Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California
- Alexandra R. Epand, Charlotte, North Carolina
- James Lyston Evertts, Campbell
- Gerald William Filice, Sacramento
- Rodger B. Haglund, II, Abilene, Texas
- Jerome Donald Handley, San Jose
- Sterling Voss Harwood, San Jose
- Walter Ryan Haybert, Los Angeles
- Dean Robert Kitano , Santa Ana
- Charles Conrad LoBello, Las Vegas, Nevada
- David Q. Meyer, San Diego
- Lawrence Allan Moy, Irvine
- Debra Rawls Pricola, Ventura
- Robert G. Scurrah, Jr., Tustin
- Thomas Scott Simons, Plano, Texas
- Christopher John Van Son, Oak View
- Rachelle Shalom Visconte, Rancho Santa Margarita
- Daniel Americo Bruce, Sanger
- Richard Leo Denman, New York, New York
- Charles Leroy Dupree, IV, San Francisco
- Carmen Lynne Fischer , Chandler, Arizona
- Marc A. Garcia, Merced
- Kimberly Allyson Hansen, Orange
- Emory Luther King, Jr., Carmichael
- Louis Allen Liberty, Foster City
- Ronny Mor, Newport Beach
- William West Seegmiller, Newport Beach
- Leonard Michael Sikes, Huntington Beach
- Scott Bunker Hayward, Santa Ana
- Jesse Soto Ortiz, III, Sacramento
- John Christen Torjesen, Tacoma, Washington
Alexandra R. Epand
State Bar # 191733, Charlotte, North Carolina (February 10, 2017)
Epand, 46, was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the trial of her disciplinary charges, despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.
She was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: practicing law and charging and collecting a fee for legal services in a jurisdiction in which she was not licensed.
James Lyston Evertts
State Bar # 147768, Campbell (February 10, 2017)
Evertts, 72, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the consolidated disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with 16 counts of professional misconduct in two client matters. He received adequate legal notice of the proceeding, and did not seek to set aside or vacate the default.
He was found culpable of all counts charged—including charging and collecting an illegal fee and failing to return unearned advanced fees. He was also found culpable of two counts each of: failing to perform legal services with competence; failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries; improperly withdrawing from employment; failing to maintain client funds in trust; misappropriating client funds—wrongdoing involving moral turpitude; failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigations of the misconduct alleged; and failing to update his State Bar membership address.
Gerald William Filice
State Bar # 99657, Sacramento (February 10, 2017)
Filice, 60, was disbarred following a consolidated review involving appeals from two discipline cases.
In the first case, a friend hired Filice to register and incorporate two companies, paying a flat fee of $1,180, which was deposited in Filice’s client trust account. Filice then made several withdrawals from the account, causing the balance to drop below the permissible amount; two of the checks he wrote to the Secretary of State to cover the costs of incorporation were returned for nonsufficient funds. He did not respond to four letters from the State Bar related to the negative client trust account activity. Based on these facts and actions, both the hearing judge and the panel on appeal found Filice culpable of failing to maintain client funds and of failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigation.
In the second matter, the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar alleged that Filice violated several conditions his disciplinary probation, including failing to timely submit a quarterly written report and Client Funds Certificate, as well as failing to provide the Office of Probation with proof of passing both the State Bar Ethics School and Client Trust Accounting School. The hearing judge recommended disbarment. On appeal, Filice argued he “substantially complied” with his probation terms—and maintained the State Bar was partially responsible for his probation violations because he lacked the funds to attend the classes and was not informed about the possibility of a fee waiver. The panel found those arguments lacked merit.
In aggravation, Filice committed multiple probation violations and had been disciplined twice before, in addition to the two discipline cases at issue. He was allotted moderate weight for the overall mitigation evidence: causing no harm because he promptly paid the checks returned for nonsufficient funds and performing community service and pro bono work.
Rodger B. Haglund, II
State Bar # 216427, Abilene, Texas (February 4, 2017)
Haglund, 47, was disbarred after he stipulated to violating several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation. Specifically, he failed to contact the State Bar’s Office of Probation within 30 days of the time the discipline was imposed, failed to timely submit a written quarterly report as required, failed to attend the State Bar Ethics School and submit evidence of passing its test, and failed to pay restitution and submit proof of doing so to the Office of Probation.
In aggravation, Haglund had two prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and failed to provide restitution to the clients who were deprived of using their funds. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, preserving State Bar Court time and resources, as well as showing acceptance of responsibility for his misconduct.
Jerome Donald Handley
State Bar # 219910, San Jose (February 4, 2017)
Handley, 48, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding—despite having had adequate notice and opportunity to do so.
He was found culpable of four acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries as to case status, failing to release the client’s papers and property after being requested to do so, and failing to return unearned advanced fees.
Sterling Voss Harwood
State Bar # 194746, San Jose (February 4, 2017)
Harwood, 58, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct in five client matters.
Specifically, he was found culpable of: two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, and predicating settlement agreements with clients on their willingness to withdraw the State Bar complaints they filed against him; three counts each of failing to avoid interests adverse to clients, failing to promptly notify clients of settlement funds received, and participating in false statements transmitted to the State Bar—misconduct involving moral turpitude; as well as four counts of misappropriating client funds—wrongdoing that also involved moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Harwood committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, failed to account for money received, harmed two of his clients who lost their causes of action due to his misconduct, failed to make restitution to his clients, and engaged in overreaching by predicating return of a client’s unearned advanced fees on an agreement to release him from liability.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for more than 18 years without a record of discipline.
Walter Ryan Haybert
State Bar # 257224, Los Angeles (February 4, 2017)
Haybert, 41, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary proceeding; the State Bar Court judge determined he had received adequate legal notice.
Haybert had earlier been convicted of violating a protective order (Cal. Penal Code §166(c)(1))—a misdemeanor. Upon finality of the conviction, the matter was referred to the Hearing Department for a determination of whether the misconduct warranted discipline.
Haybert ‘s ex-wife obtained a restraining order against him that included a 100-foot stay-away provision and the requirement that a police escort accompany him to pick up personal effects from the home they had shared. Despite this, he entered the residence numerous times with a key several times to pick up personal effects. On one such occasion, he refused to leave after his ex-wife requested him to do so; he was then taken into police custody.
The State Bar Court judge found the conviction did not involve moral turpitude, but recommended disbarment.
Dean Robert Kitano
State Bar # 182398, Santa Ana (February 19, 2017)
Kitano, 64, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to report a fraud judgment entered against him to the State Bar as required, making false representations designed to defraud—an act involving moral turpitude, misleading a judge by filing a declaration containing false statements, and filing that misleading declaration under penalty of perjury, which also involved moral turpitude.
Kitano was the sole shareholder of a business he formed to enter into a 50/50 partnership with an individual who established Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) facilities. Another individual, a doctor, also entered into a partnership to operate the same MRI facility, contributing $300,000 in exchange for a 50% share of the business. The doctor, however, soon had second thoughts about the business and her investment. Kitano wrote to her on his law office letterhead, informing her that her other partner wished to sell his interest in the facility for $550,000 and giving her the right of first refusal. He did not inform her that he was, in fact, a co-owner of the business.
When the MRI facility was shut down and seized by a receiver to satisfy a multi-million dollar judgment, Kitano filed a declaration stating the seizure was unjustified—including several false statements about the facility’s ownership and operation. The doctor ultimately sued to get her investment back, and that court found Kitano liable for breaching his fiduciary duty, committing fraud by concealment, intentional misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation as well as violating the Uniform Transfer Act. It found Kitano and his original partner had “engaged in a systematic pattern of deceptive and fraudulent practices” calculated to bilk the doctor out of the money she invested. It rescinded the doctor’s agreement and awarded her damages of $305,000, awarding an additional $25,000 in punitive damages against Kitano.
An appeals court upheld all the court’s findings, with the exception of culpability for the breach of duty charge. Kitano did not inform the State Bar of the judgment against him.
In aggravation, Kitano committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to the doctor—who lost a considerable portion of her life savings in the fraudulent business deal, and also harmed the administration of justice by causing the receivership to be improperly expunged.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 12 years without a record of discipline.
Charles Conrad LoBello
State Bar # 136597, Las Vegas, Nevada (February 4, 2017)
LoBello, 57, was disbarred after he stipulated to pleading guilty to tax evasion (26 U.S.C. §7201)—an act involving moral turpitude.
LoBello was licensed in Nevada and worked as a sole practitioner there when he engaged in the misconduct. For the tax years 2001 to 2005, he filed materially false tax returns, substantially underreporting his firm’s profits and tax liability. As a result, he owed $260,265 in back taxes. He ultimately entered a plea agreement in which nine charges against him were dismissed, though he admitted to the tax amount due and owed.
In aggravation, LoBello committed multiple acts of misconduct and caused harm by his failure to pay appropriate taxes. In addition, his failure to inform the California State Bar that the Nevada Bar had disciplined him for his tax transgressions was given aggravating weight as an “uncharged violation.”
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practice law discipline-free for approximately 13 years.
David Q. Meyer
State Bar # 287761, San Diego (February 19, 2017)
Meyer, 36, was disbarred after he stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct in five matters. Specifically, he was culpable of five counts each of: failing to maintain funds in a client trust account, breaching his fiduciary duties, failing to maintain client funds entrusted to him, and negligently misappropriating client funds—misconduct involving moral turpitude.
The fact patterns in all five of the cases were similar. Meyer was agent for an escrow company; he agreed to accept and hold escrow funds in his client trust account, distributing them as directed by an escrow company employee who was not an attorney. He did not review the escrow documents specifying that he must return the funds deposited if a Standby Letter of Credit was not issued within a specified contractual period.
All five of the complainants placed substantial amounts of money as fees, believing it would be safely held in escrow by a licensed attorney; in all, Meyer was entrusted with nearly $332,500. In all cases, he transferred the money entrusted at the direction of the non-attorney before any letters of credit were issued, and without obtaining consents of the parties involved.
In aggravation, Meyer committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, was unable to account for a substantial amount of money entrusted to him, caused significant financial harm to several individuals, and demonstrated indifference about his wrongdoing by failing to take any steps to return the funds.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Lawrence Allan Moy
State Bar # 164060, Irvine (February 10, 2017)
Moy, 50, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary proceedings, either in person or through counsel, after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.
He was found culpable of 22 of the 23 counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged. The wrongdoing, which related to five client matters, included: failing to return a client’s file as requested after terminating employment, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to inform a client of significant case developments, commingling client funds with his own, misusing his client trust fund to deposit personal funds and pay personal expenses, and failing to update his membership address with the State Bar.
In addition, Moy was found culpable of two counts of failing to provide clients with accountings of settlement proceeds; three counts each of failing to maintain funds in a client trust account and failing to promptly pay clients funds received in settlement; and four counts of both misappropriating client funds for his own purposes—conduct involving moral turpitude—and of failing to cooperate in several State Bar investigations of the misconduct alleged.
Debra Rawls Pricola
State Bar # 178152, Ventura (February 4, 2017)
Pricola, 65, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in the disciplinary proceeding in which she was charged with two counts of professional misconduct. The State Bar Court judge determined that the procedural notice requirements had been satisfied. She was found culpable of falsely reporting to the State Bar that she had fully complied with the requisite Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements as well as failing to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation of the matter.
Robert G. Scurrah, Jr.
State Bar # 82766, Tustin (February 4, 2017)
Scurrah, 69, was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate legal notice; he did not seek to have the default vacated or set aside. He was found culpable of failing to file a compliance declaration with the State Bar Court as required in an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He had been disciplined for professional misconduct twice before.
Thomas Scott Simons
State Bar # 226484, Plano, Texas (February 4, 2017)
Simons, 48, was disbarred after he stipulated to failing to comply with numerous conditions of his disciplinary probation. Specifically, he failed to contact the Office of Probation to schedule an initial meeting, failed to file six written quarterly reports as well as a final report with the Office of Probation, and failed to attend the California State Bar Ethics School and submit evidence of passing the course or a comparable course in his home state of Texas.
In aggravation, Simons committed multiple acts of misconduct and had two prior records of discipline—both including significant periods of actual suspension.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, acknowledging his misconduct.
Christopher John Van Son
State Bar # 133440, Oak View (February 4, 2017)
Van Son, 54, was disbarred from practicing law after he stipulated to failing to file a timely declaration of compliance as required by the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). He had filed several declarations after the due date—all of which were rejected by the State Bar as vague or insufficient.
In aggravation, Van Son had three prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a full stipulation as to facts and culpability, his misconduct caused no actual harm to a client or other person, and eventually complied—albeit belatedly—with his declaration duty. In addition, he was accorded limited mitigation credit for presenting good character declarations from three individuals—all of whom were attorneys and all of whom seemed unaware of the current misconduct.
In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge underscored that Van Son’s explanation for his wrongdoing—that he was not getting his mail regularly—“is not a good faith justification for his misconduct, especially given his familiarity with the Rule 9.20 obligation, his prior experience with the disciplinary process, and the fact that he was already on probation.”
Rachelle Shalom Visconte
State Bar # 182158, Rancho Santa Margarita (February 4, 2017)
Visconte, 45, was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in her State Bar disciplinary proceeding after being given adequate notice to do so.
The proceeding and decision addressed two actions, consolidated, arising out of two separate criminal matters.
In the first, Visconte entered a guilty plea to two misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance (Cal. Health & Safety Code §11350(a)) and one misdemeanor count of possession of controlled substance paraphernalia (Cal. Health & Safety Code §11364.1(a)). In the underlying incident, sheriffs were summoned to a residence and bedroom where Visconte was present; a search of the premises revealed hypodermic needles and various narcotic drugs for which she had no prescriptions.
In the second matter, Visconte pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of passing a fictitious check (Cal. Penal Code §476); one misdemeanor count of second degree commercial burglary (Cal. Penal Code §§459-60); one misdemeanor count of identity theft (Cal. Penal Code §530.5); and three misdemeanor counts of possessing a completed check with intent to defraud (Cal. Penal Code §475(c)). All charges involved moral turpitude. In this case, police responded to a call of a suspected forgery at a check cashing establishment involving Visconte and a male companion. They had attempted to pass a check from a mortgage company; the company manager confirmed the check was not made out to either of the two suspects. In the subsequent search of the pair’s vehicle, officers found additional checks; a search of Visconte’s cell phone revealed a message: “He is here and we are cashing tomorrow.”
Visconte was sentenced to serve a jail term for the crimes.
Daniel Americo Bruce
State Bar # 216514, Sanger (February 21, 2017)
Bruce, 42, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Richard Leo Denman
State Bar # 164058, New York, New York (February 6, 2017)
Denman, 58, was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of his conviction of bank larceny (18 U.S.C. §§2113(b) and 2))—a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. The case was referred to the State Bar’s Hearing Department for a hearing and decision recommending the appropriate discipline to be imposed.
Charles Leroy Dupree, IV
State Bar # 156840, San Francisco (February 4, 2017)
Dupree, 51, was suspended from practicing law for one year following a probation revocation hearing. He failed to participate in the proceeding, despite receiving adequate notice of it.
The Office of Probation sought to revoke the probation earlier ordered and to reinstate a 60-day actual suspension based on Dupree’s failure to comply with his probation conditions. Specifically, he failed to submit three quarterly written reports and three criminal compliance declarations when due.
In aggravation, Dupree had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct by violating several terms of probation.
Carmen Lynne Fischer
State Bar # 117363, Chandler, Arizona (February 21, 2017)
Fischer, 61, was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of convictions of two felonies involving moral turpitude: attempted money laundering (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§13-1001, 13-2301, 13-2317, 13-2321, 13-610, 13-701, 13-702, and 13-801) and assisting a criminal street gang (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§13-1003, 13-2301, 13-2317, 13-2321, 13-610, 13-701, 13-702, and 13-801).
Marc A. Garcia
State Bar # 179822, Merced (February 4, 2017)
State Bar #179822, Merced (February 4, 2017)
Garcia, 48, was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years following a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with seven counts of professional misconduct: one count of failing to comply with the law and six counts of misrepresentation—wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.
Garcia practiced law, initially as a name partner in a firm that was dissolved when he opened his own office. Concurrent with the dissolution, he entered into a joint venture providing indigent criminal defense services. That joint venture was dissolved when Garcia was appointed as a superior court judge, with the proviso that he would receive a total of $250,000, in monthly payments of $4,516, as his share. The checks, in sealed envelopes, were delivered by court runners monthly until full payment was made. During that time, members of the joint venture appeared in Garcia’s courtroom handling various criminal cases.
Garcia never disqualified himself from hearing criminal matters involving his former venture and did not disclose the ongoing financial relationship. In six Statements of Economic Interests forms (FPPC Form 700) filed annually, he failed to disclose the income received pursuant to the dissolution agreement. After the Commission on Judicial Performance advised Garcia it was investigating the matter, he filed amended Statements of Economic Interests—and ultimately consented to public censure and resigned from the court.
In the instant proceeding, Garcia asserted the cases should be dismissed or result in less than a public reproval, arguing he was operating under a good faith mistaken belief that he did not need to disclose the income received from the dissolved joint venture.
Acknowledging the case was unique, the State Bar Court judge recommended suspension, noting: “Even a cursory review of the statutes, forms, and ethics publications would have notified Respondent that his assumption was wrong.” The judge also underscored that the money was received in sealed envelopes delivered to the court bearing no identifying information as to the source or content, opining that the “overall lack of transparency surrounding the situation derails the good faith argument.”
In aggravation, Garcia committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed the administration of justice.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for approximately 13 years without a record of discipline and presented character evidence from 10 witnesses from a wide range of backgrounds. He was also allotted mitigation credit for demonstrating remorse by issuing a letter to the community to be published in the local newspaper—though it was given limited weight as failing to fulfill the requirement that the remorse must be “spontaneous.”
Kimberly Allyson Hansen
State Bar # 167597, Orange (February 4, 2017)
Hansen, 52, was suspended from practicing law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years following an appeal lodged by both her and the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar. She was found culpable of multiple acts of moral turpitude related to her representation of two defendants before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
During the course of representing the clients, Hansen submitted two requests for Qualified Medical Evaluator (QME) Panels; the Workers’ Compensation Medical Unit rejected the first request—which was filed prematurely, as well as the second request—which lacked necessary information.
At a mandatory settlement conference in the case, Hansen’s associate argued that the case should not be “paralyzed” because the Medical Unit had failed to issue the QME panel as requested. He did not mention that the requests had been timely denied as being insufficient. The Medical Unit subsequently issued a QME panel based on a third request.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board granted a petition for removal and rescinded an order setting trial, also directing the Medical Unit to issue a QME panel. Hansen did not divulge that a panel had already been assigned in the case.
When it learned of the deception involved, the appeals board sanctioned Hansen $2,500—the maximum permitted by statute. The State Bar Court judge and panel on appeal both found Hansen culpable of making misrepresentations to the appeals board—misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Hansen had two additional records of discipline, through they were given less weight as both occurred after the misconduct in the instant proceeding. Additional facts in aggravation: Hansen significantly harmed the administration of justice and demonstrated a lack of insight into her wrongdoing by remaining “unapologetic and defiant.”
In mitigation, she was given limited credit for stipulating to some easily provable facts and for the five character witnesses presented—all of whom were attorneys, and only two of whom were aware of the extent of misconduct involved.
Emory Luther King, Jr.
State Bar # 71491, Carmichael (February 4, 2017)
King, 71, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to two acts of professional misconduct in a single matter: demanding sexual relations with a client as a condition of representation and demanding sexual relations as a condition of continuing legal representation—an act involving moral turpitude.
King, a member of a county bar association’s indigent defense panel, was assigned to represent a defendant in a criminal case: a 22-year-old single mother in her first encounter with the criminal justice system. King sent another attorney to represent the client at a preliminary hearing in the case, and afterward, told the client to come to his house to discuss the hearing. He asked her to “bring some Viagra for this old man” and told her it would be “bad for her” it she did not come to his house that evening. When she arrived, King demanded sexual intercourse and conditioned his continued legal representation on her agreeing to do so. She refused—and instead, reported his conduct to authorities on the defense panel.
In aggravation, King engaged in intentional misconduct with a vulnerable victim and significantly harmed the client, the public, and the administration of justice.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for 38 years without discipline, and demonstrated remorse by relinquishing his cases to the defense panel for reassignment. He was also allotted mitigation credit for the four letters from individuals attesting to his good character—though that credit was limited because three were attorneys and one was a judge as opposed to being drawn from a variation from the legal and general communities.
Louis Allen Liberty
State Bar # 147975, Foster City (February 4, 2017)
Liberty, 61, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of one of the four counts of misconduct with which he was initially charged: making improper client solicitations. The State Bar requested disbarment as the proper discipline; Liberty argued the case should be dismissed.
In the underlying matter, Liberty formed a partnership with two non-attorneys. One partner—a used car dealer with access to auctions and condition reports, identified frame-damaged cars sold at auction. The other, an Internet technology expert, created a software program that obtained Vehicle Information Numbers for the cars.
Liberty’s role was to locate individuals who had purchased the used cars and sign them up as clients to potentially sue the dealers. To that end, he accessed confidential purchaser contact information by submitting a form to the Department of Motor Vehicles (1161E Form) that permits attorneys to request the names and addresses of vehicle owners. During a six-month period, he submitted approximately 180 1161E Forms to the DMV, many of them including the name of a DMV supervisor with whom Liberty had spoken with by telephone as a sort of leverage; she asked him to stop including her name on the forms.
He then sent out three different versions of solicitation letters to the car owners. All of them stated the cars might be unsafe to drive. And many of them informed the purchasers their cars were valued at half of what they paid or that they would surrender their legal rights if they contacted the car dealer before contacting Liberty. The scheme ultimately didn’t produce results; the partnership was dissolved, and the two former partners sued Liberty for unpaid reports and damages.
In finding Liberty’s solicitations improper, the State Bar Court judge noted they gave the false or unsubstantiated impression that Liberty “had a relationship with the DMV, that he possessed evidence that the prospective clients’ recently purchased cars were unsafe to drive, and that prospective clients would surrender their legal rights if they contacted the dealing before calling Respondent.”
In aggravation, Liberty committed multiple acts of misconduct, had two prior records of discipline—and most significantly, according to the judge, demonstrated a lack of insight regarding the misleading solicitations—even asserting at trial that there was insufficient evidence to prove he sent the letters.
State Bar # 248274, Newport Beach (February 13, 2017)
Mor, 38, was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.
William West Seegmiller
State Bar # 98740, Newport Beach (February 4, 2017)
Seegmiller, 66, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct: failing to promptly pay funds entrusted to him.
Seegmiller was hired to handle a personal injury case a client had filed earlier, receiving and depositing into his client trust account $10,000 from the client’s insurance company for reimbursable medical payments. The insurer informed the client it reserved the right to be reimbursed for the payments from any money he received from the case, which was eventually settled for $268,00. Seegmiller then claimed the client had incurred “medical specials” in excess of $176,390—and asked that the insurer waive the right to reimbursement on the theory the settlement had not made him whole. The insurer refused to waive, but reduced its lien to $5,000 and offered to pay the client’s costs incurred in the case: $825.
After Seegmiller renewed the demand for a $10,000 waiver, the insurer sent the matter to its attorneys, who demanded evidence supporting the client’s claim of not being made whole. In response, Seegmiller instructed an employee to pay the insurer $5,000, but that check was never issued. The insurer eventually sued the client, prompting him to file a complaint with the State Bar. Seegmiller then paid $10,000 to resolve the matter—more than three years after the initial obligation to do so arose.
In aggravation, Seegmiller had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered an extensive stipulation as to facts and culpability and provided evidence of extensive community service and pro bono work. In addition, he was allotted minimal mitigation weight to letters from 10 individuals attesting to his good character, as the letters were written before the current charges were filed—and none of the writers had knowledge of the misconduct in the instant case.
Leonard Michael Sikes
State Bar # 131797, Huntington Beach (February 10, 2017)
Sikes, 60, was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct: falsely reporting to the State Bar that he had fully complied with his Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements for a specific period—an act involving moral turpitude; failing to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation of the misconduct, and failing to notify the State Bar of the change of his office address within 30 days of that change.
In aggravation, Sikes committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference to his ethical obligations by failing to complete the requisite education hours.
In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before the charges against him were filed and had practiced law for more than 26 years without a record of discipline.
Scott Bunker Hayward
State Bar # 138582, Santa Ana (February 19, 2017)
Hayward, 57, was placed on probation for five years following a proceeding and decision by the State Bar’s Hearing Department on whether the underlying offenses of which he was convicted involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting discipline. He had earlier been convicted of assault with force likely to product great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code §245(a)(4)) and false imprisonment (Cal. Penal Code §§236 and 237(a)). As part of a plea bargain, both offenses were classified as misdemeanors.
The criminal conduct was not committed in the practice of law, nor was it carried out against a client.
Hayward was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993, for many years controlling the symptoms with a regimen of psychiatric medication supervised by a doctor. At Hayward’s request, the doctor agreed to lower the dosages—and his mental status began to deteriorate. During that period, he agreed to let a woman stay at his house after she told him she had no place to stay. The second day of the stay, Hayward’s behavior became erratic. He drove recklessly and assaulted the woman, both in the car and at his home; she told police dispatchers she was afraid he would kill her. Hayward was arrested, placed in a jail’s psychiatric ward, and given medical treatment to re-establish therapeutic levels of medication for his condition.
Hayward sought to dismiss his disciplinary proceeding, claiming the State Bar was violating his privacy and civil rights and subjecting him to harassment and discrimination due to his mental illness—in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The State Bar Court judge disagreed, noting that the record of an attorney’s conviction is “conclusive evidence of guilt of the crime of which he or she has been convicted.” The judge also found the criminal conduct resulted from a mental illness and medically supervised reduction in psychiatric medication, and did not involve moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Hayward had one prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, the State Bar Court judge found that a mental disorder, controllable by medications, contributed to the misconduct. Hayward was also afforded modest weight in mitigation for the four character witnesses offered, as they did not constitute a wide range and it was unclear whether they were aware of the misconduct at issue—as well as moderate weight for performing some community service connected to his church. Finally, he was given limited weight for stipulating to some facts and admission of exhibits, though not stipulating to culpability.
Jesse Soto Ortiz, III
State Bar # 176450, Sacramento (February 4, 2017)
Ortiz, 47, was placed on probation for two years–the lower level of permissible discipline for the misconduct at issue—following his successful completion of the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).
In the underlying case, Ortiz had stipulated to four acts of professional misconduct. The wrongdoing included: failing to comply with a court order, failing to provide legal services with competence, failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant case developments, and improperly terminating his representation.
In aggravation, Ortiz had a prior record of discipline, engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to an incarcerated client whose case was significantly delayed, and demonstrated dishonesty toward his client by falsely reporting about the status of the case.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a pretrial stipulation and successfully completed the ADP.
John Christen Torjesen
State Bar # 141664, Tacoma, Washington (February 10, 2017)
Torjesen, 64, was placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing one count of unauthorized practice of law.
While administratively suspended from practicing law due to being delinquent in child support payments, Torjesen appeared in court on behalf of a client, filing a motion in the same matter. Later that same day, he corrected his support delinquency—and his suspension was lifted three days later.
In aggravation, Torjesen had two prior records of discipline. In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation as to facts and culpability before disciplinary charges were filed against him.
State Bar # 268995, Los Angeles (February 9, 2017)
Azizi, 35, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to three incidents of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from representation, and failing to respond to the client’s reasonable status inquiries.
Azizi was retained to represent a woman pursuing bodily injury and property damage claims stemming from a car accident. During the two years the claims were pending, he received at least 15 pieces of correspondence from the client’s insurance carrier seeking information and documentation related to the accident; he did not respond to any of them. The client also sought information about the case in several email messages. He did not respond to them, but eventually instructed his paralegal to advise the client he was dropping her; the formal drop letter was sent six months later, less than two weeks before the statute of limitation had run.
In aggravation, Azizi committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he submitted letters from nine individuals representing a widespread sample of the community and were aware of the full extent of the misconduct, but attested to his good character. He was also given mitigation credit for entering into a stipulation before trial and for implementing a new system at his firm to monitor paralegal activities—demonstrating recognition of his wrongdoing.
Robert Lee Wood
State Bar # 100515, Los Angeles (February 14, 2017)
Wood, 65, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. Specifically, he repeatedly failed to perform legal services with competence and failed to keep the client reasonably informed of significant case developments. In addition, he stipulated to failing to attend the State Bar’s Ethics School as required in the terms of an Agreement in Lieu of Discipline he had executed earlier.
Wood was retained to help a client recover money owed on an outstanding loan. He filed a lawsuit on the client’s behalf, negotiated a stipulation with the debtor for repayment, and moved for entry of judgment when the debtor failed to make the payments as promised. However, the court subsequently denied the entry of judgment for failure to provide documented proof of the claimed costs and dismissed the lawsuit. Though Wood promised several times to move to set aside the dismissal, he failed to do so. When he was later placed on administrative leave due to his failure to comply with Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements, he failed to inform the client he would be unable to represent him in pursuing the claim.
In aggravation, Wood committed multiple acts of misconduct and failed to cooperate with the State Bar in its investigation of the wrongdoing or with his client, who had requested return of his file.
In mitigation, he entered into a full pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 30 years without a record of discipline.