney represented clients in three lawsuits and six appeals in a dispute over a land easement. The panel found him culpable of maintaining an unjust action by pursuing lawsuits deemed “meritless” and by failing to address the merits of the underlying litigation.

In aggravation, Kinney committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated a pattern of that misconduct by repeatedly engaging in vexatious litigation for more than six years. In addition, he was found to have significantly harmed the public and administration of justice through an “outrageous waste of judicial resources.” And finally, he showed an “utter failure to accept responsibility for his actions”—embellished by seeking a temporary restraining order against the State Bar three days before his discipline trial, arguing it violated his federal rights.

While the hearing judge found significant mitigation in Kinney’s 31 years of practice without discipline, the panel concluded “a discipline-free record is most relevant when the conduct is aberrational and unlikely to recur” and assigned it no mitigation weight in this case.


Gary Edward Kovall
State Bar # 69086, Ely, Minnesota (May 28, 2016)

Kovall, 69, was summarily disbarred after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit bribery (18 U.S.C. §371)—a felony involving moral turpitude.


David Kyle
State Bar # 55821, Inglewood (June 17, 2016)

Kyle, 80, was disbarred after being found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct including practicing law while suspended—an act of moral turpitude; two counts of misrepresentation, which also involved moral turpitude; and failing to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier discipline order.

While suspended from the practice of law for prior wrongdoing, Kyle appeared as counsel of record during depositions of three personal injury clients—introducing himself as “counsel” and advising, guiding, and admonishing the clients on the record. He also falsely affirmed he had notified all clients, courts, and opposing counsel in pending matters that he had been suspended and falsely affirmed to the Probation Office that he had not violated the State Bar Act.

In aggravation, Kyle committed multiple acts of misconduct and had been disciplined three times previously. In mitigation, he stipulated to facts establishing his culpability.

In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge considered both the professional standards and relevant decisional law and noted: “Disbarment is both necessary and appropriate since Respondent’s prior misconduct, when considered with his current violations, evidences a continuing disregard for his ethical responsibilities.”


Audrey Gail Owens
State Bar # 154130, Upland (June 17, 2016)

Owens, 63, was summarily disbarred after she pled guilty to two counts of theft of government property exceeding $1,000 (18 U.S.C. §641) and the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar transmitted evidence of the finality of the conviction.


James Mazi Parsa
State Bar # 153389, Tustin (June 17, 2016)

Parsa, 51, was disbarred after being found culpable of multiple acts of misconduct in 43 client matters. His wrongdoing, stemming from the same fact pattern, included: improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and committing numerous acts of moral turpitude based on accepting new clients knowing he would soon be suspended from practicing law.

Parsa headed a large firm that aggressively advertised loan modification services on television and the Internet. The charges against him accumulated after he was forced to shut down the practice due to his criminal convictions for sexual intercourse with a minor. When the office was closed, the firm had 4,500 active files; neither the clients nor most of the 100 employees were alerted to the office closing. The State Bar petitioned for and was granted jurisdiction over the law practice. No part of the $120,464 in advanced fees was refunded to the clients.

In aggravation, Parsa had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct, clearly harmed his clients, failed to make restitution, and victimized a large number of individuals who were particularly vulnerable due to experiencing financial difficulties. In mitigation, Parsa stipulated to facts and cooperated with the State Bar in assuming jurisdiction over his practice. However, the State Bar Court judge underscored “the mitigation is offset by his repeated and multiple violations of his professional obligations to the detriment of his clients.”


Lynne Margery Romano
State Bar # 123413, Pasadena (June 18, 2016)

Romano, 58, was disbarred in a reciprocal disciplinary after being suspended indefinitely by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California for professional misconduct over the course of more than three years in that court. The State Bar hearing judge had recommended that she be suspended from practicing law for two years in all California courts; the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar appealed the recommendation, seeking disbarment instead.

Romano, a real estate attorney who provided loan modification services, had filed 82 Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions in 3 1/2 years. The bankruptcy court and hearing judge found that the petitions, which contained material omissions and false information about sham petitioners, were filed solely to delay foreclosures rather than to obtain bankruptcy relief. The petitions had all been filed by a paralegal who acted without Romano’s supervision; she was the attorney of record in the cases.

On review, the State Bar Court panel agreed with the hearing judge’s findings that Romano was culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, aiding the unauthorized practice of law, and abusing the legal system by filing sham petitions—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

It also agreed with the finding of aggravating circumstances of committing multiple acts of misconduct and causing significant harm to the judicial system by the misuse of the bankruptcy process.

It found fewer factors in mitigation, however—giving minimal rather than significant weight to Romano’s 22 years of discipline-free practice because the “misconduct was most serious, involved intentional dishonesty, and continued over three and a half years.” It allotted no credit for Romano’s claimed emotional difficulties, finding no clear and convincing evidence establishing they were directly responsible for her misconduct. In affirmed the findings of minimal mitigation credit for cooperating with the State Bar by entering a stipulation at the end of the hearing and for five character witnesses who included her husband, two attorneys, a law firm librarian, and a business owner—which “hardly constituted a broad range of references from the legal and general communities.” And finally, it assigned moderate mitigation weight to Romano’s expressions of remorse for her misconduct.

In recommending disbarment, the panel emphasized that the record “clearly evidences a pattern of misconduct involving a recurring type of dishonesty.”


Jon Bennett Rubinfier
State Bar # 94525, Sherman Oaks (June 17, 2016)

Rubinfier, 62, was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the proceedings against him or to act to have the default set aside or vacated. The State Bar determined he had adequate notice and opportunity to appear.
He was found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct: failing to obey a court order, failing to render an accounting of client funds, failing to promptly pay client’s funds, and misappropriating $15, 175 of a client’s funds—an act involving moral turpitude.


Carl Joseph Schwedler
State Bar # 244189, Davis (June 17, 2016)

Schwedler, 56, was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at the disciplinary proceeding against him, either in person or through counsel, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

He was found culpable of five counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to inform a client of a significant case development, failing to return client papers and property upon request, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.


Dirk Dwight Sharp
State Bar # 130772, Bend, Oregon (June 17, 2016)

Sharp, 57, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding against him. The State Bar verified that all procedural notice requirements had been satisfied. He was found culpable of failing to timely comply with a Supreme Court order requiring him to file a declaration of compliance as required in a disciplinary suspension order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).


Jeffrey David Tochterman
State Bar # 170466, Sacramento (June 17, 2016)

Tochterman, 49, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in a single client case: failing to perform legal services with competence; failing to keep clients informed of significant case developments; failing to provide notice of his suspension to the court, clients, and opposing counsel; and falsely representing to the State Bar that he did not represent any clients in pending matters—an act involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Tochterman had been disciplined by the State Bar previously, caused significant harm to his financially vulnerable clients—whose case was dismissed, committed multiple acts of misconduct, and failed to make restitution to the clients he wronged. In mitigation, he stipulated to the disbarment before disciplinary charges were filed against him and was candid and cooperative with the State Bar in resolving the matter.


Katherine Melissa Townley
State Bar # 226566, Redding (June 17, 2016)

Townley, 45, was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding against her, despite receiving adequate notice. She did not seek to have the default order set aside or vacated. She was found culpable of willfully violating a court order by failing to file a declaration of compliance as required under the terms of an earlier discipline order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). Townley had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before.


Paul Ernest Vallone
State Bar # 168395, Martinez (June 18, 2016)

Vallone, 51, was disbarred after a contested proceeding in which he was found culpable of willfully failing to comply with reporting and affidavit duties imposed by the California Supreme Court as part of an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He eventually filed the required affidavit, more than two years after its due date.

In aggravation, Vallone had two prior records of discipline.

On review, he argued that disbarment was unwarranted, as he caused no client harm. In recommending disbarment, however, the State Bar Court judge noted Vallone’s earlier misconduct and concluded: “It would undermine the integrity of the disciplinary system and damage public confidence in the legal profession if respondent were not disbarred for his willful disobedience of the Supreme Court order.”


Daniel Issac Wagner
State Bar # 195610, Los Angeles (June 17, 2016)

Wagner, 45, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing 11 acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. The charges included collecting an illegal fee and failing to cooperate in the disciplinary proceeding against him. He also falsely declared to the State Bar he had complied with the State Bar Act and held himself out as entitled to practice law and actually practicing when his license was suspended, for a total of four acts involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Wagner committed multiple acts of misconduct and had two prior records of discipline. In mitigation, he entered a pretrial stipulation in the matter.

In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge emphasized the acts involving misrepresentations, citing it as evidence of “willingness to make intentional misrepresentations in many contexts, including to the Office of Probation of the State Bar, to the courts, his clients, and opposing counsel.”


Peter John Whipple
State Bar # 107761, Stockton (June 18, 2016)

Whipple, 60, was disbarred by default. He failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity—and did not seek to have the default set aside or vacated. He was found culpable of misconduct in two client matters: two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in trust and misappropriating client funds for his own purposes, which involves moral turpitude.



Suspension

Kirsten Andelman
State Bar # 236347, Poway (May 23, 2016)

Andelman, 42, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier disciplinary order.


Ryan Eric Beiser
State Bar # 270457, Santa Monica (May 29, 2016)

Beiser, XX, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to entering a plea of nolo contendere to two felony counts of committing vandalism causing more than $400 in damages (Cal. Penal Code §594(a)).

After consuming alcohol and taking Ambien, for which he had a lawful prescription, Beiser fired a pistol numerous times in his apartment and at two unoccupied cars parked outside. After he refused to leave his apartment and closed the door on investigating officers, they summoned a SWAT team to evacuate the entire building. Beiser eventually obeyed commands to exit, which were issued on a public address system, and later claimed he had no memory of his actions.

In mitigation, he admitted his misconduct to the State Bar, entered a stipulation fully resolving the matter prior to trial, and provided evidence from 10 individuals from a range of the legal and general communities—all of whom attested to his good character.


Peter T. Brown
State Bar # 57703, Van Nuys (May 28, 2016)

Brown, 75, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to the felony of assault with a firearm (Cal. Penal Code §245(A)(2)).

Brown owned a home with a guesthouse in the back in which his god-daughter and her boyfriend lived. One evening, he entered the guesthouse brandishing a revolver, which he pointed at the boyfriend and said: “You stole all my money. I’m gonna shoot you in the kneecaps.” He then tripped and fell to the floor, losing his grip on the gun. Police who arrived at the scene noted Brown smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and had difficulty maintaining his balance; they also recovered the gun.

In mitigation, Brown had practiced law for 27 years prior to the misconduct and entered into a pretrial stipulation, saving the State Bar resources and time.


Gregory Molina Burke
State Bar # 188891, Newport Beach (May 23, 2016)

Burke, 49, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.


George Harvey Bye
State Bar # 56666, San Diego (May 23, 2016)

Bye, 80, was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as required in the terms of a previous disciplinary order.


Michael R. Carver
State Bar # 203925, Tustin (June 6, 2016)

Carver, 53, was suspended from practicing law pending passage of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated by the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary order.


Denise Ileene Damrow
State Bar # 100538, Long Beach (May 29, 2016)

Damrow, 63, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years. She had stipulated to holding herself out as entitled to practice law and actually practicing law while her license was suspended and to submitting a report to the Office of Probation falsely stating she had complied with all conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Damrow committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, she cooperated with the State Bar by filing a pretrial stipulation and provided letters from nine individuals attesting to her good character and to her civic service and charitable work.


Steven Lee Dickinson
State Bar # 11075, Los Gatos (May 28, 2016)

Dickinson, 60, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to depositing client funds in his trust account and making 19 withdrawals to cover personal expenses as needed rather than removing the funds at the earliest reasonable time, and as soon as his interest in the funds became fixed.

In aggravation, Dickinson had stipulated to committing misconduct related to a loan modification practice during the same period that subjected him to private reproval from the State Bar and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the present case.

In mitigation, he expressed remorse and acknowledged his wrongdoing in both cases. He also took prompt and proactive steps by attending client trust accounting school and ceasing his loan modification practice in addition to cooperating in the State Bar investigation and entering into a full stipulation.

In recommending the least severe sanction for the misconduct, the State Bar Court judge noted the substantial mitigating factors as well as the fact that Dickinson had practiced law for 25 years without a discipline record and had refunded all the client fees involved.


Mary M. Dryovage
State Bar # 112551, Sacramento (May 29, 2016)

Dryovage, 62, was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for two years after the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar sought review of the hearing judge’s finding of culpability of one count of failing to maintain a client’s funds in trust and ordering a public reproval.

Dryovage was retained to represent a client in an employment discrimination matter. She sent the client an agreement specifying responsibility to pay a $5,000 retainer fee in addition to an hourly rate of $420 or 1/3 of the recovery, as well as litigation costs. The client paid the $5,000 retainer, but did not execute the written agreement.

Dryovage filed a lawsuit on the client’s behalf in federal district court—later claiming the client authorized her to settle the case for $25,000—with the balance going to pay off attorney’s fees. The client testified she gave no such authorization. The case subsequently settled for just over $92,675; Dryovage deposited the funds in her client trust account, then withdrew $35,000 and sent the client a check for $25,675.

The attorney and client subsequently disagreed about the proper settlement amount and fees to be paid, though Dryovage later stipulated to withdrawing a total of $67,000 over nine months as fees maintained on the client’s behalf. The client ultimately complained to the State Bar.

In contesting the ruling below, the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar contended Dryovage had misappropriated the funds for her own use and benefit and should be disbarred.

The panel agreed the misappropriation was intentional and involved moral turpitude. In aggravation, it found Dryovage committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, significantly harmed her client, and demonstrated indifference and a lack of insight as to the wrongfulness of her conduct. In mitigation, she stipulated to facts establishing her culpability, practiced law for 25 years without discipline, presented testimony from nine witnesses and declarations from five others attesting to her good moral character and substantial pro bono activities.

In rejecting the order of disbarment and recommending suspension, the panel underscored the mitigating evidence and noted: “Although intentional, Dryovage’s misappropriation was not venal or surrounded by dishonesty.”


Nicolas Joson Gomez, Jr.
State Bar # 144361, South San Francisco (May 29, 2016)

Gomez, 64, was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to numerous acts of professional misconduct related to handling three client matters and to mishandling client funds entrusted to him. Specifically, he stipulated to: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep a client informed of significant case developments, failing to promptly notify a client of settlement proceeds received on his behalf, failing to promptly disburse client funds, failing to respond to a client’s reasonable case status inquiries, and commingling personal funds with those in a client trust account. He was also culpable of two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in trust and of misappropriating client funds—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Gomez committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered a stipulation with the State Bar before disciplinary charges were filed against him.


Frank Edward Goseco
State Bar # 132732, Rancho Santa Margarita (June 6, 2016)

Goseco, 56, was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as required in the terms of a previous disciplinary order.


Joseph Frieden Hanan
State Bar # 229936, Los Angeles (May 29, 2016)

Hanan, 40, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to violating several conditions of a previously imposed discipline order. That wrongdoing included: failing to submit quarterly and timely final written reports, proof of attendance at self-help group meetings, and proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam and of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School. In addition, his final written report to the Office of Probation included false information about his alleged compliance with reproval conditions—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Hanan committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation, accepting responsibility for his misconduct.


Martin Edgar Keller
State Bar # 104159, San Bernardino (May 29, 2016)

Keller, 62, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for four years after he stipulated to committing 11 acts of professional misconduct in three client matters. Specifically, his wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to release client papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order, and submitting false information on his written quarterly reports to the Office of Probation—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

He also stipulated to three counts each of failing to properly withdraw from representation and failing to cooperate with State Bar investigations of his alleged misconduct.

In aggravation, Keller committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into stipulations prior to disciplinary charges being filed in two cases and prior to trial in a third.


Charlotte Ella Kornev
State Bar # 181772, Bonsall (May 29, 2016)

Kornev, 58, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that she had complied with the requirement of 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education for a specified period when she knew she had not—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Kornev had practiced law for more than 19 years without a record of discipline and entered a pretrial stipulation as to facts, conclusions of law, and disposition.


Raaqim A.S. Knight
State Bar # 217630, Los Angeles (May 28, 2016)

Knight, 39, was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of nine counts of professional misconduct in three client matters. Specifically, his wrongdoing included three counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and improperly withdrawing from representation; two counts of failing to promptly release paper and property to clients after being requested to do so; and one count of failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries.

In all three cases, Knight was retained to represent clients in various legal matters, then effectively abandoned them after he started having marital discord and financial difficulties. He did not seek or obtain permission to withdraw from any of the cases.

In aggravation, Knight committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients—all of whom were forced to hire alternative counsel. In addition, the State Bar allotted aggravation weight to the uncharged misconduct of Knight’s acknowledged failure to update his membership records.

In mitigation, he had practiced law 12 years discipline-free, presented evidence from five witnesses who attested to his good character, and entered into a partial but detailed stipulation of facts and admission of documents. In addition, he was given mitigation weight due to experiencing extreme emotional difficulties during the misconduct—though the weight was nominal since it was not established by clear and convincing evidence that his emotional and financial difficulties would no longer pose a risk of further misconduct.


Anthony Robert Lopez, Jr.
State Bar # 137401, Woodland Hills (May 28, 2016)

Lopez, 55, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year following a review of the hearing judge’s decision finding him culpable of five counts of professional misconduct—including failing to maintain sufficient funds in trust for three medical providers and failing to obtain written conflict waivers from his clients.

Lopez was retained to pursue claims for two brothers injured in a car accident; the brother who was the driver did not have a driver’s license or insurance—and the police report indicated he was speeding and under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident. While Lopez informed the bothers of potential risks of their joint representation, he did not obtain written consent waivers from them.

When the claims with the driver were settled for $40,000 and $72,500, Lopez deposited the checks in his client trust account, distributed amounts of $5,000 and $7,000 to the brothers and maintained the balance of the settlement in the trust account while attempting to settle and satisfy the medical liens imposed; most of the providers were unresponsive. The brothers ultimately hired alternative counsel. Lopez had been unable to contact the brothers for more than 2 ½ years despite repeated attempts including personal visits to the various addresses they had given.

On review, the State Bar Court panel dismissed the charge of failing to maintain client funds in trust, finding that the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar failed to establish that Lopez was required to hold the entire settlement amount in trust on behalf of the providers rather than make a partial payout to the brothers. It affirmed the finding of culpability for failing to obtain written consent from his clients regarding potential conflict of interests.

In mitigation, Lopez filed a pretrial stipulation—though he was afforded only minimal credit, since it contained easily provable facts. He also demonstrated remorse for his misconduct and presented evidence from four witnesses and three declarants attesting to his good character as well as evidence of some pro bono work. Finally, the panel allotted moderate mitigation weight to the fact Lopez had verbally informed the clients of potential consequences of being represented jointly.

In aggravation, Lopez had been disciplined twice before—though the panel accorded this less weight than the hearing judge, reasoning that the misconduct in the instant proceeding occurred contemporaneously with the misconduct one of the other matters, and 2 ½ years before the State Bar filed a notice of disciplinary charges in that case.


Sergio J. Lopez
State Bar # 259288, Corona (May 29, 2016)

Lopez, 40, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to being convicted of the misdemeanor of disobeying a court order (Cal. Penal Code §166(a)(4)). He also stipulated to two counts of failing to maintain the respect due to a court of law and to failing to report the judicial sanctions imposed against him to the State Bar.

In the misdemeanor matter, Lopez was arrested while driving his girlfriend’s daughter home from school. Several days earlier, evidence showed he had paid for a hotel room in which he and his girlfriend had stayed together in violation of a protective order secured against him after the two had engaged in an altercation. A few months before that, he had been sanctioned for failing to pay $25,000 in non-discovery sanction due to nonpayment of child support and also failing to pay $11,137.50 in fees to a court-appointed expert; he did not report the sanction to the State Bar within 30 days of knowing about it as required.

In aggravation, Lopez committed multiple acts of misconduct, had three prior records of discipline, and failed to make restitution. In mitigation, he presented evidence from six witnesses attesting to his good character, pro bono service, and financial inability to pay—which was also supported by his financial declarations to the State Bar Court. He also stipulated to facts and culpability prior to trial commencing in one matter, and before formal charges were filed in the other.


Philip Lorin Marchiondo
State Bar # 129947, Los Angeles (May 28, 2016)

Marchiondo, 55, was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for three years after being found culpable of 12 counts of professional misconduct in relation to five client matters. Eight of the counts concerned violations of trust accounting rules, and four of the counts involved failing to communicate properly with clients. Both he and the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar had appealed a hearing judge’s earlier finding of 14 counts of misconduct—including one of moral turpitude—and recommending an 18-month actual suspension.

While managing a trial practice in one office, Marchiondo took over a personal injury practice from another attorney –retaining the managing administrator and staff who worked there previously. After receiving complaints from clients about calls going unanswered, Marchiondo stepped up supervision in the second-acquired practice, but found it necessary to close that office and terminate all staff there. The managing administrator, however, refused to turn over the financial records and a number of client files—eventually attempting to withdraw approximately $80,000 from Marchiondo’s operating and client trust accounts using checks forged with a signature stamp.

Lienholders and clients in the personal injury cases at issue were deprived of funds to timely satisfy their liens receive settlement funds due to Marchiondo’s failure to properly maintain the required client records. In several of the cases, he failed to inform clients that settlement amounts had been negotiated and received or that he had closed the law office or to promptly respond to inquiries about a case.

While the panel on appeal found Marchiondo had violated fundamental fiduciary responsibilities in mishandling client funds, it dismissed the count involving moral turpitude—finding he had made “an unintended, honest mistake” in misstating the amount due one of the clients in settlement.

In aggravation, Marchiondo committed multiple acts of misconduct, showed a lack of insight about his personal responsibility for managing his practice, and had a previous record of discipline—though that was assigned only limited weight on appeal as the misconduct occurred more than 20 years earlier, did not result in actual suspension, and was mitigated. In mitigation, he submitted a pretrial stipulation to facts and an additional stipulation during trial as to culpability for commingling client funds with his own. In addition, he presented witnesses and letters from several individuals attesting to his good character, and attempted to make restitution—though he was given only limited mitigation credit since most of those attempts occurred only after he was threatened with discipline.


Richard Medina
State Bar # 228010, San Diego (June 6, 2016)

Medina, 40, was suspended in the interim following his convictions of conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business (18 U.S.C. §371), as well as two crimes involving moral turpitude: causing a financial institution to file a report containing a material omission or misstatement of fact (31 U.S.C. §5324(a)(2)) and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business (18 U.S.C. §1960(a)).


Elisabeth Nyman
State Bar # 224998, Sacramento (May 28, 2016)

Nyman, 50, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar that she had completed the requisite hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a compliance period—an act involving moral turpitude. In reality, she had not completed any of the hours of study.

In aggravation, the State Bar Court judge found there is “significant harm to the administration of justice when an attorney lies under oath.” In mitigation, Nyman readily admitted to her misconduct and entered a stipulation as to facts and culpability before disciplinary charges were file against her.


Clifford Nelson Schuster
State Bar # 152164, Anaheim (May 28, 2016)

Schuster, 51, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a particular compliance period when he had not done so. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Schuster had practiced law for 22 years without a record of discipline, filed a pretrial stipulation acknowledging his culpability, and stopped practicing law before disciplinary charges were filed.


Lawrence John Semenza, III
State Bar # 47134, Henderson, Nevada (May 29, 2016)

Semenza, 73, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to pleading guilty to three counts of willfully failing to file tax returns (28 U.S.C. §7203). The offense is a misdemeanor that does not involve moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Semenza had no record of being disciplined in approximately 43 years of practice and filed a pretrial stipulation, saving State Bar Court time and resources. In aggravation, he committed multiple acts of misconduct and harmed “the public good” by depriving it of funds used to provide government services.


John Francis Shellabarger
State Bar # 132805, Santa Barbara (May 29, 2016)

Shellabarger, 55, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for three years after he failed to comply with four of the conditions imposed in a private reproval imposed earlier. Specifically, his misconduct included failing to meet with the Office of Probation and failing to file three quarterly written reports.

In aggravation, Shellabarger committed multiple acts of misconduct and had been disciplined by the State Bar once before. In addition, the State Bar Court judge took note of uncharged violations—the failure to comply with three additional conditions imposed in the earlier disciplinary order, as well as his indifference to the disciplinary process as evidenced by his failure to appear at the initial status conference in the matter and failure to make any efforts to comply with the conditions of his reproval.

In mitigation, he had entered into an extensive stipulation of facts related to his earlier disciplinary hearing—though that was given reduced weight due to his “repeated and ongoing denials of culpability and the lateness of his cooperation” with both the State Bar Court and Office of Probation.


Carol Marion Slatin
State Bar # 87748, San Rafael (May 28, 2016)

Slatin, 70, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to reporting to the State Bar that she had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a compliance period when she knew she had not completed the necessary units—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Slatin had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 35 years and filed a pretrial stipulation as to facts, conclusions of law, and level of discipline—saving the State Bar resources.


Steven Earl Smith, Jr.
State Bar # 140031, Calabasas (May 29, 2016)

Smith, 52, was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years after being found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct in a contested, original disciplinary hearing. Specifically, he failed to comply with conditions attached to an earlier disciplinary probation—failing to pay a client restitution and to reimburse the Client Security Fund for the unearned fee amounts it had paid to the client, as well as failing to timely submit quarterly and final written probation reports to the State Bar.

In aggravation, Smith committed multiple acts of misconduct and had two prior records of discipline. In mitigation, he entered a partial stipulation of facts effectively stipulating to culpability.

The State Bar Court judge denied Smith’s motion to reopen the record to present good character declarations from three individuals as he failed to establish that any of the declarations qualified as newly discovered evidence.


Roger Ira Stein
State Bar # 47168, Ridgecrest (May 29, 2016)

Stein, 73, was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar that he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a compliance period. In fact, he had completed only nine hours. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Stein had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered a stipulation prior to charges being filed, presented evidence from eight individuals from the general and legal communities attesting to his good character, changed his recordkeeping procedures to ensure the misconduct is not repeated, and presented evidence of significant community service.


Barry L. Van Sickle
State Bar # 98645, Mankato (May 29, 2016)

Van Sickle, 64, was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to one count of professional misconduct: failing to comply with a probation condition requiring payment of restitution totaling $65,000 to two clients.

In aggravation, Van Sickle was disciplined twice before and significantly harmed the clients, who were deprived of their funds for more than five years.


Richard Henry Wagner
State Bar # 127326, San Diego (May 28, 2016)

Wagner, 61, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar that he was in compliance with Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements when he was grossly negligent in not knowing that he had not met those requirements—professional misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Wagner had practice law for nearly 27 years without a record of discipline and voluntarily entered a stipulation admitting culpability and consenting to a discipline order before charges were file against him.


George Stephen Wass
State Bar # 161732, Calabasas (May 28, 2016)

Wass, 68, was suspended from practicing law for three months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to 10 acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. Specifically, he was culpable of: failing to keep a client informed of significant case developments, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about case status, and charging and receiving legal fees for mortgage loan forbearance services prior to performing them. He was also culpable of two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence; failing to refund unearned advanced fees; and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct he was alleged to have committed.

In aggravation, Wass committed multiple acts of misconduct and had been disciplined twice before. However, the aggravating impact of the prior discipline was diminished because the misconduct in the current matter occurred mostly during the same time period. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him.



Probation

Leonard Jay Klaif
State Bar # 140937, Ojai (May 28, 2016)

Klaif, 67, was placed on probation for two years after a contested proceeding in which he was charged with four counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. On review, he was found culpable of three of them: improperly accepting compensation from a nonclient, failing to perform legal services with competence, and misrepresenting the status of a matter to a client—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

Klaif was retained by a client, a non-citizen and legal immigrant, to prepare and file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking to set aside a guilty plea to a drug charge based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The client informed him his sister would pay the legal fee of $1,000—which she did—but did not sign a written consent to the arrangement. When the client inquired about his case status a few months later, Klaif assured him he would soon file the writ. However, he became overwhelmed with his workload and stress over caring for several family members and did not file the writ—though he sent the client a letter falsely stating that he had filed it.

In aggravation, Klaif committed multiple acts of misconduct. The additional aggravating circumstances alleged by the State Bar’s Office of the Chief Trial Counsel were disregarded as not included in the original Notice of Disciplinary Charges.

In mitigation, Klaif had no prior record of discipline in nearly 24 years of practicing law, presented evidence from 19 individuals attesting to his good character, cooperated with the State Bar by entering a partial stipulation as to facts and culpability, and evidenced a recognition of the wrongfulness of his actions. He was also allotted some mitigation for the stress and anxiety caused by his aging parents’ illnesses and his father’s death.


Lawrence Theodore Osuch
State Bar # 69249, Poway (May 28, 2016)

Osuch, 71, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a compliance period—misconduct involving moral turpitude. In fact, he had completed only 2.5 hours.

In mitigation, Osuch entered a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 37 years, and submitted evidence of community service. He also provided evidence of eight individuals willing to attest to his good character; however, that evidence was given only modest weight since seven of those witnesses were from the legal field, as opposed to a range from both legal and general communities.


Derek William St. Pierre
State Bar # 200131, San Francisco (May 28, 2016)

St. Pierre, 43, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar that he had completed the required 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education when he had not completed any during the specified compliance period. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, St. Pierre had practiced law for more than 15 years without a record of discipline, demonstrated remorse for his misconduct by completing the required education hours after the State Bar audit staff contacted him, was experiencing family problems and a legal separation during the time of the misconduct, and entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him.


Kevin Michael White
State Bar # 206704, Orange (May 28, 2016)

White, 44, was placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of making misrepresentations to a court, misconduct involving moral turpitude.

An associate in a law firm handling a workers compensation case, White drafted a removal petition specifying his client’s two requests for a Qualified Medical Evaluator Panel, but failing to advise the judicial officer that no panel had been ordered because a Medical Panel had been unable to process both requests because they were deficient and lacked necessary information. Both requests had been drafted and submitted by a partner in the firm.

In aggravation, White’s misconduct significantly harmed the administration of justice by misleading the judge and the Workers Compensation Appeals Board. In mitigation, he had practiced law for nine years without being disciplined and presented testimony from seven credible witnesses attesting to his good character. He also entered into an extensive stipulation of facts—though that was given limited mitigation credit since the facts were easily provable.



Reader Comments

  1. Janet Pesak says:

    Would you kindly advise whether there are official definitions for language used in the determination/decisions involving disciplinary actions? (i.e, moral turpitude, significant harm) Thank you. (FYI, this question has nothing to do with my own conduct)

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