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Discipline Report

Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California

October 2016

Disbarment

Suspension

Probation

Public Reproval

Disbarment

Richard D. Ackerman
State Bar # 171900, Menifee (August 28, 2016)

Ackerman, 47, was disbarred by default after being found culpable of failing to obey a court order requiring him to file a declaration of compliance with the State Bar as required in an earlier disciplinary proceeding (Cal Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He did not participate in the current proceeding despite receiving adequate legal notice, nor did he move to have the default judgment set aside or vacated. He had two prior records of discipline.


Daniel Alan Bernath
State Bar # 116636, Fort Myers, Florida (August 28, 2016)

Bernath, 66, was disbarred by default after being found culpable of nine counts of misconduct in three consolidated matters—including three counts of unauthorized practice of law. The wrongdoing also included four related charges of moral turpitude for repeatedly holding himself out as entitled to practice and for misrepresenting he was entitled to practice when he was not, as well as failing to report to the State Bar that he had been permanently banned from practicing before the Social Security Administration and for sending letters to prospective clients that were not properly designated as advertisements.

In this disciplinary matter, Bernath initially participated in several status conferences, filed more than 30 motions, and appeared at five days of trial—failing to appear on the sixth day. After waiting 45 minutes, the court entered a default judgment in the case, which Bernath did not move to have set aside or vacated.


Jennifer Michele Bozeat
State Bar # 197875, Olympia, Washington (July 23, 2016)

Bozeat, 43, was disbarred by default. After receiving proper notice, she failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, at the disciplinary proceeding on five counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. She was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to perform legal services with competence, charging and collecting an illegal fee, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about the status of a case, failing to return unearned fees upon termination of employment, and failing to participate in the State Bar investigation of the misconduct alleged.


Gene Wook Choe
State Bar # 187704, Los Angeles (August 28, 2016)

Choe, 53, was disbarred after a State Bar Court panel affirmed the hearing judge’s prior order finding him culpable of 65 counts of professional misconduct in 25 client matters—including collecting $258,400 in illegal advanced fees for loan modification services, as well as making unauthorized withdrawals from client accounts and committing seven acts of moral turpitude in handling bankruptcy cases.

After expanding his civil law practice to include home loan modification and bankruptcy services, Choe was sole owner operating three law offices with more than 35 independent contractor attorneys, 50 administrative staff, and 1,300 active clients. His practice was reduced to a single office after the State Bar began investigating complaints clients lodged against him.

In the loan modification matters, Choe charged clients an initial flat fee followed by monthly fee installments under a written agreement specifying that the fees charged were for “litigation.” The fees were generally categorized as “nonrefundable.” In most cases, however, no litigation was ever filed. Both the State Bar Court judge and panel found that the clients hired him to obtain loan modifications, so the arrangement ran afoul of the statute forbidding charging fees until all service were fully performed (Cal. Civil Code §2944.7).

In the bankruptcy cases, he withdrew funds from numerous clients’ bank accounts without their consents by depositing post-dated checks after they had terminated his services.

In aggravation, Choe committed multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed the bankruptcy courts and also harmed numerous clients who were financially desperate by charging advanced fees—often characterized as “excessive”—and then failing to refund them. In mitigation, he entered into an extensive stipulation, presented numerous witnesses attesting to his good character, and participated in pro bono and community service activities.

On review, the panel rejected Choe’s argument that a “significant period of actual suspension” was fitting discipline. It concluded instead that his “unrelenting misconduct—spanning nearly two years and involving more than two dozen clients and the bankruptcy court—demonstrates he is unfit to practice law.”


John Clifton Elstead
State Bar # 61048, Oakland (August 19, 2016)

Elstead, 73, was disbarred after seeking review of a State Bar hearing judge’s decision that found him culpable of 11 of the 12 counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged. The panel on review agreed with the recommendation of disbarment, and found him culpable of an additional act of misconduct: moral turpitude.

Specifically, his wrongdoing included: two counts of failing to comply with court orders, two counts of failing to cooperate in State Bar investigations, four counts of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and four counts of moral turpitude for doing so knowingly.

Under the terms of an earlier discipline order, Elstead was required to notify clients, opposing counsel, and courts that he was suspended from practicing law, and also to return unearned fees and file an affidavit of compliance with the State Bar Court (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He was also ordered to pay costs assessed against him and provide proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam before he would be reinstated to practice. He filed the compliance declarations late—and also wrongly affirmed in them that he had given notice of his suspension to the court of appeal when in fact he had not.

On review, Elstead argued he had “substantially complied” with the Rule 9.20 court order and that the State Bar and California Supreme Court “overreached” by “conditioning” the termination of his suspension on paying the outstanding costs. In rejecting these arguments, the panel cited precedent establishing that “substantial compliance is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the rule” and also cited controlling code provisions stating that paying disciplinary costs is “a condition of reinstatement of or return to active membership” (Cal. Bus. and Prof. Code §6140.7).

In addition, while actually suspended from practice under the terms of that earlier disciplinary matter, Elstead signed and filed several legal documents and submitted letters on his law firm letterhead with an appellate court.

In aggravation, Elstead committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before—with one of the matters involving the similar misconduct of making a false statement to a court.


Patrick Dean Holstine
State Bar # 253292, Sacramento (July 23, 2016)

Holstine, 46, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was found culpable of nine acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.

The wrongdoing included: failing to maintain the respect due to a court, seeking to mislead a judge, failing to pay and to report court-ordered sanctions, two counts of failing to comply with court orders, failing to release a client’s papers and property upon request, and making a misrepresentation to a court—an act involving moral turpitude. He was also found culpable of failing to cooperate with the State Bar in its investigation of the misconduct charged.


Theodore Shin Lee
State Bar # 191848, Sherman Oaks (July 23, 2016)

Lee, 44, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional conduct in three client matters. The wrongdoing included misappropriating a total of nearly $86,700 while on disciplinary probation for previous wrongdoing, which also involved misappropriating client funds—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In the present case, Lee was also found culpable of commingling client funds with his own and failing to promptly pay settlement funds to a client. In addition, in each of the three matters, he failed to provide clients with the required written notice of his disciplined status, failed to comply with the California Supreme Court’s order requiring him to do so, and then misrepresented on his mandatory written reports that he had complied with all probation conditions—additional acts involving moral turpitude. He also failed to respond to three letters from the State Bar instigating an investigation into his misconduct.

In aggravation, Lee committed multiple acts of misconduct, had a prior record of discipline, and caused financial harm to his clients by delaying or only partially paying them the funds they were due. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation—though the State Bar Court judge noted that, considering all circumstances involved, the stipulation “does not constitute compelling mitigation evidence.”


David James Lola
State Bar # 231190, Winston-Salem, North Carolina (August 14, 2016)

Lola, 42, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the State Bar investigation of his alleged misconduct after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He did not respond to the petition for disbarment or move to set aside or vacate the default judgment. He had one prior record of discipline.


Lawrence Tang Ma
State Bar # 265868, Millbrae (August 14, 2016)

Ma, 32, was disbarred after he stipulated to failing to file a declaration of compliance with the State Bar in conformity with an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He had a single prior record of discipline.


Christopher Ramos Macaraeg
State Bar # 222120, San Diego (August 14, 2016)

Macaraeg, 43, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct in several client matters—including ten counts of failing to perform legal services with competence, nine counts of failing to comply with court orders, and two counts of failing to keep clients informed of significant case developments.

In addition, he was found culpable of failing to release client papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to report court-ordered sanctions to the State Bar, and acts involving moral turpitude: holding himself out as entitled to practice law and practicing law while on disciplinary suspension and misrepresenting the status of a case to a client.

In aggravation, Macaraeg committed multiple acts of misconduct, had two prior records of discipline, and severely prejudiced several of his clients by causing their actions to be dismissed and forcing them to hire replacement counsel.


Michael Gregory McCoy
State Bar # 241836, Austin, Texas (August 28, 2016)

McCoy, 45, was disbarred by default after an expedited, streamlined disciplinary proceeding initiated by the Office of the Chief Counsel of the State Bar after he defaulted in an earlier disciplinary proceeding in Texas. He also failed to participate in the California proceeding despite receiving adequate legal notice.

The State Bar Court judge found the Notice of Disciplinary Charges failed to specify the factual basis and specific Texas disciplinary rules that corresponded with California rules. However, the judge found two violations of California rules in McCoy’s failure to hold client funds separate from his own and in his failure to render an appropriate accounting of those fees.


Angela Elizabeth Mueller
State Bar # 266929, San Diego (August 28, 2016)

Mueller, 38, was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in a disciplinary proceeding charging her with 16 counts of professional misconduct in five separate client matters. Though she had been given legally adequate notice, she did not appear in the proceeding or move to set aside or vacate the default judgment entered.
While the State Bar Court judge dismissed several of the charges as duplicative or unsupported by the evidence, Mueller was found culpable of five counts each of practicing law in other jurisdictions in violation of their laws and regulations, and of aiding others in the unauthorized practice of law.


Michael Parra
State Bar # 216596, Anaheim (August 28, 2016)

Parra, 48, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary proceeding despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was found culpable of failing to comply with 11 specified conditions attached to a disciplinary probation order imposed earlier. He had three prior records of discipline.


Gino Paul Pietro
State Bar # 129582, Tustin (August 14, 2016)

Pietro, 55, was summarily disbarred following his conviction of wire fraud punishable with imprisonment up to 20 years (18 U.S.C. §1343). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude. He did not respond to the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar’s motion for summary disbarment.


Andrew William Quinn
State Bar # 209654, San Diego (August 14, 2016)

Quinn, 53, was disbarred based on facts related to his earlier plea of no contest to a criminal misdemeanor: looking through a window with the intent of invading the privacy of the person inside (Cal. Penal Code §647(j)(1)). Quinn’s stepdaughter had observed him peeking into his 18-year-old stepson’s bedroom window from an outside patio area late at night. Though Quinn maintained at trial that he was looking in to see whether the young man was “stockpiling wine or beer” in his room, the hearing judge found he had done so for his own sexual gratification.

Four years earlier, Quinn had installed two cameras in a shower and above a bed so that he could observe another teenaged son masturbate. When his wife confronted him about the cameras, he maintained they had been set up by the previous homeowner—a lie he perpetuated for two years.

On review, Quinn conceded the charge of which he was convicted involved moral turpitude, but argued that he had expressed remorse, sought treatment for the issues underlying his criminal misconduct, and would pose no risk to the public if allowed to practice law—so that a three-year suspension would be more appropriate discipline. The reviewing panel rejected those arguments and recommended disbarment due to Quinn’s serious misconduct, the dishonesty surrounding the earlier videocam spy attempts, and the aggravating circumstances in the present proceeding—“particularly his lack of candor.”

It also affirmed the findings of aggravating circumstances: committing multiple acts of misconduct, causing significant harm to several family members—the stepdaughter, stepson, and former wife, and lacking candor in falsely testifying about his intent in attempting to spy on the stepson.

Quinn was accorded modest mitigating credit for having practiced law for 20 years without a discipline record—as the panel found the conduct was not aberrational, nor did it seem unlikely to recur. He was also allowed limited mitigation for emotional difficulties he claimed to be experiencing stemming from being sexually abused in the past; the hearing judge and panel both found he had failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he no longer posed a risk of committing the same misconduct.

Finally, he was given only limited mitigating weight for the five witnesses, since four of them knew him for a relatively short period, and also for the evidence he presented about performing pro bono service for his church, since few details were provided about the extent of his efforts.


John Kenneth Saur
State Bar # 64558, Laguna Niguel (July 23, 2016)

Saur, 75, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter—including failing to maintain client funds in trust and failing to promptly pay the client settlement funds, as well as two acts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating the client funds while misrepresenting their whereabouts.

Saur negotiated and received settlements totaling $62,500 for a couple pursuing a personal injury case. After receiving various amounts from the insurance company, he misappropriated approximately $21,570 of the amount earmarked for settlement. When the clients questioned him about receiving the funds due them, Saur falsely stated that the insurance company and Medicare were engaged in a dispute over their shares. In a subsequent email to the clients, he blamed his former bookkeeper for the delay in payment—and proposed to them in monthly installments. While he made some payments, he owes the clients an additional $9,464.

In aggravation, Saur committed multiple acts of misconduct, had a prior record of discipline, caused the clients financial harm, and failed to repay them the principal amount due. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation—though the State Bar Court judge noted that single mitigating factor “is not sufficiently compelling” to merit discipline less than disbarment.


Jagdip Singh Sekhon
State Bar # 170324, Salida (July 23, 2016)

Sekhon, 49, was summarily disbarred after his conviction of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud (18 U.S.C. §371) became final. The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.


Kevin John Senn
State Bar # 136226, Danville (July 23, 2016)

Senn, 53, was disbarred by default after being found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct. He was properly noticed and initially appeared in court for his disciplinary trial, but when his motion for abatement was denied, he walked out of the courtroom and did not return. He did not act to have the default set aside or vacated.

His misconduct included two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account and subsequently misappropriating them—an act involving moral turpitude.


Julia Ann Tischler
State Bar # 159864, Newport Beach (July 23, 2016)

Tischler, 55, was disbarred by default after not participating in the disciplinary proceeding charging her with failing to comply with conditions attached to a prior public reproval. The State Bar determined that procedural notice requirements had been met.

Specifically. Tischler failed to submit three quarterly reports by their due dates, failed to timely submit three written quarterly reports regarding compliance with her criminal probation and attendance at an abstinence-based alcohol abuse self-help group to the Office of Probation, and also failed to provide satisfactory proof of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School.

Tischler had been disciplined twice before.


Lorna Christine Washington
State Bar # 199393, Burbank (August 28, 2016)

Washington, 54, was disbarred after she stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct. Her wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to maintain the proper balance in her client trust account, failing to obey a court order, misappropriating nearly $105,175 of a client’s funds, and misrepresenting a statement about those funds to a court. She was also culpable of failing to comply with conditions specified in an earlier discipline order—a private reproval.

In aggravation, Washington had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct, and harmed estate beneficiaries by delaying payment of funds entrusted to her. In mitigation, she entered a stipulation before pretrial statements had been filed in the instant disciplinary matter.



Suspension

William Andrai Acosta
State Bar # 207377, Glendora (July 23, 2016)

Acosta, 43, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years following a proceeding charging him with six counts of professional misconduct. The State Bar Court judge dismissed two counts for want of proof and consolidated the remaining charges—ultimately finding Acosta culpable of two counts: failing to maintain funds in a client trust account and misappropriating approximately $6,900 of those funds, an act involving moral turpitude.

Acosta frequented a Las Vegas casino, often obtaining casino chips by executing casino markers, which are similar to counter checks; to secure a marker account, the patron must supply bank account records. In updating his records with the casino, Acosta supplied the bank account number for his client trust account. In two visits to the casino, he obtained a total of $10,000 in casino chips; both markers were returned to the casino unpaid, as there were insufficient funds in the client trust account to cover them. A check he issued to a client representing a share of settlement proceeds was also returned due to insufficient funds.

The judge found that while the evidence showed Acosta converted client funds from his trust account, it did not establish two separate rule violations as charged. In addition, the judge found that the act of disclosing the client trust account number to the casino and signing the marker account application bearing that number constituted “gross negligence amounting to moral turpitude for discipline purposes.”

In mitigation, Acosta had no prior record of discipline in 13 years of practicing law, his misconduct caused no real client harm other than a delay of six days in processing a client’s settlement, and he cooperated with the State Bar in entering a partial stipulation of facts and in rectifying the consequences of his misconduct by ensuring the clients were paid their settlements in full. He also presented evidence of his good character through the testimony of 20 witnesses from a range of the community; 13 of them testified in person about an array of his good acts—from saving a stranded kitten to rescuing a little girl from a burning building.


Joseph Dulles Allen
State Bar # 48922, Santa Barbara (August 28, 2016)

Allen, 71, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing 16 counts of professional misconduct in two client matters. His wrongdoing included: failing to maintain an accurate accounting of client funds, two failures to perform legal services with competence, five failures to report court-imposed sanctions to the State Bar, and eight failures to obey court orders.

In one matter, a personal injury case, he filed a lawsuit but failed to appear, oppose motions, or act before the applicable statute of limitations had expired—also refusing to provide the client with an accounting or itemized bill as requested. In the other, a marriage dissolution matter, he ignored orders requiring him to pay sanctions stemming from a deficient complaint and failures to appear. He neither paid the court-ordered sanctions nor reported them to the State Bar as required.

In aggravation, Allen committees multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed his clients and the administration of justice. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law nearly 44 years without a record of discipline, and submitted evidence of pro bono service.


Tara Jane Arnold
State Bar # 172917, West Lake Hills, Texas

Arnold, 46, was suspended from practicing law for two years following the grant of a motion to revoke a disciplinary probation imposed earlier. The terms of her probation had required her to submit a number of documents to the Office of Probation: quarterly written reports, declarations of compliance, proof of attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and proof of psychiatric or psychological treatment, along with monthly lab results of blood or urine samples. Despite reminders from the Office of Probation, she did not comply with the conditions.

In aggravation, Arnold committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. The State Bar Court judge also noted that her failure to participate in the probation revocation proceeding was “also a matter of considerable concern.”

In August, an additional disciplinary order suspended Arnold from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in the earlier order.


Douglas Alan Bader
State Bar # 182315, Corona (July 18, 2016)

Bader, 50, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.


Joseph Malte Bickley
State Bar # 171766, Tucson, Arizona (July 18, 2016)

Bickley, 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.


Florito Lontoc Carunungan
State Bar # 216117, Cerritos (July 23, 2016)

Carunungan, 46, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. Specifically, he initiated a transfer from his client trust account when grossly negligent in not knowing there were insufficient funds to cover it—an act involving moral turpitude. He also failed to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.

In aggravation, Carunungan committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 12 years, and demonstrated a recognition of his wrongdoing—which ultimately did not harm his client, as the bank honored the transfer of funds.


Richard Edward Coombs
State Bar # 74281, Carmichael (August 28, 2016)

Coombs, 69, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for three years. The State Bar Court hearing judge below found him culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to communicate with his client, and failing to promptly refund unearned fees, as well as two counts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating the client’s filing fees and making a false statement to the State Bar.

On review, the panel affirmed the findings of culpability, but recommended six months instead of 30 days of actual suspension after taking judicial notice of a discipline order imposed on Coombs in the interim for “strikingly similar” misconduct. As additional aggravation, he had committed multiple acts of misconduct.

The panel also afforded modest mitigation weight for Coombs’ entry of a stipulation, but rejected the mitigation allowed for extreme emotional difficulties, finding he proved neither a nexus between those difficulties and his misconduct nor did he prove his short period of sobriety—39 days—was sufficient to demonstrate his addiction was “permanently under control” as required.


Richard Scott deSaulles
State Bar # 255419, Pago Pago, American Samoa (August 22, 2016)

deSaulles, 43, was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam—one of the terms imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.


Cari Donahue
State Bar # 273436, Oceanside (August 28, 2016)

Donahue, 32, was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years. She had stipulated to culpability with respect to four of the five counts of misconduct with which she was charged in a single loan modification matter: accepting an illegal advanced fee, failing to deposit and maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to pay client funds promptly, and failing to render a proper accounting of those funds.

The State Bar Court judge found, by clear and convincing evidence, that she was culpable of the additional count with which she was charged: moral turpitude.

Donahue, working as an appearance attorney in a firm largely composed of non-attorneys, entered a written fee agreement with a couple in which she agreed to help with two loans against their residence. The clients paid her $5,000 as advanced fees for pre-ligation and loan modification services, which she accepted before performing the agreed services. The clients also issued a check for $8,500 to the firm through a non-attorney employee; it was earmarked to pay the second mortgage on the clients’ home if the lender agreed to accept it in compromise of the disputed balance. The lender refused the compromise. The check was deposited into the firm’s business account—no client trust account existed—and the full amount was withdrawn within two days.

Donahue did not provide accountings for the clients’ funds as they requested, but ultimately sued them in small claims and superior courts for fees she claimed they owed her. The State Bar Court judge found her failure to return the $8,500 constituted misappropriation—an act involving moral turpitude. Her testimony at trial that contradicted the facts to which she had earlier stipulated was deemed inadmissible.

In aggravation, Donahue committed multiple acts of misconduct, failed to make restitution, and significantly harmed her clients by depriving them of funds and requiring them to hire additional counsel to defend the fee dispute actions she filed. The judge also gave aggravating weight to the uncharged misconduct of failing to adequately supervise non-attorneys involved in the matter.

In mitigation, Donahue stipulated to culpability on four of the five counts charges and presented declarations from six individuals attesting to her good character.


Sharon Marie Drew
State Bar # 182936, San Diego (July 23, 2016)

Drew, 50, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to depositing and maintaining personal funds in her client trust account and making transfers and withdrawals from the account knowing there were insufficient funds to honor those transactions—misconduct involving moral turpitude. She was found to have mishandled the funds for a period of at least five years.

In aggravation, Drew committed multiple acts of misconduct and continued to use the client trust account funds for her personal use after receiving a letter from the State Bar warning her not to do so—a fact the State Bar Court judge deemed “extremely aggravating.”

In mitigation, she entered a full stipulation prior to the disciplinary charges being filed, had practiced law discipline-free for 19 years, and harmed no client with her misconduct as no funds belonging to a client were maintained in her client trust account.


Beryl Dean Droegemueller
State Bar # 76278, Vista (July 21, 2016)

Droegemueller, 77, was suspended from the practice of law for one year following a proceeding instituted by the Office of Probation seeking to revoke a probation order imposed on him for earlier professional misconduct. Specifically, he failed to file three written quarterly reports and to timely schedule an initial meeting with the Office of Probation.

In aggravation, Droegemueller committed multiple acts of misconduct, demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct by failing to comply with probation conditions even after being notified of the consequences, and showed a lack of candor by failing to participate in the present proceeding.


Robert Terrill Durbrow, Jr.
State Bar # 53445, Fresno (August 22, 2016)

Durbrow, 77, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as required in the terms of a previous disciplinary order.


Lee Humphrey Durst
State Bar # 69704, Newport Beach (August 28, 2016)

Durst, 67, was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for four years after he stipulated to 12 acts of professional misconduct in four client matters. His misconduct included: failing to notify a client he had received funds on her behalf, failing to promptly pay the client settlement proceeds, failing to cooperate in a State Bar disciplinary investigation, and failing to pay court-imposed sanctions and report them to the State Bar as required. He was also culpable of two counts of failing to deposit client funds in a trust account and three counts of failing to provide clients with appropriate accountings, as well as two charges involving moral turpitude: misappropriating client funds, and forging a release form and settling a case without the client’s consent.

On aggravation, Durst committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, presented evidence from seven individuals who attested to his good character, expressed remorse for his misconduct, and had practiced law for more than 37 years without a record of discipline.


McKinley Dirk Eastmond
State Bar # 89470, Sandy, Utah (August 28, 2016)

Eastmond, 61, was suspended from practicing law in California for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to being convicted of criminal offenses involving moral turpitude while living in Utah, where he was also licensed to practice law.

While separated from his wife and ending their divorce, Eastmond sent her more than 30 texts and emails that were vulgar, threatening, and harassing—including several wishing her a prompt and horrible death. He was eventually convicted of the misdemeanor of attempted stalking in a domestic violence situation (Utah Code Ann. §76-5-106.5). The next year, he also pled no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct after he and a girlfriend were arrested for domestic assault after getting into a physical altercation at their Utah home. He was sentenced to serve 365 days in jail.

The Utah District Court conducted a disciplinary hearing and sanctioned Eastmond with a two-year stayed suspension from practicing law there, imposing an additional two years of probation and a number of conditions.

In aggravation, Eastmond committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law in California for more than 20 years without discipline, and was also given limited mitigation credit for the testimony presented by four character witnesses in the Utah disciplinary proceeding.


Peter Robin Estes
State Bar # 168867, Los Angeles (July 18, 2016)

Estes, 62, was suspended from practicing law pending his passage of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated by the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary order.


Joel Samuel Farkas
State Bar # 244032, Studio City (July 23, 2016)

Farkas, 47, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to numerous acts of professional misconduct in four client matters consolidated in a single case.

Specifically, he was found culpable of: charging and receiving an illegal fee before completing home mortgage loan modification services, failing to render an appropriate accounting to the client, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged, failing to respond to a client’s reasonable inquiries about a case, and twice misrepresenting legal actions he claimed to have taken on a client’s behalf—misconduct involving moral turpitude. He was also found culpable of two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to promptly release clients’ papers and property after being requested to do so, and failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees.

In aggravation, Farkas committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to his clients’ interests in three of the cases, and failed to make restitution by not returning unearned fees to two of the clients.

In mitigation, he entered a pretrial stipulation in the disciplinary proceeding and had practiced law for seven years without a record of discipline.


Bruce Charles Fehr
State Bar # 122297, Flintstone, Georgia (August 15, 2016)

Fehr, 56, was suspended pending final disposition of his conviction of possessing child pornography (18 U.S.C. §2252A(a)(5)(B)—a felony involving moral turpitude.


Joseph E. Gerbac
State Bar # 38568, Solvang (July 18, 2016)

Gerbac, 76, 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.


Edmund Charles Gil
State Bar # 159127, Fresno (August 22, 2016)

Gil, 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.


Gerard Brennan Harvey
State Bar # 152669, Bishop (August 7, 2016)

Harvey, 54, was suspended from practicing law for four months and his probation was revoked and reinstated for two years after he stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier probation order. Specifically, he failed to timely file medical waivers and three quarterly written reports with the Office of Probation, filed late or unsatisfactory evidence of attending abstinence-based 12-step meetings and of obtaining psychiatric treatment. He also violated his criminal probation by using marijuana as revealed in numerous lab tests.

In mitigation, Harvey demonstrated attempts at rehabilitation by seeking and continuing help with addiction and psychological issues, introduced some evidence from individuals attesting to his good character, and also presented evidence of pro bono activities and community involvement.


Louise A. Lewis
State Bar # 102792, Alhambra (August 29, 2016)

Lewis, 74, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as required by the terms of an earlier disciplinary order.


Marcia Janae Machado
State Bar # 231144, Fresno (August 8, 2016)

Machado, 43, was suspended from the practice of law pending final disposition of her conviction of assisting or conspiring in insurance fraud (Cal. Penal Code §550(b)(1))—a felony involving moral turpitude.


Frank Edward Miller
State Bar # 162270, Albuquerque, New Mexico (August 15, 2016)

Miller, 56, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.


Delbert Joe Modlin
State Bar # 131265, Folsom (August 29, 2016)

Modlin, 65, was suspended from the practice of law pending final disposition of his conviction of conspiring to commit forgery (Cal. Penal Code §§182(a)(1) and 470)—a felony involving moral turpitude.


Margarita Mkrtchyan
State Bar # 230191, Glendale (August 8, 2016)

Mkrtchyan, 48, was suspended pending final disposition of her conviction of obstructing a court order (18 U.S.C. §1509)—a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.


Farzad Naderi
State Bar # 249694, Mission Viejo (July 23, 2016)

Naderi, 39, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. He was found culpable of charging and collecting fees to perform loan modification services in Florida and in Washington—two jurisdictions in which he was not licensed to practice law.

In aggravation, Naderi committed multiple acts of misconduct and failed to make restitution to either client. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation resolving the matters and had practiced law for six years without a prior record of discipline.


Paul Stanley Nash
State Bar # 77555, Irvine (July 23, 2016)

Nash, 66, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. He was found culpable of failing to maintain the requisite balance in his client trust account, commingling the funds in the account by making six deposits of his personal funds and making 44 payments for personal expenses from it, and negligently misappropriating $2,713 from that account—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Nash committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and the commingling was found to be intentional misconduct. In mitigation, he had practiced law for 37 years without a prior record of discipline, caused no harm to the client involved, made restitution in the matter prior to the State Bar’s investigation and involvement, and submitted nine character declarations and letters from a widespread sample of the legal and general communities attesting to his good character and community and pro bono services. The State Bar Court judge found additional mitigating circumstances in Nash’s prefiling stipulation and in the fact he took steps to rectify his misconduct by voluntarily registering for the State Bar’s Client Trust Account School.


Rene Chavez Nunez
State Bar # 226171, San Gabriel (August 14, 2016)

Nunez, 44, was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to a single count of disobeying a court order. The California Supreme Court had directed him to file a declaration of compliance as one of the terms imposed in an earlier discipline order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In aggravation, Nunez had two prior records of discipline. In mitigation, he admitted culpability in filing a stipulation and was displaced from his home for more than a year after a house fire, which made it difficult for him to see and review mail—including the noncompliance letters sent by the State Bar.


Andrew Michael Oldham
State Bar # 144287, Campbell (July 23, 2016)

Oldham, 52, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: charging and collecting fees before completing all loan modification services and failing to refund the unearned fees to the clients until the State Bar informed him disciplinary charges would be filed against him.

In aggravation, Oldham committed two separate acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline—also imposed for mishandling loan modification fees. In mitigation, he entered into the dispositive stipulation before charges were filed, demonstrating his efforts at rehabilitation.


Kenneth Clifford Olson
State Bar # 279643, San Ramon (August 28, 2016)

Olson, 42, was suspending from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of six counts of misconduct stemming from a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to obey court orders, failing to communicate significant case developments to his clients, failing to deposit client funds in a trust account, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and failing to promptly release the clients’ file after his services were terminated.

Olson represented a married couple who had been sued by their homeowners’ association for painting their driveway without securing approval from the association. The clients paid him $2,800 in advanced fees, and an additional $150 as advanced costs to cover the deposit for jury fees, which he did not deposit in a client trust account, but misappropriated soon after receiving it.

After agreeing to represent the clients, Olson performed no services of value on their behalf—failing to provide responses to motions and discovery requests, failing to attend depositions, and failing to inform the clients of scheduled depositions and other case developments—including the fact that a judgment had been entered against them.

In aggravation, Olson committed multiple acts of misconduct, significantly harmed his clients, and failed to pay restitution. In addition, he “demonstrated little insight or understanding of his own misconduct”—instead blaming the judge, opposing counsel, and the clients for all that went wrong in the case. In addition, the State Bar Court judge allotted aggravating weight to the uncharged misconduct of misappropriating the intended jury fees for his own use. In mitigation, he entered into a partial stipulation as to facts and admission of documents, and was allocated nominal weight for good character testimony introduced by two witnesses.


Kenneth Edward Ostrove
State Bar # 111222, North Hollywood (July 21, 2016)

Ostrove, 59, was suspended from the practice of law for 120 days and placed on probation for two years following a proceeding seeking to revoke his probation and impose the stayed suspension from an earlier disciplinary proceeding. His misconduct included: failing to submit timely quarterly and Law Office Management/Organization Plan reports with the Office of Probation, as well as failing to provide adequate proof of paying restitution to two clients and of obtaining psychiatric or psychological treatment as mandated.

Ostrove opposed the revocation motion, arguing that he tried to comply with probation conditions, but did not offer a differing recommendation for discipline.

In aggravation, Ostrove committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he was accorded limited mitigation credit for belatedly completing his restitution requirement and for providing some, albeit incomplete, evidence of his attempts to seek counseling.

The Office of Probation argued the original suspension order of one year should be imposed for failing to comply with the disciplinary probation terms. In recommending only 120 days of suspension, however, the State Bar Court judge reasoned that by the time the Supreme Court order imposing discipline in this matter became final, Ostrove would effectively be precluded from practicing law for a longer period than the recommended discipline.


Thomas D. Peckenpaugh
State Bar # 38155, Corona Del Mar (August 28, 2016)

Peckenpaugh, 77, was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to reporting to the State Bar that he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education when in fact he had not completed any hours—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Peckenpaugh showed indifference to his misconduct by failing to comply with the State Bar’s audit process; he was instead placed on involuntary inactive status. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before charges were filed against him, and had practiced law for nearly 48 years without a record of discipline.


Cary Lee Petersen
State Bar # 173406, Folsom (July 23, 2016)

Petersen, 59, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing multiple acts of misconduct in two client matters. In both of the cases, he was found culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly terminating his employment, failing to promptly refund unearned fees, and failing to inform clients of significant developments related to their legal matters. In one of the cases, he also failed to promptly return the client’s file after being requested to do so.

Both of the client cases involved family law matters Petersen was hired to pursue during a time his “medical and alcohol issues prevented him from providing legal services.” After accepting the clients’ fees, he took no action in their cases, and ultimately closed his practice without informing either of the clients.

In aggravation, Petersen committed multiple acts of misconduct and failed to make restitution by retuning the unearned fees. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 11 years without a record of discipline.


Vinh Ngoc Pham
State Bar # 243907, Orange (August 28, 2016)

Pham, 56, 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 that he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education for a specified compliance period when he knew he had not completed any hours—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation prior to formal charges being filed, had practiced law discipline-free for more than nine years, and presented letters from five individuals attesting to his good character.


Elias Francisco Portales
State Bar # 230402, San Jose (August 28, 2016)

Portales, 39, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to obtain written consent from a client before accepting payment of attorney fees from a third party, failing to respond to a client’s reasonable case status inquiries, and two counts of failing to return unearned advanced fees.

In one matter, Portales was paid advanced fees of $3,000 by one party to represent his business partner in pursuing a debt collection—without the partner’s written consent—but then took no meaningful action in the case: failing to file a response to the complaint, oppose the default motion, or act to have the default set aside. In the other matter, a debt and home loan modification case, he accepted $1,500 in advanced fees, then did not provide the client with substantive responses to her inquiries or keep her informed about the case. Her home loan modification application was ultimately denied.

In aggravation, Portales committed multiple acts of misconduct, had a prior record of discipline, and misrepresented the status of a case filing on several occasions. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation, saving the State Bar time and resources.


Gary Stephen Redinger
State Bar # 74041, San Bernardino (August 22, 2016)

Redinger, 67, was suspended in the interim following the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel’s transmittal of a final record of his conviction of unauthorized use of personal identity information (Cal. Penal Code §530.5(c)(1))—a crime involving moral turpitude.


James Victor Sarro
State Bar # 54491, Carmichael (July 23, 2016)

Sarro, 73, was suspended from practicing law 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—misconduct involving moral turpitude. He did not keep sufficient records or take sufficient steps to ascertain whether he was truly in compliance; in fact, he had not completed the required hours of study within the compliance period.

In mitigation, he presented 15 references from a wide range of witnesses familiar with his misconduct who attested to his good character. In addition, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for more than 37years without a record of discipline.


Robert Sibilia
State Bar # 126979, Oceanside (July 23, 2016)

Sibilia, 58, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year. He was charged with and found culpable of three counts of misappropriating funds from his client trust account—money earmarked for clients’ medical providers, which constituted acts of moral turpitude.

Sibilia and another lawyer opened a practice in which they jointly owned and maintained a client trust account. Several years later, they went separate ways—and though the former partner moved to another state, the trust account remained in the firm’s name, and both attorneys remained signatories and joint owners on it.

Sibilia was retained to settle personal injury lawsuit on behalf of three clients injured in car accident. The insurance companies issued settlement checks for $35,500, deposited in the firm’s client trust account. Before he had satisfied the outstanding medical liens in the cases, however, the account balance dropped to less than $20; Sibilia acknowledged that the firm failed to reconcile the trust account with client accounts or ledgers. Ultimately, about $12,725 was misappropriated.

In aggravation, Sibilia committed multiple acts of misconduct by allowing the client trust account balance to dip below the amount needed to satisfy the lien payments. In mitigation, he entered a stipulation establishing his culpability, had practiced law for 24 years without a discipline record, and provided declarations from 10 individuals attesting to his good character and dedication to community service.


Joseph John Siguenza
State Bar # 92327, Burlingame (July 23, 2016)

Siguenza, 64, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years 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 aggravation, Siguenza had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and was also allotted some limited mitigation credit for three reference letters attesting to his good character.


Tony Kevin Smith
State Bar # 210512, Roseville (July 23, 2016)

Smith, 55, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years. He had earlier stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to the two felonies of driving under the influence of alcohol—causing injury, and driving with a blood alcohol content of .08%—causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code §§23153(a) and 23253(b)), as well as entering an admission to the enhancement of driving with a blood alcohol level of .15% or higher (Cal. Veh. Code §23578).

While driving, he had crossed over a center median, colliding with two other vehicles; the driver and passenger in one of them sustained injuries.

In aggravation, Smith injured two people and damaged three vehicles. The State Bar Court judge also allocated aggravating weight to the uncharged misconduct of failing to report his felony convictions to the State Bar.

In mitigation, he was candid and cooperative during the State Bar’s investigation, entered into a full stipulation, had no prior record of discipline in nearly 12 years of practicing law, was undergoing family problems including a divorce and loss of job, and presented letters from 12 individuals attesting to his good character. In addition, he demonstrated three years of sobriety since he committed the offense.


Kevin Renard Taylor
State Bar # 218711, Beverly Hills (August 14, 2016)

Taylor, 43, was suspended from practicing law for 60 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, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to respond to his client’s reasonable inquiries about the status of the case, failing to deposit funds received on the client’s behalf into a trust account, and failing to promptly pay the client his portion of case settlement funds.

Taylor was retained to resolve property damage and personal injury claims for a client who had been involved in a car accident. He settled the property damage claim, then took no action on the personal injury matter—ignoring both the insurer’s requests for supplemental documents and his client’s numerous telephone messages. He received a check for the property damage settlement, but never negotiated it. By the time he did contact the insurer about the personal injury action, the statute of limitations had lapsed.

In aggravation, Taylor committed multiple acts of misconduct, had a prior record of discipline, and significantly harmed his client. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before formal disciplinary charges were filed and voluntarily entered the Lawyer’s Assistance Program to seek counseling and assistance in managing emotional problems that surfaced just before his misconduct.


David Lawrence Warner
State Bar # 194804, Newport Beach (August 28, 2016)

Warner, 45, was suspended from practicing law and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar that he had completed 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education—an act involving moral turpitude. In fact, he had not completed any hours during the compliance period. He claimed he believed that he had fulfilled the requirements by reading MCLE-approved articles alone, without paying fees or taking self-assessment tests.

In mitigation, Warner entered into a stipulation in the matter before the State Bar had filed charges against him and had practiced law for 15 years without a record of discipline.


Todd Albert Warshof
State Bar # 232227, San Diego (July 23, 2016)

Warshof, 39, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to commingling personal funds with those in his client trust account. Over the course of a year, he issued 35 payments for personal expenses and made 13 deposits of personal funds into that account. On several dates, the account balance fell below zero. When notified the State Bar was investigating the matter, Warshof requested that his client trust account be unlinked from his personal Paypal account.

In aggravation, Warshof committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a full pre-filing stipulation, had practiced law for nearly 10 years without a record of discipline, and caused no harm to clients, as there were no client funds in the account during the time of misconduct.



Probation

Ronald Wayne Grigg
State Bar # 140947, Elton, Pennsylvania (July 23, 2016)

Grigg, 53, was placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to failing to comply with several court orders while handling a single client matter.

Grigg was retained to represent a client in a marital dissolution and in settling claims against a family trust. After about a year, the two became involved in a dispute over legal fees; the client sued him—and the case proceeded to arbitration. As part of the civil case, a court had ordered Grigg to provide the client with a full accounting of all funds he had received or held in trust for him, as well as a list of the bank accounts on which Grigg was a signatory. In reality, Grigg had already prepared an accounting and information containing the information requested, but did not disclose it until nine days of contempt hearings had been held.

In mitigation, Grigg entered into a full stipulation as to facts, conclusions of law, and level of discipline—and had no prior record of discipline in more than 21 years of practicing law.


Nicholas H. Van Parys
State Bar # 242234, Westlake Village (August 28, 2016)

Van Parys, 36, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to falsely reporting that he had fully complied with the required Minimum Continuing Legal Education hours for a specific compliance period—misconduct involving moral turpitude. In fact, he had completed only six of the 25 requisite hours of study.

In mitigation, Van Parys entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him, had practiced law for eight years without a record of discipline, submitted 19 letters from a wide range of witnesses attesting to his good character, and provided evidence he had undertaken a substantial amount of pro bono legal work.


Rory Joseph Vohwinkel
State Bar # 276102, Las Vegas, Nevada (August 28, 2016)

Vohwinkel, 38, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to being culpable of three acts of professional misconduct in Nevada, where he was also licensed to practice law. All three matters involved home loan modifications undertaken by a “legal advocacy center” located in Nevada; Vohwinkel was part owner of the business and listed as its supervising attorney. In all three cases, the clients were dissatisfied with the services and terminated the firm’s employment or filed a grievance with the Nevada State Bar.

In the instant disciplinary proceeding, the State Bar Court judge determined that, had the misconduct occurred in California, it would have violated several local Rules of Professional Conduct, constituting: failing to perform legal services with competence, aiding the unauthorized practice of law, and failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries.

In aggravation, Vohwinkel committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for six years without a record of discipline, provided letters from seven individuals who attested to his good character, and presented evidence of substantial community service.



Public Reproval

Scott Howard Linden
State Bar # 190920, Sherman Oaks (July 21, 2016)

Linden, 46, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to one count of aggravated trespass (Cal. Penal Code ¶602.5(b)), a misdemeanor.

Linden, driving a jeep with his nephew as a passenger, parked in the handicap spaces outside a doctor’s office. Another driver, in the process of picking up an elderly patient, pulled a transportation van behind Linden’s vehicle, impeding his exit. As the other driver was loading his passenger onto the van, Linden began a verbal altercation with him, then retrieved a tire iron from his trunk and chased the other driver with it; his nephew eventually took the tire iron from him. The two drivers continued to argue, with the van driver alleging Linden hit his vehicle when attempting to move from the parking space. Police summoned to the scene later arrested Linden at his home for assault with a deadly weapon.

In mitigation, Linden entered a pretrial stipulation as to the facts and law and had practiced law for approximately 18 without a record of discipline.

In recommending discipline on the low end of the standard, the State Bar Court judge noted that while the misconduct showed “a lapse in judgment, which reflects poorly on respondent and the legal profession,” it “does not involve the practice of law.”


Kevin Gang Long
State Bar # 195523, Monterey Park (August 19, 2016)

Long, 44, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to failing to comply with all conditions attached to a disciplinary probation order imposed earlier. Specifically, he failed to schedule a meeting with his probation deputy and submit proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam by the times indicated in the order.

In aggravation, Long had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into the stipulation in the present matter before the Notice of Disciplinary Charges was filed against him.


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