Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California
- Franklin Casco, Jr., Tustin
- Douglas James Crawford, San Diego
- Ronald David Garber, Santa Monica
- Todd Eugene Marsh, Lake Hughes
- Jennifer Joanne McGready-Ornelas, Newport Beach
- John M. Ribarich, Los Angeles
- Johnnie Lee Taylor, Pasadena
- George E. Weber, Newport Beach
- George Rafael Angulo, Los Angeles
- Larry Alvin Donaldson, Fresno
- Dennis Gerald Geselowitz, Studio City
- David Mark Liberman, Los Angeles
- Elizabeth Ann Mello, Coyote
- Ronald Jack Mix, San Juan Capistrano
- Francis Joseph O’Kane, Jr., Studio City
- Warren Wendell Quann, Washington, DC
- Steven Joseph Renshaw, Ventura
- Mark Bryson Replogle, Apache Junction, Arizona
- William Leo Smith, Fair Oaks
- Julia Susanna Swanson, Topanga
- Dean Randolph Zimmerman, Los Angeles
Franklin Casco, Jr.
State Bar # 235815, Tustin (September 11, 2016)
Casco, 55, was summarily disbarred after the State Bar received evidence, following an appeal, of the finality of his felony convictions of false personation (Cal. Penal Code §529(3)) and identity theft (Cal. Penal Code §530.5(a)).
The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel argued that the conviction for false personation involves moral turpitude. However, the State Bar Court judge found that because the identity theft conviction clearly established both criteria for summary disbarment—a felony involving moral turpitude—the possibility of an additional moral turpitude charge need not be considered.
Casco did not respond to the motion for summary disbarment.
Douglas James Crawford
State Bar # 202274, San Diego (September 23, 2016)
Crawford, 53, was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at the second day of the trial of his disciplinary proceeding. He appeared on the first day, but left the courtroom after the State Bar’s opening statements. He did not move to have the default judgment that was entered against him set aside or vacated.
Crawford had been charged with eight counts of professional misconduct in connection with legal actions related to a petition to act as attorney-in-fact for his mother. Four of the counts were dismissed; however, he was found culpable of the other four. They included: failing to employ only means consistent with the truth by filing a pleading in superior court that falsely implied his mother was still alive; violating a court order by failing to pay two court-ordered sanctions totaling $26,302; and failing to report the judicial sanction imposed to the State Bar. He was also found culpable of moral turpitude by threatening to use pepper spray and a stun gun on opposing counsel if a deposition “got out of hand,”—and actually discharging the gun while aiming it at counsel.
One additional disciplinary proceeding was pending against Crawford in the State Bar’s review department when this order was imposed.
Ronald David Garber
State Bar # 100760, Santa Monica (September 3, 2016)
Garber, 62, was summarily disbarred after filing a waiver of finality of his conviction of two counts of subscribing a false tax return (26 U.S.C. §7206(1))—making the convictions final for the purpose of attorney discipline. The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude. Garber did not respond to the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar’s motion for summary disbarment.
Todd Eugene Marsh
State Bar # 176065, Lake Hughes (September 3, 2016)
Marsh, 50, was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with numerous counts of professional discipline, despite receiving adequate notice of the proceeding. He did not seek to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of all counts with which he was charged, including seven counts of wrongdoing in two client matters: failing to support state and federal laws and constitutions, failing to perform legal services with competence, charging and collecting an illegal fee, failing to inform a client of significant case developments, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and holding himself out as entitled to practice law and actually practicing when he was actually suspended, along with misrepresenting the status of a case—misconduct involving moral turpitude. He was also found culpable of failing to update his State Bar official membership address within 30 days and of two counts of violating disciplinary probation conditions by failing to contact and file various reports and proofs with the State Bar.
Marsh had two prior records of discipline.
Jennifer Joanne McGready-Ornelas
State Bar # 262482, Newport Beach (September 3, 2016)
McGready-Ornelas, 43, was disbarred by default. She failed to appear at the disciplinary hearing in which she was charged with five counts of professional misconduct after failing to perform any services of value for a bankruptcy client. It was determined that the procedural notice requirements had been satisfied.
Specifically, McGready-Ornelas was found culpable of: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to promptly return unearned advanced fees, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about the status of a case, failing to update her address with the State Bar within 30 days of moving, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigation of the wrongdoing she was alleged to have committed.
John M. Ribarich
State Bar # 183883, Los Angeles (September 3, 2016)
Ribarich, 51, was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at his disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was found culpable of 23 counts of professional misconduct, mostly stemming from loan modification practices.
Specifically, his wrongdoing included: 16 counts of collecting advanced fees before completing all services promised in loan modification matters, three counts of failing to provide clients with proper accountings, and one count of failing to maintain client funds in trust. He was also culpable of three counts involving moral turpitude: making false statements in documents submitted to the State Bar, misappropriating entrusted client funds for his own purposes, and issuing a check when there were insufficient funds to cover it.
Ribarich had been disciplined on two prior occasions.
Johnnie Lee Taylor
State Bar # 117532, Pasadena (September 16, 2016)
Taylor, 64, was disbarred after an appeal by the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar contesting the hearing judge’s recommended order of a 60-day actual suspension in the fifth disciplinary proceeding brought against him. Taylor conceded culpability and supported the recommended discipline.
In the present matter, Taylor was found culpable of failing to comply with all 13 conditions attached to a previous disciplinary probation. Specifically, he failed to timely submit four quarterly reports and violated the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) requirements by missing numerous drug tests and group therapy sessions without being excused.
The State Bar Court panel allotted significant aggravation both for Taylor’s four prior records of discipline and for his multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, Taylor was given significant weight for the 10 witnesses who testified about his good character. The panel also allotted “modest” mitigation for his cooperation with the State Bar in stipulating to easily provable facts.
In rejecting the hearing judge’s finding of “exceptional cooperation,” the panel noted instead “his evasiveness and inconsistent testimony at trial, his numerous probation violations, and the fact that his LAP Plan was extended due to unexcused violations.”
It also rejected the hearing judge’s finding of good faith efforts to comply with his probation conditions, citing his “multiple explanations regarding difficulties.”
Finally, the panel rejected the hearing judge’s finding of mitigation for Taylor’s efforts to overcome alcoholism. It reiterated the Standards for Attorney Sanctions for Professional Misconduct (Std. 1.6(d)) requirements that extreme emotional and physical difficulties may be mitigating only if: expert testimony establishes they were “directly responsible for the misconduct;” they were not the result of any illegal conduct; and clear and convincing evidence establishes they no longer pose a risk.
George E. Weber
State Bar # 220592, Newport Beach (September 3, 2016)
Weber, 43, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in the disciplinary hearing in which he was charged with three counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. All procedural notice requirements were satisfied, and Weber did not act to have the default set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of all three counts: failing to comply with a court order to pay sanctions, failing to report those sanctions to the State Bar, and failing to cooperate in the investigation of the charges filed against him.
George Rafael Angulo
State Bar # 195700, Los Angeles (September 6, 2016)
Angulo, 47, was suspended from the practice of law pending final dispositions of his felony convictions of causing injury while driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §23153(b)) and driving under the influence of alcohol with a prior felony conviction for driving under the influence (Cal. Veh. Code §§23550.5(a) and 23152(a)).
Larry Alvin Donaldson
State Bar # 65658, Fresno (September 3, 2016)
Donaldson, 75, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing three counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. He was culpable of two counts of failing to support state law and one count of mishandling his fiduciary responsibilities, which is wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.
Donaldson drafted a will and trust for his friend, in which he was named as executor and successor trustee. After his friend’s death, Donaldson was legally appointed the estate’s executor and personal representative, but for seven years, he failed to provide the remaindermen beneficiaries with requested accountings of the trust, nor did he file the requisite inventory and appraisal of property within four months after the letters of testamentary were issued.
In aggravation, Donaldson committed multiple acts of misconduct involving entrusted funds and property. The State Bar Court judge also allotted aggravating weight to the civil settlement agreement he entered with the remaindermen conditioned on their agreement to withdraw the disciplinary complaint they had filed against him with the State Bar.
In mitigation, Donaldson entered into a pretrial stipulation, had no prior record of discipline in more than 32 years of practicing law, and submitted credible evidence of civic and volunteer service in the community.
Dennis Gerald Geselowitz
State Bar # 85907, Studio City (September 3, 2016)
Geselowitz, 63, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. Specifically, he repeatedly failed to perform legal services with competence, failed to maintain client funds in trust, and misappropriated the clients’ settlement funds.
Geselowitz represented a brother and sister who had suffered personal injuries in a car accident—entering a fee agreement providing for attorney’s fees of 1/3 of the gross recovery obtained. However, he failed to promptly negotiate medical liens with two providers, then failed to adequately supervise his staff members, who mistakenly sent one of the client’s open files to a storage facility while closing down the law office. During that time, electronic transfers were made from Geselowitz’s client trust to the general operating account, causing the balance to fall below the amount he was required to have held for the clients.
In aggravation, Geselowitz committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 33 years discipline-free, submitted eight letters from individuals representing a broad range of backgrounds who attested to his high moral character, and provided documentation of extensive pro bono work—which included drafting educational material to encourage a peaceful transition after the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa.
David Mark Liberman
State Bar # 108469, Los Angeles (September 19, 2016)
Liberman, 67, was suspended from the practice of law for failure to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam within the time prescribed in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order. His earlier motion to extend the time to take and pass the exam was denied without prejudice to filing an amended motion demonstrating good cause.
Elizabeth Ann Mello
State Bar # 244401, Coyote (September 3, 2016)
Mello, 37, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to failing to comply with conditions of a disciplinary probation. The conditions included filing a timely written quarterly report and proof of successfully completing Ethics School with the Office of Probation.
In mitigation, Mello entered into a full stipulation prior to the trial of the matter. In aggravation, she had a prior record of discipline.
Ronald Jack Mix
State Bar # 49663, San Juan Capistrano (September 26, 2016)
Mix, 78, was suspended from the practice of law in the interim, pending finality of his conviction of filing a false tax return (26 U.S.C. §7206(1))—a felony involving moral turpitude.
Francis Joseph O’Kane, Jr.
State Bar # 137370, Studio City (September 3, 2016)
O’Kane, 63, was suspended for six months 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 client funds in trust, failing to render an accounting of funds after the client requested one, failing to promptly pay a lien on the client’s behalf, and misappropriating the client’s settlement funds—an act involving moral turpitude.
O’Kane was hired to represent a client who incurred injuries at a hotel, ultimately accepting a $35,000 settlement check on her behalf. Shortly afterward, he transitioned from working at a large law firm to operating as a sole practitioner. O’Kane issued a check to the client in the sum of $15,000; she declined to deposit or cash it, claiming he actually owed her $17,500. The amount in his client trust account dipped below the sum he was required to maintain on the client’s behalf. Also during that time, Medicare sent notices to the client, informing her it intended to refer her outstanding debt to the Department of Treasury. O’Kane eventually paid the Medicare lien and the client, but did not provide her with the requested accounting.
In aggravated, O’Kane committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation, had no record of discipline in nearly 28 years of practicing law, provided six letters from individuals attesting to his good character—along with evidence of substantial community service—and demonstrated recognition of his wrongdoing by hiring a specialist in negotiating medical liens to avoid repeating the misconduct of making late payments in the future.
Warren Wendell Quann
State Bar # 140032, Washington, DC (September 3, 2016)
Quann, 57, was suspended from the practice of law for three years and also placed on probation for three years after being found culpable of failing to comply with several of the conditions of a disciplinary probation that had been imposed earlier. Specifically, he failed to timely file seven quarterly written reports, as well as a final written report; failed to provide proof of restitution; and failed to timely pay reimbursement of restitution to the Client Security Fund.
In aggravation, Quann committed multiple acts of misconduct and had been disciplined twice before. The State Bar Court judge gave additional aggravating weight to the uncharged violation of failing to report a misdemeanor DUI conviction to the Office of Probation.
In mitigation, 13 witnesses from a cross-section of the community testified about Quann’s good character; the judge did not consider testimony from three of the witnesses, as they were not aware of the full extent of his disciplinary record. He also submitted evidence of substantial pro bono work and expressed genuine remorse for his wrongdoing.
Steven Joseph Renshaw
State Bar # 132640, Ventura (September 3, 2016)
Renshaw, 58, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. He was culpable of failing to properly withdraw from employment, failing to perform legal services with competence, and two counts of failing to keep clients informed of significant developments in their cases.
In one case, he had a client’s lawsuit dismissed without her prior approval, precluding any prospect of her recovery. In the other matter, he was retained to represent a client in a custody case, but failed to take any action to pursue the claim—failing to appear at two scheduled hearings.
In aggravation, Renshaw committed multiple acts of misconduct, significantly harmed one of the client’s whose case was ultimately dismissed, and had one prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before charges were filed in one of the client matters—and before trial in the other.
Mark Bryson Replogle
State Bar # 151200, Apache Junction, Arizona (September 11, 2016)
Replogle, 57, was suspended from the practice of law after he failed to appear at the proceeding on the motion to revoke the disciplinary probation previously ordered. He had been properly served with notice of the action. He had violated the probation order by failing to file a quarterly report as well as proof of passing Ethics School with the State Bar.
In aggravation, Replogle committed multiple acts of misconduct, had a prior record of discipline, and showed indifference to the disciplinary process through his ongoing failures to comply with probation conditions.
William Leo Smith
State Bar # 137805, Fair Oaks (September 12, 2016)
Smith, 68, was suspended in the interim following his convictions of the felony of indecent exposure (Cal. Penal Code §314(1)) and the misdemeanor of violating a sex offender registration requirement (Cal. Penal Code §290.018(a)).
The presiding judge of the State Bar Court directed the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel to clarify whether there is specific evidence establishing the convictions are final, as well as its positions on whether the offenses of which Smith was convicted involve moral turpitude as a matter of law.
Julia Susanna Swanson
State Bar # 165039, Topanga (September 3, 2016)
Swanson, 70, was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to several acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. Her wrongdoing included: two counts of knowingly making false representations on legal documents and three counts of seeking to mislead a judge or judicial officer by offering false testimony; all five counts involve moral turpitude.
Swanson associated with another attorney and his firm, filing a mass tort civil complaint on behalf of multiple plaintiffs in a products liability case. Swanson, assisted by her paralegal, was responsible for compiling and verifying Product Identification Questionnaires that the defendants had served.
Swanson simulated the signatures of several of the plaintiffs on the verifications attached to their responses, and directed her paralegal to simulate signatures on at least 78 of the responses and verifications. After opposing counsel noted during a status conference that the signatures looked like they were signed by the same person, Swanson filed a declaration with the court stating that the forgeries were “never at my direction or with my knowledge” and that “had she seen what was being filed, she never would have allowed it to happen.”
Swanson fired the paralegal; her co-counsel filed to withdraw from representation; 48 of the plaintiffs whose verifications had been forged were dismissed from the case.
In aggravation, Swanson committed multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed both her clients and the administration of justice.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 20 without a prior record of discipline, and submitted 13 references from individuals drawn from the legal and general communities who attested to her good character.
Dean Randolph Zimmerman
State Bar # 249023, Los Angeles (September 26, 2016)
Zimmerman, 39, was suspended in the interim, pending finality of his convictions of the felony of manufacturing or receiving a large capacity gun magazine (Cal. Penal Code §32310(a)) and the misdemeanor of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol within two years of two other DUI offenses (Cal. Veh. Code §§23152(a) and 23546).
Verlin Kay Johnson
State Bar # 57416, Redding (September 3, 2016)
Johnson, 70, was placed on probation for two years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program.
In the underlying discipline case, Johnson had stipulated to pleading guilty to two charges of driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)). He also stipulated to two counts of misconduct in a client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees.
In aggravation, Johnson engaged in multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he had no prior record of discipline in 31 years of practicing law and cooperated with the State Bar by entering into the pretrial stipulation.
Theodore Edward Malpass
State Bar # 112914, Laguna Beach (September 3, 2016)
Malpass, 63, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to one count of misdemeanor battery (Cal. Penal Code §242). He was arrested after he struck an office assistant in the face following her refusal to give the phone to him after he had requested it.
In aggravation, Malpass had one prior record of discipline based on misconduct that had occurred three years before the battery. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, acknowledging his wrongdoing.
Gregory P. Allen
State Bar # 98002, Arcata (September 23, 2016)
Allen, 64, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to keep the client reasonably informed of a significant development in her case and failing to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation pending against him.
He was retained to represent a client accused of battering a police officer; she pled nolo contendere to the charge. The client subsequently complained to the State Bar that Allen had not informed her the plea could also expose her to discipline by the Board of Registered Nursing.
In aggravation, Allen committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 35 years without a record of discipline.
Sherry Ann Garrels
State Bar # 160244, Garden Grove (September 27, 2016)
Garrels, 60, was publicly reproved after she stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to maintain a client’s confidential information, representing clients with conflicting interests, and entering a transaction adverse to a client’s interests.
Garrels was hired to represent an elderly client in a probate matter; the retainer agreement specified a $15,000 nonrefundable retainer fee—payable by the client giving her Lexus automobile to Garrels’ son.
Two years later, as the client began to suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, Garrels was hired by two additional parties petitioning to become the client’s conservators. She did not inform any of the clients of the foreseeable adverse consequences of the representation, nor did she obtain their informed written consents to it. While filing for a temporary conservatorship of her initial client,
Garrels included medical information without that client’s knowledge or consent.
In aggravation, Garrels committed multiple acts of misconduct and attempted to take advantage of a vulnerable client—seeking a conservatorship against her wishes. In mitigation, she entered into a stipulation prior to charges being filed against her and had practiced law discipline-free for 17 years.