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Discipline Report

Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California

December 2016

Disbarment

Suspension

Probation

Public Reproval

Disbarment

Timothy Brooks Balcom
State Bar # 190496, Rosevillle (October 19, 2016)

Balcom, 52, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel, despite having adequate legal notice and opportunity. He had been charged with 26 counts of professional misconduct related to six clients, in legal matters ranging from DMV to criminal defense; the cases were consolidated.

Balcom was found culpable of all but one of the charges. His wrongdoing included: failing to promptly return a client’s papers and property; having improper sexual relations with a client; and misrepresenting to clients that charges were dismissed. It also included two counts each of improperly accepting fees for services from non-clients and failing to inform clients he had been suspended from practicing law in an earlier disciplinary order; three counts of failing to perform legal services with competence; four counts of failing to return unearned advanced fees; and five counts of improperly withdrawing from representation. In all six client matters, he was also found culpable of failing to cooperate in State Bar disciplinary investigations.

The count that was dismissed had charged Balcom with failing to perform legal services competently by not attending a court appearance in one of the cases while he was suspended from practicing law. However, the State Bar Court judge reasoned that “the rule regarding failure to act competently has no applicability to attorneys practicing while suspended,” since their only duty is to “stop practicing until they have established themselves as attorneys in good standing.”


Andrew Fairmont Beach
State Bar # 227333, Westminster (October 19, 2016)

Beach, 39, was disbarred after he stipulated to failing to file a declaration of compliance as mandated in an earlier California Supreme Court disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In aggravation, Beach had been disciplined twice before. In mitigation, he filed the stipulation prior to trial, preserving State Bar time and resources.


Gregory Molina Burke
State Bar # 188891, Newport Beach (October 26, 2016)

Burke, 49, was disbarred after the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar appealed a hearing judge’s recommendation of a one-year actual suspension for the misconduct committed. Burke neither requested a review, nor did he file a responsive brief on appeal, waiving any claim of factual error in the record.

The hearing judge found Burke culpable of professional misconduct in three client matters: failing to obey court orders, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and violating his duty to maintain a just action. The State Bar Court panel agreed with those findings, but noted that the judge below did not apply the correct disciplinary standard, which presumptively provides for disbarment when an attorney has been previously disciplined two or more times (Rules of Proc. of the State Bar, tit. IV, Std. 1.8(b); revised and renumbered effective July 1, 2015). Additional requirements in the standard require that: an actual suspension must have been previously imposed, or the misconduct in the entirety must constitute a pattern, or the wrongdoing must demonstrate an inability to conform to ethical norms. The judge had concluded the former misconduct occurred during the same period as the present misconduct.

On appeal, the panel also found Burke culpable of additional misconduct in counts that were dismissed—and it included added counts of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and moral turpitude arising from it, as well as failing to obey a court order. It also assigned more weight in aggravation.

In aggravation, Burke had committed multiple acts of misconduct and had been disciplined twice before, a factor entitle to significant weight. In mitigation, the panel allotted limited weight for his stipulation, which included easily provable facts prior to trial.

In recommending disbarment, the panel highlighted that Burke had committed wrongdoing for approximately the last eight years and in this case, was entitled to only nominal mitigation in filing a limited stipulation, noting: “His repeated acts of UPL and his multiple failures to obey court orders are even further evidence that he is unwilling or unable to conform to the professional responsibilities expected of attorneys who practice law in California.”


Patrick Blanchard Crawford
State Bar # 176013, Burbank (October 15, 2016)

Crawford, 52, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding charging him with seven counts of professional misconduct. He had received adequate notice and opportunity to appear, satisfying procedural requirements.

Crawford was found culpable of all counts. In one client matter, he failed to competently perform legal services, failed to provide a proper accounting of client fees, failed to communicate significant case developments to the client, failed to promptly release the client’s papers and property, and terminated his employment without adequate notice. He was also found culpable of failing to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation of the charges against him and of failing to update his membership address with the State Bar.


Edward Griffin Duree
State Bar # 116569, Davis (October 15, 2016)

Duree, 59, was disbarred by default after failing to respond to the notice of disciplinary charges against him. He did not move to have the default judgment entered in the case set aside or vacated.

Duree was found culpable of violating a court rule by failing to file proof of compliance as required in an earlier discipline order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He had three prior records of discipline.


Louis Joseph Ferrara
State Bar # 73345, Littleton, Colorado (October 15, 2016)

Ferrara, 69, 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 willfully violating a California Supreme Court order by failing to file a declaration of compliance as required in an earlier discipline order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before.


Thomas Paul Friedman
State Bar # 205407, Pasadena (October 15, 2016)

Friedman, 44, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either through counsel or in person, in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with three counts of professional conduct. The procedural rules for notice were satisfied.

Friedman was found culpable of all three counts: failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds, failing to promptly refund unearned client fees after being requested to do so, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.


Kenneth Gerald Jones
State Bar # 196868, Walnut Creek (October 19, 2016)

Jones, 45, was disbarred from practicing law after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in a scheme in which he embezzled funds from his former law firm. Specifically, he was found culpable of breaching the fiduciary duty of loyalty owed the firm, engaging in a scheme to defraud it, and intentionally misappropriating a large sum of money from the firm—acts involving moral turpitude.

Jones was hired as an associate at a law firm, promoted to partner there nine years later, and provided with an American Express card to use for business expenses. Shortly after that, he created a PayPal account and filed a Fictitious Business Name Statement for two fictitious businesses he created. Over the next five years, he embarked on a fraudulent invoicing scheme—ultimately misappropriating more than $605,450 from the firm. In addition, during his tenure as partner, Jones also diverted client payments directly to himself for services the firm provided.

When the scheme was discovered, Jones admitted he had a “spending problem,” and signed over a life insurance policy provided by the firm with a cash value of $50,000 as partial restitution.

In aggravation, Jones committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that created a pattern of misconduct, surrounded by dishonesty and concealment. He also caused significant harm to the firm, which repaid improperly invoiced bills and wrote off more than $250,000 in accounts receivable as a goodwill gesture to existing clients; Jones still owes the firm $555,450 for the funds he misappropriated. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation.


Shahin F. Khorrami
State Bar # 180411, Los Angeles (October 15, 2016)

Khorrami, 47, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary hearing despite receiving legally adequate notice of it. He did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.

Khorrami was found culpable of committing five counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to maintain client funds in trust; misappropriating nearly $16,000 of the client’s funds for his own purposes—misconduct involving moral turpitude; failing to respond to multiple client inquiries about the case status; failing to provide the client with an accounting; and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s disciplinary proceeding.


Michael Anthony Lotta
State Bar # 94301, Long Beach (October 15, 2016)

Lotta, 61, was disbarred after both he and the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar appealed a hearing judge’s recommendation of a two-year actual suspension as discipline. He had been found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to keep the client informed of significant developments in her case.

Lotta was hired to represent a client described as “unsophisticated” in a lawsuit against her former employer for wrongful termination, age and race discrimination, and retaliation for engaging in union activities. From the outset, Lotta believed the client’s case was weak—a belief strengthened after she was deposed by her former employer. However, he neither withdrew from employment nor took any steps to protect the client’s interests, opting to take no action; he did not inform her of his assessment or inaction, but continued to send her requests for information and verification related to the matter. The case was eventually dismissed, with sanctions and costs imposed against the client. She retained new counsel to review her lawsuit and Lotta’s handling of it.

On appeal, the State Bar Court panel affirmed the findings of culpability on both counts charged. It also affirmed the four factors found in aggravation: having three prior records of discipline, committing multiple acts of misconduct, causing the client significant harm, and demonstrating a persistent lack of insight and indifference regarding his wrongdoing.

In addition, it affirmed the findings of limited mitigation for entering a partial stipulation as to facts and admission of documents and for submitting character evidence from four individuals who did not represent a broad range from the legal and general communities.

On appeal, the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar argued that disbarment was proper; Lotta requested dismissal, claiming his professional conduct was justified due to the weakness of his client’s case.

In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court panel noted Lotta’s current misconduct was “virtually similar” to previous misconduct for which he had been disciplined. It also underscored his breach of duty: “He fails to comprehend that once he undertook to represent his client, he was duty bound to represent her interests to the fullest extent possible regardless of the strength or weakness of her case.”


Daniel Robert Miller
State Bar # 109634, Half Moon Bay (October 15, 2016)

Miller, 65, was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding charging him with five counts of misconduct stemming from his practice as a certified public accountant. The State Bar determined he had received adequate legal notice of the disciplinary charges.

Miller was found culpable of all counts charged. His wrongdoing included: failing to comply with the law in conducting a public accountancy practice, failing to report to the State Bar that his CPA license had been revoked, failing to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged, and two counts involving moral turpitude: misrepresenting that he and his firm were licensed accountants in good standing and misrepresenting to a Board of Accountancy investigator that he had not prepared tax returns when in fact, he had.


Eric Leonard Nordskog
State Bar # 120935, Long Beach (October 15, 2016)

Nordskog, 61, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary hearing, despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so—and did not seek to have the default set aside or vacated.

He was found culpable of seven counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to release the client’s file after being requested to do so, failing to promptly respond to the client’s inquiries, failing to inform the client of significant developments in the case, failing to comply with a court’s sanctions order, improperly withdrawing from representing the client, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the allegations of misconduct.


Gary Wanki Park
State Bar # 173390, Los Angeles (October 15, 2016)

Park, 50, was summarily disbarred after pleading no contest to grand theft by embezzlement (Cal. Penal Code §487(a)) and filing a false tax return (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code §19705(a)). Both offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.


Phillip Gerrald Samovar
State Bar # 39842, Santa Monica (October 26, 2016)

Samovar, 74, was disbarred after the hearing judge below found him culpable of six of the eight counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged—including an “egregious” misappropriation of the client’s funds. Samovar appealed, arguing he was entitled to the money as payment for legal services he provided.

The State Bar Court panel found Samovar culpable of four counts of misconduct: failing to render an accounting to his client, misrepresenting the amount of money he held in trust, mishandling his client trust account funds, and intentionally misappropriating more than $376,900 of those funds. It dismissed the remaining counts charged.

Samovar represented a client in numerous unrelated legal matters—including a divorce, personal injury action, and several business-related claims. Various retainer agreements provided he would send the client periodic statements for fees and costs, but he did not do so; she paid him a total of $35,425 in advanced fees.

Samovar also became acquainted with the client’s daughter, though she did not retain him as her attorney. He advised her by email, however, she could wire $450,000 of the savings she had earmarked to buy a home into his client trust account to shield it during contentious divorce proceedings. She did. Soon after depositing the money, Samovar began withdrawing funds from the client trust account, issuing checks and making an electronic withdrawal for his own benefit and without her authorization. After a number of potential home purchases fell through, the daughter began demanding that Samovar return the money she had wired to him. By then, the account balance had fallen to about $78,000. Eventually, he returned $140,000—$315,000 less than she had entrusted to him.

On appeal, Samovar contended that the client and her daughter told him the money belonged to the client, that he told the client he would use the money to pay her outstanding legal fees, and that the mother and daughter agreed to that arrangement. The hearing judge and the panel on appeal found his claims were “not credible.”

Both the hearing judge and panel found five factors in aggravation: Samovar committed multiple acts of misconduct, concealed his wrongdoing, significantly harmed both the client and her daughter—whose relationship suffered as a result, failed to accept responsibility for his wrongdoing, and failed to make restitution.

In mitigation, Samovar had no prior discipline in nearly 45 years of practicing law. The panel on appeal also allowed minimal mitigation credit to his stipulation, which was to easily proven facts—and not entered until trial of the matter had commenced.

It concluded that “the seriousness of his misconduct, coupled with significant aggravation, compel the conclusion that only disbarment will protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession.”



Suspension

Marlon Holden Bateman
State Bar # 50080, Modesto (October 17, 2016)

Bateman, 83, was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.


Barbara A. Bell
State Bar # 264449, La Quinta (October 17, 2016)

Bell, 47, was suspended in the interim following her conviction of two felony counts of willful child cruelty (Cal. Penal Code §27a(a)) in addition to three misdemeanors: driving under the influence (Cal Veh. Code §23152(a)), driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal Veh. Code §23152(b)), and driving as an unlicensed operator (Cal Veh. Code §12500(a)).


Eileen Carla Burke
State Bar # 175700, San Anselmo (October 15, 2016)

Burke, 54, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to complicated property exchange arrangements and fee dealings with a single client.

Burke represented a commercial property owner involved in four legal matters: a lawsuit brought by the city of San Francisco alleging substandard conditions in one of his apartment buildings; a lawsuit brought by PG&E alleging he and other family members stole electricity to operate a marijuana growing facility at a warehouse he owned; a lawsuit brought by tenants for constructive eviction through arson; and a criminal complaint by the San Francisco District Attorney alleging an illegal marijuana growing operation and theft of utility services. The city had already obtained a judgment of $552,000 in the apartment building matter, filing liens on all of the client’s properties.

The client stated he did not have the cash to pay for representation in these four matters, but agreed that Burke would receive an ownership interest in the warehouse he owned in exchange for her legal services. In furtherance of the arrangement, the client and his family members signed both an “Attorney-Client Fee Agreement” and a “Contract and Agreement” before deeding their interests in the property to Burke.

The two documents were inconsistent. The fee agreement specified that Burke was to receive the warehouse, valued at $550,000, in exchange for providing legal services; the contract required her to sell the warehouse property and use the proceeds to pay $550,000 to satisfy obligations to the city, then retain the remainder as her legal fee.

Burke jointly represented the client and his family members in the constructive eviction and PG&E matters without obtaining written conflict waivers from them. She ultimately obtained dismissals in the PG&E, criminal and fraudulent conveyance cases; the tenant’s case was settled for nuisance value of $7,000. She also obtained a reduction of $550,000 owed the city (the judgment, attorneys’ fees, and interest), which was satisfied when a court-appointed receiver liquidated some of the client’s properties: the warehouse was not included in the liquidations. Burke loaned the client $70,000 to make up the balance that he owed to the city.

Burke and the client eventually disagreed over the terms of their arrangement. The client demanded a payment of $480,000 from Burke—the value of the warehouse minus the loan. She maintained she earned full title to the warehouse by performing legal services. In a final settlement of the matter, the warehouse was sold, with Burke receiving $650,000 of the proceeds and the client receiving the remainder.

Burke was found culpable of numerous acts of misconduct. They included: failing to provide written disclosure “in a manner that should have been reasonably understood,” entering into a transaction that was unfair to the client, failing to disclose the complete terms of a transaction in writing, failing to advise the client to seek independent counsel, failing to obtain the client’s written consent, and failing to obtain written conflict waivers.

In mitigation, Burke cooperated fully in the State Bar’s investigation of the matter and entered into a pre-filing stipulation as to facts and culpability.


Gabriel Gerardo Castillo
State Bar # 256748, Salinas (October 15, 2016)

Castillo, 36, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing nine acts of professional misconduct in connection with three client matters.

In all three matters, he failed to timely return advanced fees. He was also found culpable of two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to respond to reasonable inquiries from clients; one count of improperly withdrawing from representation, and an additional count of misrepresenting his actions, both to the State Bar and to a client—which is an act involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Castillo committed multiple acts of misconduct and displayed indifference by not returning the unearned fees to clients until he learned they had filed complaints against him with the State Bar. In mitigation, he entered into a full stipulation before trial and also submitted evidence of performing pro bono and community service.


Richard Dennis Coats
State Bar # 117285, Alhambra (October 11, 2016)

Coats, 62, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—one of the conditions imposed in the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary order.


Lisa Faye Collins
State Bar # 176655, Los Angeles (October 15, 2016)

Collins, 59, was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for three years after she stipulated to filing as well as serving opposing counsel with a declaration she signed on behalf of a client who had, in fact, not attested to its truthfulness—an act involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Collins committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, she entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed and provided letters from nine individuals representing a range in the legal and general communities who attested to her good character.


Richard Edward Coombs
State Bar # 74281, Carmichael (October 31, 2016)

Coombs, 69, was suspended from the practice of law pending his passage of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated by the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary order.


Joseph Lynn DeClue
State Bar # 163954, Newport Beach (October 21, 2016)

DeClue, 63, was suspended for six months and placed on probation for two years following a hearing judge’s decision finding him culpable of illegally charging and collecting advanced fees in two loan modification matters. He appealed, arguing that a two-year stayed suspension is the more appropriate discipline.

Seeking to expand his foreclosure defense practice, DeClue opened another office, hiring a company owned and operated by two non-attorneys to manage it. Though he knew the duo had previously worked for two attorneys who had been disciplined and disbarred and were implicated in their wrongdoing, he gave them substantial control over the office, without supervising their work.

DeClue’s office acquired about 200 cases when the disciplined attorneys’ business dissolved. One couple who had hired the former firm had paid $3,000 initially, plus a $500 monthly “case management service” fee for loan modification assistance. After their loan was not modified, they requested a refund of their fees. They ultimately recovered only $500 of the $2,000 paid to DeClue’s firm. DeClue demurred he had no contact with the clients and no knowledge of their cases.

Another client also sought loan modification services, paying a total of $13,000 in initial fees and monthly payments. When his home loan was not modified, he sought advice from DeClue, who told him he would need to execute a new contract specifically for loan modification services. That client was able to recover $3,000 of the total amount paid by stopping his credit card payment. DeClue later argued the original contract had covered only “pre-litigation services.”

The panel on appeal rejected DeClue’s defenses and found him culpable of the misconduct charged. It agreed with the hearing judge that there were no mitigating circumstances. In aggravation, it found he had a prior record of discipline, caused significant harm to his clients, and failed to pay restitution. It also concurred in finding aggravation for uncharged misconduct: failing to perform legal services competently and aiding and abetting the unauthorized practice of law.


Katharine Demgen
State Bar # 135254, San Francisco (October 17, 2016)

Demgen, 61, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as required in the terms of a previous disciplinary order.


Brian Dinsmore Gard
State Bar # 118457, San Diego (October 15, 2016)

Gard, 64, was suspended from the practice of law for 75 days and placed on probation for two years after the Review Department referred his convictions to the Hearing Department of the State Bar Court.

Gard had earlier been convicted of the misdemeanors of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)), driving without a valid license (Cal. Veh. Code §12500 (a)), and driving with a suspended license (Cal. Veh. Code §14601.1(a)). Three months earlier, he had also been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more while on probation for a prior DUI (Cal. Penal Code §120.2(b)).

The State Bar Court judge found the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions do not involve moral turpitude, but warrant professional discipline. In recommending suspension and probation, the judge noted that Gard’s three offenses “evidence a lapse of character, and an even greater lack of respect for the legal system, because they each violated the terms of the criminal probation that was imposed on him by a court order on his first drunk driving case.” The judge also found Gard’s second conviction “evidences an alcohol abuse problem because he committed both of his drunk driving offenses within a relatively short period of time.”

In aggravation, Gard had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before, showed an indifference to the seriousness and impropriety of his misconduct, and failed to cooperate with the State Bar Court by electing not to file a pretrial statement in his consolidated proceeding—a transgression that carried with it an additional 15 days of actual suspension.

In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation of the undisputed facts of the case, and his misconduct caused no actual harm to any person or property.


Tara Lynn Grabarczyk
State Bar # 216635, Monticello, Illinois (October 15, 2016)

Grabarczyk, 44, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to falsely reporting she had fully complied with the required Minimum Continuing Legal Education hours for a specific compliance period—misconduct involving moral turpitude. In fact, she had completed only 7.5 of the required 25 hours.

In mitigation, Grabarczyk entered into a stipulation before the notice of disciplinary charges were filed against her, and had practiced law for approximately 12 years without a record of discipline.


Jacques Bernard Leboeuf
State Bar # 163579, El Cerrito (October 15, 2016)

Leboeuf, 51, was suspended from practicing for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct over a six-month period. His wrongdoing included: misusing his client trust account by issuing 67 checks and electronic withdrawals to pay personal and business expenses, commingling personal funds with the client funds in trust, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the charges against him.

In aggravation, Leboeuf committed multiple acts of misconduct and was culpable of trust violations. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation prior to trial; had no prior record of discipline in nearly 22 years of practicing law; and his misconduct did not harm a client, court, or the administration of justice.


Arthur James Lettenmaier
State Bar # 186857, Riverside (October 15, 2016)

Lettenmaier, 63, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to mishandling his client trust fund by depositing personal funds and issuing checks for personal expenses from it over a period of six months.

In aggravation, Lettenmaier committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before the State Bar filed formal charges against him, had no prior record of discipline in approximately 18 years of practicing law, caused no harm to any clients—as there were never any client funds in the trust account, and produced 14 references from individuals spanning the legal and general communities attesting to his good character.


Alan Douglas Negron
State Bar # 174256, Simi Valley (October 15, 2016)

Negron, 54, was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to failing to give notice by certified mail of his earlier suspension to his single client and opposing counsel, appearing in court as counsel of record when he was actually suspended from practice, and practicing law when he was not an active member of the bar—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Negron had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation, saving the State Bar Court both time and resources.


Patrick Thomas Nichols
State Bar # 214860, Victorville (October 19, 2016)

Nichols, 56, was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to improperly soliciting prospective clients with whom he had no relationship and commencing a legal action on their behalf without the authority to do so.

Without being invited, Nichols appeared at the home of the parents of a man who had been killed in a motorcycle accident while the family had gathered to mourn. He then attempted to convince several family members to file a wrongful death suit; they declined, and asked him to leave. He subsequently sent three letters to the family, restating his urging; they did not respond. In addition, he called the mother of two of the decedent’s minor children several times, urging her to pursue a lawsuit; she declined.

Nichols subsequently filed an ex parte motion to appoint his “personal acquaintance” as guardian ad litem for the decedent’s three minor children, as well as an application for appointment of a guardian ad litem, urging that his acquaintance would act in their best interests. At the same time, he filed a wrongful death complaint, listing the three children and the acquaintance as plaintiffs, and himself as their attorney. The action was later dismissed without prejudice.

In aggravation, Nichols committed multiple acts of misconduct and engaged in overreaching. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed and had practiced law for 13 years without a record of discipline.


Edward Joseph Roenker, Jr.
State Bar # 181658, Norfolk, Virginia (October 15, 2016)

Roenker, 58, 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 he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education when in fact he had not completed any hours. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Roenker entered into the stipulation before the State Bar filed charges against him and had practiced law for nearly 18 years without a discipline record.


David Robert Shapiro
State Bar # 193889, Fresno (October 15, 2016)

Shapiro, 48, 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 he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education—misconduct involving moral turpitude. He was not able to provide proof he had completed any hours during the compliance period at issue.

In mitigation, Shapiro entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for nearly 17 years without a record of discipline, admitted to his culpability in an early stage of the investigation, and showed recognition of his wrongdoing in erroneously relying on his memory rather than maintaining adequate records of the required hours of education.


Thomas Alan Stanley
State Bar # 45990, Encino (October 15, 2016)

Stanley, 73, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. He was culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation of the alleged wrongdoing.

Stanley was hired to represent an individual who had been arrested for alien smuggling and placed in removal proceedings. However, despite several requests and warnings from the immigration court, which also granted a total of 12 continuances in the case, he failed to submit a complete application with updated criminal history and biometrics. The court ultimately deemed the client’s case abandoned; counsel later hired to replace him was able to reopen it based on Stanley’s ineffective assistance.

In aggravation, Stanley had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation and provided medical records showing he was undergoing medical examinations for a health condition eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease.


William Arthur Vallejos
State Bar # 140110, Alhambra (October 15, 2016)

Vallejos, 58, was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years. Prior to trial, he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct. They included: six counts of charging and collecting fees before fully performing loan modification services; making a solicitation to prospective clients that was false, misleading, or deceptive; and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s disciplinary investigation.

In aggravation, Vallejos committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into the pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 24 years discipline-free before the misconduct occurred, paid restitution to a majority of the clients involved, and presented letters from eight individuals attesting to his good character as well as evidence of performing substantial community service. In addition, he admitted to culpability and ceased his loan modification practice immediately after receiving notice of complaints from the State Bar.



Probation

Herman Jason Cohen
State Bar # 188783, Los Angeles (October 15, 2016)

Cohen, 49, was placed on probation for two years after a proceeding to determine the appropriate level of discipline to be imposed for his wrongdoing. He had earlier stipulated to being culpable of making 11 disbursements from his client trust fund to pay a parking ticket and a number of business expenses. He deposited and commingled the funds, but did not misappropriate them.

Challenged by credit problems during the seven months encompassing his misconduct, Cohen used the client trust account retained from prior years of private practice as his operating account. He was subsequently able to open a bank account, obviating the need to use the trust account for other than approved purposes.

In aggravation, Cohen committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he had practiced law for 15 years without a discipline record, entered into an extensive stipulation of facts and culpability, credibly expressed remorse and demonstrated candor for his misconduct, and presented evidence of his good character and pro bono activities from numerous individuals representing a range from the legal and general communities. In addition, during the misconduct, Cohen was involved in acrimonious divorce proceeding that had affected his credit rating; those lingering issues are now resolved.


Lee Alan Gross
State Bar # 153412, Irvine (October 15, 2016)

Gross, 58, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a loan modification case. He was found culpable of soliciting and advising clients in a jurisdiction in which he was not entitled to practice law and for charging an illegal fee for services that violated the unauthorized practice of law prohibitions.

In aggravation, Gross caused significant harm to the financially vulnerable clients, failed to make restitution to them, and had a prior record of discipline—for substantially similar misconduct.


Kyle Sheldon Hackett
State Bar # 194658, Los Angeles (October 15, 2016)

Hackett, 55, was placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing a single act of professional misconduct: entering an illegal fee agreement.

Hackett was hired to pursue a medical malpractice matter. The fee agreement entered with the client provided for either a 34% or 40% contingent fee of the gross recovery, depending on when the case settled or judgment was reached. This agreement violated state law that specifically prohibits attorneys from contracting for contingency fees in medical malpractice cases that exceed 40% of the first $50,000 recovered, 33 1/3% of the next $50,000 recovered, 25% of the next $50,000 recovered, and 15% of any amount recovered in excess of $600,000 (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §6146).

In aggravation, Hackett had a prior record of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation and his misconduct did not harm his client, who subsequently executed a compliant fee agreement.


Linda Wallace Pate
State Bar # 79523, Beverly Hills (October 19, 2016)

Pate, 74, was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to falsely reporting to the State Bar she had completed all 25 required hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education during a specific compliance period. In fact, she was unable to present proof of completing any of the required hours. The misconduct involves moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Pate entered into the stipulation before charges were filed against her, had practiced law for 34 years with no prior discipline, presented evidence of performing pro bono and community service work, and submitted letters from seven individuals who attested to her good character.


Le’Roy Travelle Roberson
State Bar # 254892, El Monte (October 15, 2016)

Roberson, 36, was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in three client matters. In each case, he charged and collected advanced fees before performing every service agreed to in loan modification matters (Cal. Civ. Code §2944.7). In every case, he returned the fees after learning a complaint had been filed against him.

In aggravation, Roberson committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation and submitted references from seven individuals who attested to his good character. He was also given limited mitigation credit for practicing law for six years without a record of discipline.


Sarah Elizabeth Schumacher
State Bar # 282341, Santa Cruz (October 15, 2016)

Schumacher, 29, was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to two DUI convictions. The first was for the misdemeanor of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)). The second, about five years later, included two convictions (Cal. Veh. Code §§23152(a) and (b)), after Schumacher drove her car into a ravine and was later tested for a blood alcohol content of .198+/-.0007. She was injured and her car was damaged in the collision.

In mitigation, Schumacher entered into a full pretrial stipulation, demonstrated remorse and recognition of her wrongdoing by voluntarily participating in alcohol treatment programs in addition to those ordered by the court, and provided letters from 14 individuals from a wide range in the legal and general communities attesting to her good character.



Public Reproval

Mark Ginalski
State Bar # 133828, Somerset, Massachusetts (October 18, 2016)

Ginalski, 57, was publicly reproved after being terminated from the State Bar’s Alternative Discipline Program. He had earlier stipulated to two misdemeanor convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(a)) and one conviction of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)). The offenses occurred in two separate driving incidents, approximately nine years apart.

Ginalski’s Lawyer Assistance Program requirements had been modified after a doctor verified he had been hospitalized with a life-threatening illness.

In mitigation, he had practiced law for 14 years discipline-free and submitted evidence of community and pro bono work.


Paul Edwin Zellerbach
State Bar # 83086, Riverside (October 26, 2016)

Zellerbach, 63, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to entering a plea of nolo contendere to a charge of misdemeanor vandalism (Cal. Penal Code §594(b)(2)(A)).

A former superior court judge in Riverside County, Zellerbach was elected as district attorney there.
While running for reelection to the post, he was being driven to a meeting, when the driver stopped to make a phone call. Zellerbach then left the car and placed his own campaign sign in front of his opponent’s sign on the roadside. In the process, he also damaged the opponent’s sign, breaking its two wooden legs before replacing the damaged sign back in the ground.

In aggravation, the State Bar Court judge found Zellerbach had “harmed the reputation of and the public’s trust in the legal profession and the Office of the District Attorney” by committing a crime to gain an unfair advantage in the reelection campaign.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for nearly 36 years without a record of discipline, submitted letters from 17 individuals attesting to his good character, and demonstrated a history of community and pro bono service.


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