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Discipline Report

Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California

September 2016

Disbarment

Suspension

Probation

Public Reproval

Disbarment

Erica Renae Arceo
State Bar # 177462, Lincoln (June 18, 2016)

Arceo, 48, was summarily disbarred after the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar received evidence of finality of her conviction of wire fraud (18 U.S.C. §371), a felony involving moral turpitude.


Stephen Kenneth Chrysler
State Bar # 165677, Meridian, Ohio (June 17, 2016)

Chrysler, 50, was summarily disbarred after his convictions for committing five counts of wire fraud (18 U.S.C. §1343) became final. The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude, establishing both of the criteria for summary disbarment, and obviating the possibility of a State Bar Court hearing on the matter.


Tatiana Katerina Linton
State Bar # 166615, Van Nuys (June 18, 2016)

Linton, 46, was summarily disbarred after pleading nolo contendere to a felony offense involving moral turpitude: forgery (Cal Penal Code §475(c)). The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar transmitted evidence of the finality of that conviction.


Saqib A. Zuberi
State Bar # 273389, Chino Hills (July 9, 2016)

Zuberi, 37, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, at the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with 12 counts of professional misconduct. The State Bar determined he had adequate notice and opportunity to appear, and did not respond to the petition for disbarment or move to set aside or vacate the default.

He was found culpable of 10 of the counts with which he was charged. The wrongdoing involving client matters included: failing to perform legal services with competence, accepting fees from a non-client, failing to deposit client funds in trust, failing to provide a client with an a proper accounting, charging and collecting advanced fees prior to completing all loan modification services, two counts of failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and a single count of misappropriating client funds—an act involving moral turpitude. He also was found culpable of failing to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation of his alleged misconduct and of failing to comply with probation conditions imposed in a previous discipline order.

Zuberi had two prior records of discipline.



Suspension

Al Fadel Amer
State Bar # 197745, Long Beach (June 17, 2016)

Amer, 47, was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: accepting payment of a legal fee from an individual other than the client without the client’s informed written consent, failing to promptly release the client’s papers and property after terminating employment, and failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees and an arbitration award.

A client hired Amer to file a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of his son—agreeing to pay $20,000—with a downpayment of $10,000 and monthly installments of $300; in all, the father paid $14,800 before Amer left his firm, taking the client file with him. There was no written informed consent about the payment arrangement. One year later, Amer told the father he had determined there was no legal basis for the writ, and directed him to stop making payments. However, he did not return the file and unearned fees as requested, nor did he return calls pressing for their return. The client eventually hired new counsel to settle their dispute, ultimately finalized in an arbitration award, which Amer has not paid.

In aggravation, Amer committed multiple acts of discipline and had a prior record of misconduct. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation, acknowledging his wrongdoing and saving the State Bar time and resources.


Edward Joseph Callow
State Bar # 228834, Seattle, Washington (July 5, 2016)

Callow, 40, was suspended from practicing law pending final dispositions of several convictions of violating Washington law: conspiracy to commit theft in the first degree (Rev. Code Wash. §§9A.28.040, 9A.56.030, sub(1)(a)), theft in the first degree (Rev. Code Wash. §§9A.56.030, sub(1)(a)), money laundering (Rev. Code Wash. §§9A.83.020, sub (1)(b), and obtaining a signature by deception or duress (Rev. Code Wash. §§9A.60.030). All offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.


Steven Randall Cummings
State Bar # 150518, Fresno (June 6, 2016)

Cummings, 64, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.


Charles Xavier Delgado
State Bar # 51919, Murrieta (June 17, 2016)

Delgado, 70, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to respond to numerous reasonable client inquiries about the status of a case, commingling client funds with his own, and misappropriating a portion of a client’s settlement—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Delgado committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he had no prior record of misconduct in 42 years of practicing law; entered a pretrial stipulation as to facts, conclusions of law, and disposition; and no longer handles personal injury cases so is unlikely to repeat the misconduct at issue. He also received mitigation credit for producing six witnesses attesting to his good character—though that evidence was given limited weight since the individuals were not drawn from a broad range of the legal and general communities.


James Bernard Dowling
State Bar # 79976, Moreno Valley (June 20, 2016)

Dowling, 68, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.


Julius Michael Engel
State Bar # 137759, Sacramento (July 8, 2016)

Engel, 59, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after a State Bar Court panel found him culpable of five of the six counts with which he was charged and found culpable by the hearing judge.

His wrongdoing included: commingling personal funds with his clients’ in a trust account, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to inform a client of a significant legal development, and accepting fees from someone other than the represented client.

In the commingling charge, the evidence showed Engel deposited advanced and special appearance fees into a bank account—writing a total of 126 checks and making eight automatic payments from it for his own personal and business expenses; he did not maintain records identifying the funds belonging to any particular client. While Engel argued he should not be disciplined because he was unaware that any rules prevented his actions, the panel noted: “Ignorance of the rules governing client trust accounts is no defense to a commingling charge.”

In one client matter, Engel did not file a petition for a bankruptcy client, knowing the filing was urgently required to delay her eviction, then failed to return the fees she had advanced after she terminated his employment.

In a second matter, the hearing judge and panel found Engel failed to notify a bankruptcy client she was required to pay filing fee installments, and her petition was subsequently dismissed.

And in a third client matter, Engel accepted fees from a client’s aunt to represent him in a criminal matter without the client’s informed written consent. Engel defended that the transaction was authorized because the client had earlier authorized his mother to pay a portion of his legal fees and that consent extended to all others—an argument the State Bar rejected.

In aggravation, the panel agreed Engel committed multiple acts of misconduct, significantly harmed a client whose bankruptcy petition was dismissed, and failed to accept responsibility for his actions—including making “repeated inappropriate disrespectful aspersions” aimed at counsel in his appeal brief.

In mitigation, he presented four witnesses who attested to his good character. The panel on review allotted only minimal weight to his 23 years of discipline-free practice, however, noting: “He lacks insight and fails to accept responsibility for his misconduct, demonstrating that future misconduct is likely to recur.”


Jose Castillo Escano
State Bar # 204718, Los Angeles (June 17, 2016)

Escano, 51, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that he had complied with the requirement of 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education for a specified period when he knew he had not completed any hours—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Escano had practiced law for more than 13 years without being disciplined, and also entered a pretrial stipulation as to facts and conclusions of law.


Jeremy Dennis Eveland
State Bar # 231552, West Jordan, Utah (July 11, 2016)

Eveland, 40, was suspended pending final disposition of a conviction of communications fraud committed in Utah (Utah Code Ann. §76-10-1801). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.


Richard Michael Gee
State Bar # 137035, Lakewood, Colorado (June 18, 2016)

Gee, 53, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to being found culpable of professional misconduct in another jurisdiction in which he was licensed to practice. Specifically, in a single client matter in Colorado, he failed to deposit funds into a client trust account, commingled those client funds with his own, and misrepresented to a consulting company hired in the matter that he had mailed a check reimbursing it for its work when he had not done so.

In aggravation, Gee committed multiple acts of misconduct. In addition, the State Bar Court judge allotted aggravating weight to Gee’s misappropriation of client funds—an act involving moral turpitude that was not among the findings in the Colorado disciplinary proceeding. In mitigation, he had practiced law for 24 years without a record of discipline.


Julia Patricia Gibbs
State Bar # 102072, Sacramento (June 17, 2016)

Gibbs, 59, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct. The wrongdoing included mishandling a bankruptcy case by: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees upon request, failing to communicate with clients, and failing to participate in a
State Bar investigation of the misconduct alleged. In addition, she failed to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation.

In aggravation, Gibbs committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, she entered a pre-filing, dispositive stipulation—saving State Bar resources and also signaling her efforts at rehabilitation.

In recommending the most severe sanction of suspension, the State Bar Court judge noted that Gibbs’ failure to perform and communicate in the present matter “occurred while she was on probation for the same type of misconduct involving two prior clients.”


Chaka K. Grossman
State Bar # 239941, Beverly Hills (July 5, 2016)

Grossman, 41, 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.


Jerry Gruenbaum
State Bar # 181916, Manchester, Connecticut (June 27, 2016)

Gruenbaum, 61, was suspended from the practice of law pending final disposition of his conviction of making and subscribing a false tax return (26 U.S.C. §7206(1)), a felony involving moral turpitude.


Dale Irving Gustin
State Bar # 76642, Paso Robles (June 17, 2016)

Gustin, 78, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for three years following a review of that recommended discipline. The review panel affirmed the hearing judge’s finding that Gustin was culpable of disobeying a court order by refusing to pay $8,000 in court sanctions imposed for engaging in meritless litigation and of failing to report the sanctions to the State Bar within 30 days.

In the underlying case, Gustin represented a superior court employee in an employment discrimination and harassment matter. He sought to add a judge to the case as an additional defendant, but that complaint was time-barred. He then attempted to serve the judge with a “Doe substitution,” falsely claiming the plaintiff had just discovered the judge’s identity.

After a fourth notice of disciplinary charges had been filed against Gustin, the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar sought his disbarment, alleging a pattern of misconduct and unwillingness to practice ethically. The panel took judicial notice of the charge, but underscored that the prior and present misconduct occurred during the same period, so did not qualify as a “prior record of discipline.”

On review, Gustin sought a stayed suspension as appropriate discipline. He argued the sanction orders were void as based on the judge’s improper conduct, that financial difficulties prevented him from paying the sanctions imposed, that he was denied procedural due process, and that prosecutorial misconduct had occurred in the disciplinary proceedings. The panel concluded all these claims lacked merit.

In aggravation, Gustin had two prior records of discipline, significantly harmed the administration of justice, and demonstrated indifference during his trial by remaining “defiant” and showing “no insight regarding his unethical behavior.”


Krishna Gene Haney
State Bar # 229652, Sullivan, Illinois (June 17, 2016)

Haney, 38, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to failing to comply with numerous conditions attached to an earlier disciplinary order that included a public reproval. Specifically, she failed to provide timely urine samples to a medical screening laboratory on 10 occasions, failed to satisfy quarterly report requirements, failed to provide required proof of attending an abstinence-based self-help group and State Bar Ethics School, and failed to provide proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.

In aggravation, Haney had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the present case. In mitigation, she had suffered an injury—a concussion—that prevented her from complying with some of the conditions imposed and entered into a pretrial stipulation as to facts and conclusions of law. She was also afforded mitigation credit for suffering severe financial stress, though that was given limited weight because no expert testimony was presented to establish a nexus between that difficulty and the failure to comply with professional obligations.


James Hale Harmon
State Bar # 205081, Santa Ana (June 18, 2016)

Harmon, 47, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: failing to maintain a proper balance in his client trust account, failing to maintain proper records of the clients’ funds, and two acts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating nearly $13,000 of the client’s funds for his own use and issuing checks from his client trust account knowing there were insufficient funds to cover them.

In mitigation, Harmon had practiced law for more than 13 years without a record of discipline, demonstrated candor for his misconduct by spontaneously acknowledging and explaining the wrongdoing to the clients, showed remorse by offering to reimburse them, and entered a pretrial stipulation as to the facts, conclusions of law, and disposition of the case.

In recommending discipline in the low range, the State Bar Court judge noted the misappropriation of funds “occurred within a relatively narrow timeframe” and “was the result of his gross mismanaging of his client trust account, and was not the result of any deceitfulness or ill intent.”


Art Hoomiratana
State Bar # 247253, Pasadena (July 5, 2016)

Hoomiratana, 36, 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.


Tina LaVonne James
State Bar # 174628, Quartz Hill (June 20, 2016)

James, 52, was suspended pending final disposition of her conviction of obtaining aid in a sum over $400 through misrepresentation (Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §1098(c)(2)), a felony involving moral turpitude.


Robert Duane Kawamura
State Bar # 128730, Honolulu, Hawaii (June 20, 2016)

Kawamura, 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.


Michael Joel Kelly
State Bar # 105880, Palmdale (July 5, 2016)

Kelly, 69, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.


Charles Conrad LoBello
State Bar # 136597, Las Vegas, Nevada (June 27, 2016)

LoBello, 56, was suspended pending final disposition of his conviction of tax evasion (26 U.S.C. §7201). The offense is a felony with probable cause to believe it involves moral turpitude.


Michael Alan Milnes
State Bar # 37609, Fresno (July 5, 2016)

Milnes, 80, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier disciplinary order.


Joseph Darrell Palmer
State Bar # 125147, Carlsbad (June 17, 2016)

Palmer, 58, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years following his appeal of a hearing judge’s decision finding him culpable of three counts of being grossly negligent in making false statements in sworn affidavits filed in class actions—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

On review, Palmer admitted to falsely swearing in the affidavits that he had no prior record of attorney discipline, but argued he acted only with simple negligence, warranting the imposition of less severe discipline: a public reproval.

In recommending a suspension instead, the State Bar Court panel noted that failure to diligently review the affidavits before signing them constituted gross negligence—as corroborated by his longtime paralegal who testified he commonly “did not thoroughly review what she put in front of him to sign.” The panel also found moral turpitude in the conduct based on the totality of the circumstances, underscoring that the affidavits “carried an ‘imprimateur of veracity’ upon which courts and other parties were reasonably entitled to rely.”

In aggravation, Palmer committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he showed remorse for his misconduct by overhauling his case management practices to track pending documents for veracity and presented testimony from three attorney witnesses attesting to his good character.


Angela Lauer Polk
State Bar # 157197, San Mateo (June 18, 2016)

Polk, 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 she had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a particular compliance period; in fact, she had completed only 9.75 hours. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Polk had practiced law for more than 22 years without a record of discipline and entered into a stipulation fully resolving the matter prior to trial.


Charles Max Pollock
State Bar # 193818, Las Vegas (June 27, 2016)

Pollock, 45, was suspended from practicing law pending final dispositions of his convictions of two counts of travel with intent to engage in criminal activity (18 U.S.C. §§2423(b) and (e)) and one count of luring children or mentally ill persons with the use of technology with the intent to engage in sexual conduct (Nev. Rev. Stat. §201.560). Both offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.


Court B. Purdy
State Bar # 179132, Irvine (June 17, 2016)

Purdy, 47, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years following his stipulation that he commingled personal and client funds. At the direction of senior partner at his law firm, Purdy, who was one of three partners there, issued 14 checks from his personal account and the firm’s general account—all of which were deposited in the firm’s client trust account.

In aggravation, Purdy committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 16 years, and presented evidence of engaging in several community service activities. He was also accorded limited mitigation credit for letters submitted by three attorneys attesting to his good character.


Mandip Singh Purewal
State Bar # 202444, Pleasanton (June 17, 2016)

Purewal, 46, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing 10 acts of professional conduct related to two client matters. His wrongdoing included: allowing a solicitation for legal services to be made on his behalf to a person with whom he had no family or previous business relationship; failing to perform legal services with competence; and two counts each of failing to inform clients of significant case developments, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to provide client with appropriate accountings, and collecting fees before fully performing promised loan modification services.

In aggravation, Purewal committed multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed both clients by depriving them of funds—the fees they had advanced. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 13 years without being disciplined, and presented letters from 12 individuals attesting to his good character.


David James Quezada
State Bar # 197439, Orange (June 17, 2016)

Quezada, 46, was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education; in fact, he had not completed any hours of education. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Quezada entered into a full pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for more than 15 years without a record of discipline.


Manuel Luis Ramirez
State Bar # 103054, San Diego (June 17, 2016)

Ramirez, 60, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to numerous acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters. Specifically, his wrongdoing included: failing to respond to clients’ reasonable case status inquiries; failing to inform clients of significant case developments; and two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to properly withdraw from representation, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigations of his alleged misconduct. In addition, he was culpable of violating a court order by failing to pay a court-imposed sanction until several months after it was due.

In one case, Ramirez’s failure to act in a client’s medical malpractice case caused the action to be dismissed; in another, he failed to act for more than three years to obtain a judgment for a client pursing a breach of contract claim.

In aggravation, Ramirez committed multiple act of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline for similar misconduct; he committed the current misconduct during a period of disciplinary reproval imposed earlier. In addition, he caused substantial harm to several clients, including a couple deemed “highly vulnerable,” having recently suffered the death of their baby.

In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation as to facts and culpability, suffered a serious health condition ultimately requiring heart surgery, and also experienced upheaval in his law office due to a relocation and loss of longtime staff.


James Stewart Richards
State Bar # 51410, Simi Valley (June 20, 2016)

Richards, 70, was suspended pending final disposition of his conviction of tax evasion (26 U.S.C. §7201), a felony providing probable cause to believe it involves moral turpitude.


Leonard Julius Sawyer
State Bar # 259068, Houston, Texas (July 9, 2016)

Sawyer, 37, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years following a conviction referral proceeding. He earlier stipulated to pleading guilty to two counts of engaging in lewd, indecent, or obscene acts on an aircraft (49 U.S.C. §46506(2)).

While on a commercial flight, Sawyer had exposed his erect penis to a female passenger sitting next to him and to a female flight attendant.

In mitigation, Sawyer took immediate steps toward his rehabilitation by enrolling in both the State Bar’s Alternative Discipline Program and Lawyer Assistance Program. In aggravation, he committed multiple acts of misconduct and also had one prior record of discipline.


Sidney Michel Schwarz
State Bar # 98467, Chula Vista (June 20, 2016)

Schwarz, 62, was suspended from the practice of law pending final disposition of his conviction of importation contrary to law—aiding and abetting counterfeit goods (18 U.S.C. §§2 and 545), a felony involving moral turpitude.


Robert G. Scurrah, Jr.
State Bar # 82766, Tustin (June 18, 2016)

Scurrah, 68, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to numerous acts of professional misconduct related to providing loan modification services to individuals threatened with losing their homes.

The State Bar had filed 23 individual cases against Scurrah in a consolidated disciplinary proceeding. In each case, he contracted to provide loan modification services for clients and collected fees from them before he had performed all services he had promised in contravention of legislation that became effective in 2009 (Cal. Civ. Code §2944.7).

In aggravation, Scurrah committed multiple acts of misconduct that harmed vulnerable clients—though that factor was assigned only limited weight because “the State Bar did not present persuasive evidence of specific consequential financial impact or harm” while the clients received the benefit of having lenders’ foreclosure efforts delayed. In addition, he had a prior record of discipline involving the same misconduct in nine loan modification matters—though that factor was also given lesser weight because the current misconduct occurred before that discipline was imposed. In analyzing that issue, the State Bar Court judge considered “the totality of findings in the two cases to determine what the discipline would have been had all the charged misconduct in this period been brought in one case” (In the Matter of Sklar, 2 Cal. State Bar Ct. Reptr. 602 (1993)).

In mitigation, Scurrah entered into an extensive stipulation of facts and admitted culpability in all of the counts of wrongdoing alleged and presented evidence of engaging in a considerable amount of community service. The State Bar Court judge also noted that Scurrah’s use of the improper fee agreements “resulted from a good faith belief in their legality, caused in part by the State Bar,” whose advice he sought in structuring his fee agreements to be legal.

In recommending an actual suspension of six months rather than the upper scale of two years, the judge also noted Scurrah had practice law for more than 30 years without prior discipline—and underscored that suggests “the conduct is an aberration and will not be repeated” and that “he has otherwise been a valued member of the public and of the profession.”


Gerald Bryan Smith
State Bar # 152127, Sacramento (July 9, 2016)

Smith, 59, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). He had earlier stipulated to committing several acts of professional misconduct in six client matters. The misconduct included: failing to keep a client informed of significant case developments; failing to respond to a client’s reasonable inquiries about case status; failing to provide a client with a proper accounting; failing to maintain proper respect for a court by making an appearance while under the influence of alcohol; failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s disciplinary investigation; two counts each of failing to competently perform legal services and improperly terminating employment; and three counts of failing to return unearned advanced fees.

In aggravation, Smith had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed one of the clients. In mitigation, he entered a pretrial stipulation and successfully completed the ADP, making him eligible for the lower level of discipline recommended.


Gurbob Singh Somal
State Bar # 263061, Pleasanton (June 17, 2016)

Somal, 37, was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing four counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. He was culpable of failing to deposit and maintain funds in a client trust account, failing to perform legal services with competence by not properly supervising a paralegal who deposited firm funds, and misappropriating approximately $2,100 of a client’s settlement—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Somal committed multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed his clients and several lienholders by depriving them of funds they were owed. In mitigation, he showed candor in admitting to his wrongdoing, had no prior record of discipline in six years of practicing law, submitted six letters from individuals attesting to his good character, and filed a stipulation prior to the State Bar filing charges against him.


Michael B. Stone
State Bar # 160177, Las Vegas, Nevada (July 8, 2016)

Stone, 58, was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after a contested review of a hearing judge’s ruling finding him culpable of failing to timely comply with the California Rules of Court (Rule 9.20) by filing a declaration of compliance as ordered by the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary proceeding and recommending suspension.

On review, Stone did not challenge culpability, but argued the recommended discipline was excessive. The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar requested disbarment, based on Stone’s previous three prior records of discipline—treated as two records in this matter, since the first two discipline cases since “they could have been brought as a single case.”

The State Bar Court panel agreed with the factor found in aggravation below: three records of prior discipline. It also agreed that Stone was entitled to mitigation credit for showing remorse for his misconduct and for experiencing severe financial difficulties beyond his control at the time. In addition, it assigned weight to his pretrial stipulation—though only modest mitigation weight since the facts were easily proven and did not establish his culpability.

Both the hearing judge and review panel noted Stone had attempted to file the disputed declaration four times, showing he neither disregarded his ethical duties nor was indifferent to the discipline system.


Bruce Joseph Tackowiak
State Bar # 146700, Huntington Park (June 17, 2016)

Tackowiak, 59, was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to failing to cooperate in an investigation of disciplinary charges brought against him and making a false statement to State Bar investigators in a sworn written statement—an act involving moral turpitude.

In a prior disciplinary matter, Tackowiak asserted in a written declaration that he had a phone conversation with a State Bar investigator, when he knew he had not.

In aggravation, Tackowiak had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation fully resolving the matter.


Jeannie E. Tanaka
State Bar # 116289, Los Angeles

Tanaka, 74, was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for four years following a proceeding to determine whether the facts and circumstances of her underlying criminal convictions involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting attorney discipline.

Tanaka previously pleaded guilty to kidnapping (Cal. Penal Code §207(a)) and assault by means of force likely to present great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code §245(a)(1)—both felonies; and of evading a peace office (Cal. Veh. Code §2800.2(a)—a misdemeanor. The charges stemmed from her attempts to take her elderly mother from her sister’s home, where the mother was being attended by a caregiver. Because of disputes within the family, an independent conservator had been appointed to oversee the mother’s estate, and additional conditions of reporting and notice had been imposed on visits to the mother.

In violation of those conditions, Tanaka drove to her sister’s home in a rental car, telling the caregiver she was transporting her mother to testify at a scheduled court hearing. When the caretaker attempted to prevent the mother from leaving, Tanaka sprayed her in the face with pepper spray. Police summoned by a passerby gave chase, with lights and sirens on, then tracked the fleeing car with police helicopters, before Tanaka was forced to stop on a dead-end street, where the police took her into custody.

The State Bar Court judge was tasked with determining whether Tanaka’s offenses involved moral turpitude for disciplinary purposes. There were no cases directly on point, but he quoted extensively from decisions involving other types of attorney misconduct: repeated convictions for driving under the influence (In the Matter of Anderson, 2 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 208); felony assault with a firearm during a road rage incident (In the Matter of Respondent O, 2 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 581); and misdemeanor battery on a police officer (In the Matter of Stewart, 3 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 52). The conclusion: “Using these cases as a guideline, this court concludes that the circumstances of Respondent’s misconduct did not involve moral turpitude.” However, the judge found that some discipline was warranted, and rejected Tanaka’s urging of an 18-month suspension.

In aggravation, Tanaka had committed multiple acts of misconduct and harmed the public by pepper spraying the caregiver and expending public resources during the police chase. The judge also found Tanaka lacked insight and candor in assessing her misconduct, concluding: “Respondent’s descriptions and explanations of her actions reflect her own distorted and/or delusional view of her actions and the events of that day.”

In mitigation, Tanaka had practiced law for 27 years without a discipline record.


Christopher Wright Taylor
State Bar # 136803, La Canada Flintridge

Taylor, 54, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education—misconduct involving moral turpitude. In fact, he had not completed any of the required hours of study within the compliance period.

In mitigation, Taylor had practiced law for nearly 20 years discipline-free and entered into a prefiling disciplinary stipulation.


John Christen Torjesen
State Bar # 141664, Los Angeles (June 20, 2016)

Torjesen, 63, 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.


Alice Brown Traeg
State Bar # 79823, San Francisco (June 18, 2016)

Traeg, 74, was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after being terminated from the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program. She had earlier stipulated to committing five counts of professional misconduct in two client matters. The misconduct included failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries about the status of a case, failing to promptly release a client’s file after being requested to do so, violating five court orders, failing to competently perform legal services, and failing to cooperate in two separate State Bar disciplinary investigations.

In aggravation, Traeg committed multiple acts of misconduct and caused significant harm to the administration of justice. In mitigation, she had practiced law for nearly 35 years and cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a pretrial stipulation.


Paul Raymond Turley
State Bar # 177777, Oakland (June 17, 2016)

Turley, 49, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing several acts of professional misconduct. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence and twice overdrawing his client trust account after writing checks on it for his own personal expenses.

He also stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar that he had completed the requisite hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education and to holding himself out as entitled to practice law and actually practicing law while on ineligible status because of that noncompliance—all acts involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Turley committed multiple acts of misconduct and substantially harmed a client by failing to file a claim within the statute of limitations.

In mitigation, he had no prior record of discipline in 15 years of practicing law, spontaneously showed remorse for his misconduct, provided letters from seven individuals attesting to his good character, and filed a pretrial stipulation in the matter. In addition, he suffered personal and family difficulties during the time of his misconduct found to distract him from “directing adequate attention to his law practice”—including a marital separation and child custody battle, as well as difficulties with his parents’ declining health conditions.


Robert Lee Waldman
State Bar # 120397, Irvine (June 20, 2016)

Waldman, 55, was suspended in the interim following his convictions of unlawfully selling or offering to sell securities in an issuer transaction without qualification (Cal. Corp. Code §25110), a felony involving moral turpitude.


Ann Kim Waltzer
State Bar # 130865, Santa Cruz (June 17, 2016)

Waltzer, 53, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to violating several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order. They included failing to submit written quarterly reports and declarations of compliance with the State Bar by the required due dates, and numerous failures to provide timely proofs of attendance at abstinence-based self-help group meetings.

In aggravation, Waltzer committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, she filed a full pretrial stipulation in the present matter, saving the State Bar time and resources.


Brian Todd Willie
State Bar # 210336, Costa Mesa (June 18, 2016)

Willie, 48, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a particular compliance period; in fact, he had not completed any eligible hours during that time. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.


David Wyser
State Bar # 154190, Reno, Nevada (June 20, 2016)

Wyser, 56, was suspended from practicing law pending final disposition of his conviction of accepting a bribe (18 U.S.C. §666(a)(1)(B)), a felony involving moral turpitude.



Probation

Daniel Kieth Martin
State Bar # 152127, Madera (July 9, 2016)

Martin, 44, was placed on probation for two years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). He had earlier stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, accepting legal fees from a non-client without the client’s informed written consent, failing to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation, and two counts of failing to return unearned advanced fees to clients.

In aggravation, Martin committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference toward rectification by refusing to refund the fees his clients had advanced. In mitigation, he completed the ADP, so the lower level of discipline—probation only—was recommended.


Terrence Randall Pace
State Bar # 179342, Los Angeles (June 17, 2016)

Pace, 49, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct: reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education as required; in fact, he had completed only four eligible hours during the specified compliance period. The offense involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Pace entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him, had practiced law without a prior record of discipline for 18 years, submitted letters from nine individuals from a wide range of the community attesting to his good character, and presented evidence of performing substantial community service.


Zachary Brooke Roberts
State Bar # 201739, Henderson, Nevada (June 18, 2016)

Roberts, 45, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading guilty to violating a Nevada Rule of Professional Conduct. Though he was not licensed to practice in that jurisdiction, Roberts advised a client there about negotiating two loan modifications and facilitated a retainer agreement with her for legal services.

The State Bar Court judge concluded those actions would violate unauthorized practice prohibitions (Cal. Rules of Prof. Cond., Rule 1-300(B) and warranted discipline in California, where Roberts is licensed.

In mitigation, he had practiced law for 10 years without discipline and was unlikely to repeat the misconduct found in the present case.


Laurence Alan Rose
State Bar # 82718, Woodland Hills (July 9, 2016)

Rose, 68, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education; in fact, he had completed only seven hours of eligible courses within the compliance period. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Rose had practiced law for 35 years without a discipline record, submitted evidence of pro bono and community service work, and filed a stipulation before the disciplinary charges were filed against him. He was also afforded some mitigation credit for letters from seven individuals attesting to his good character—though the letters were afforded only limited weight, since it was unclear whether the individuals were aware of the misconduct Rose committed in the present matter.


Donald Eugene Royer
State Bar # 72463, Dana Point (June 17, 2016)

Royer, 67 was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting he had fully complied with Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements for a specified compliance period—misconduct involving moral turpitude. In fact, he had completed only 7.5 of the 25 required hours during that time.

In mitigation, Royer entered into a full stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed, had practiced law for approximately 37 years without a record of discipline, and changed his recordkeeping practices following the State Bar audit. He was also given mitigation credit for nine letters submitted from individuals attesting to his good character, though only limited weight was given since eight of the letters were from attorneys rather than representing a “wide range from the legal and non-legal communities.”


Steven Mark Sacks
State Bar # 250547, San Francisco (June 17, 2016)

Sacks, 47, was place on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar he had fully complied with the requirements of 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education—an act involving moral turpitude. In fact, he provided proof of completing only 5.5 hours of participatory coursework and was missing one hour of ethics credit during the compliance period in question.

In mitigation, Sacks entered into a full prefiling stipulation and presented letters from eight individuals representing a range of the legal and general communities—all of whom attested to his good character.


Rae Diane Shirer
State Bar # 167137, Newport Beach (June 17, 2016)

Shirer, 58, was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committed fours acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable status inquiries from the client, failing to render an appropriate accounting of funds as requested by the client, and failing to participate in the State Bar investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.

Shirer was retained to incorporate an organization for a client and to prepare and file state and federal tax exemptions for the group. After completing the incorporation but prior to completing the tax exemption applications, her computer malfunctioned and all data was lost. She did not respond to written and phone requests for information on the case, nor did she respond to the State Bar investigator’s letters to her about the matter.

In aggravation, Shirer committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of disciple. In mitigation, she filed a full stipulation prior to the disciplinary trial.


Eric J. Spiegelman
State Bar # 224035, Los Angeles (June 17, 2016)

Spiegelman, 39, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that he had complied with the requirement of 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education in a specified compliance period. In fact, he had completed only six hours of qualifying study. While he documented more than 100 hours of “self-study” in transportation, regulation, and taxi cab law during that time, they did not meet the required standards to maintain State Bar membership in good standing.

In mitigation, Spiegelman entered into a full prefiling stipulation, submitted eight letters attesting to his good character from a range of references in the legal and general communities, presented evidence that he performed a substantial amount of community service, and demonstrated recognition of his wrongdoing by changing his future recordkeeping practices.


Samuel Robert Spira
State Bar # 175983, West Hollywood (July 6, 2016)

Spira, 51, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a specific compliance period—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Spira filed a pretrial stipulation fully resolving the matter prior to trial, had practiced law for 19 years discipline-free, submitted evidence from eight individuals representing a range from the general and legal communities who attested to his good character, and was involved in community service and charitable endeavors.


Robert Opre Wilson, Jr.
State Bar # 73190, Solana Beach (July 9, 2016)

Wilson, 68, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct: reporting to the State Bar under penalty of perjury that he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education as required; in fact, the documentation he submitted reflected education hours accrued outside the compliance period. The offense involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Wilson had practiced law for more than 37 years and had no prior record of discipline, submitted a pretrial stipulation resolving the matter, and was also entitled to some mitigation for the five individuals attesting to his good character, but only minimal mitigation, since they were not drawn from a range of the legal and general communities.



Public Reproval

Robert Vaughn Cohune
State Bar # 43284, Truckee (July 12, 2016)

Cohune, 79, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to provide an accounting for client funds and failing to promptly refund unearned fees as requested.

Cohune was hired to negotiate a new residential lease for a client, who gave him a cashier’s check for $4,200. The sum was intended to cover three months of rent and to be forwarded to the landlord when located; the client also paid Cohune $750 as an advanced fee. There was no written fee agreement between them. When the cashier’s check was returned unclaimed, the client wrote another one, but the landlord never received that one, either. The client issued a third check—a counter check payable to “Robert Cohune/Trust Account” for $4,200 with the word “retainer” written on the memo line.

Cohune later claimed that amount was intended as a retainer for legal services; the client claimed the funds were to be held in trust for the landlord. The client eventually secured a new lease without Cohune’s assistance. Their fee dispute was submitted to arbitration, with the final results presently pending. Cohune refunded $4,200 to the client.

In aggravation, Cohune committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he filed a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him, and had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 47 years.


John Joseph VanDervoort
State Bar # 54720, Chico (July 6, 2016)

VanDervoort, 70, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to pleading no contest to the misdemeanor of disturbing the peace (Cal. Penal Code §415(1) with domestic violence probation conditions.

VanDervoort’s wife had summoned police to their home after he physically attacked her in the presence of her 11-year-old son, who had intervened to protect her.

In aggravation, VanDervoort had a prior record of discipline and also injured his wife and traumatized her young son in the present matter. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation and demonstrated remorse by voluntarily entering the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program before disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him.


Stephen Henry Verchick
State Bar # 46097, Woodland Hills (June 16, 2016)

Verchick, 75, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar that he had met Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements when he was grossly negligent in not knowing he was not in compliance—misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In mitigation, Verchick submitted a pretrial stipulation as to facts and culpability, had practiced law for nearly 44 years without a record of discipline, submitted evidence from a range of 12 witnesses attesting to his good character and extensive philanthropic work, and showed remorse for his wrongdoing and reformed his recordkeeping for better future compliance. He was also under great stress due to financial problems including bankruptcy and threatened foreclosure on his home during the misconduct period.


Reader Comments

  1. Scott Miller, Esq. says:

    I have known Steve for many years and can honestly say, the clients that I have referred to him (Steve) have told me Steve is great to work with. Steve is fast to return calls, understanding, sympathetic, kept the client informed and was consistently hammering away at the insurance carriers to get the best possible settlement. If you try Steve Verchick, you too will most likely find him enjoyable to work with.

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