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Discipline Report

Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California

October 2017

Disbarment

Suspension

Probation

Public Reproval

Disbarment

Bernard Beckker
State Bar # 103386, Los Angeles (August 12, 2017)

Beckker was disbarred after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account, failing to deposit funds received on behalf of a client into the account, failing to provide the client with an accounting, and failing to promptly disburse an entrusted sum as directed by his client. His misconduct also included two counts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating client funds and misrepresenting to the State Bar that entrusted funds were maintained in his client trust account.

Beckker was hired to represent the husband in a dissolution of marriage action. The client initially paid $5,000: $485 was designated for costs, the rest for advanced fees. Beckker then informed the client that his wife intended to retain an attorney, who also requested an initial payment of $5,000; the client agreed to cover that cost, provided there was an offset in the future.

Beckker charged a total of $10,000 to the client’s credit card, depositing the funds into his general business account. Six months passed, and he failed to disburse $5,000 to the opposing attorney, who moved for a court order demanding payment. Beckker subsequently deposited two personal investment checks into his client trust account totaling $20,000, and paid the attorney.

The client eventually substituted in new counsel, who requested an accounting of the client’s funds. Beckker provided an accounting only after the State Bar initiated disciplinary proceedings against him—22 months after the initial request. During its investigation of the matter, he falsely claimed he had maintained the client’s money in his client trust account—later backtracking in a letter, explaining he had used it to pay expenses because “business had been slow.”

In aggravation, Beckker committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for nearly 32 years without a record of discipline.


Frank Epstein
State Bar # 97325, South Orange, New Jersey (August 12, 2017)

Epstein was disbarred after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding, despite receiving adequate legal notice and opportunity.

He was found culpable of failing to comply with probation conditions attached to a disciplinary order earlier imposed upon him by the California Supreme Court. Specifically, he failed to timely file one compliant quarterly report, failed to timely file three additional written quarterly reports, and failed to submit proof of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School and passing its final exam.

Epstein had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before.


Carmen Lynne Fischer
State Bar # 117363, Phoenix, Arizona (August 30, 2017)

Fischer was summarily disbarred after pleading guilty to committing two felonies in Arizona: 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). Both offenses involve moral turpitude.

The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar submitted evidence that the convictions had become final and established the criteria for summary disbarment.


Kelly Scott Johnson
State Bar # 134520, Aliso Viejo (August 12, 2017)

Johnson was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the trial of his disciplinary hearing consolidating two matters, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

He was found culpable of failing to comply with all conditions attached to a disciplinary probation—specifically, meeting with a probation deputy, filing quarterly written reports, and paying restitution—as well as violating a court rule by failing to file a declaration of compliance with the State Bar (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

Johnson had one prior record of discipline.


Theera Laoteppitaks
State Bar # 269201, San Diego (August 12, 2017)

Laoteppitaks was disbarred by default after he failed to appear, either in person or through counsel, at his disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate legal notice. He did not move to have the default set aside or vacated.

He was found culpable of five counts of discipline in a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to promptly pay the client settlement proceeds, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation, as well as two counts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating $10,000 of the client’s funds and making false representations to the client.

There were two additional disciplinary matters pending against Laoteppitaks when he was disbarred.


Steven Michael McCarthy
State Bar # 85433, DeLand, Florida (August 12, 2017)

McCarthy was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. The default order was entered after he failed to file any response to the Notice of Disciplinary Charges filed against him.

He was found culpable of failing to comply with a condition imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation: filing a proof of compliance with the State Bar in accord with a court rule concerning the duties of a disciplined attorney (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

McCarthy had been disciplined twice before.


Kenneth Clifford Olson
State Bar # 279643, San Ramon (August 30, 2017)

Olson was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his conviction referral proceeding despite receiving adequate legal notice. He had been convicted of failing to appear after being released from custody on his own recognizance (Cal. Penal Code §1320(b)), a misdemeanor.

In the underlying matter, Olson had been arrested and charged with one felony count of possession of a controlled substance (Cal. Health & Safety Code §11377(a)) and one count of driving without a valid license (Cal. Veh. Code §12500(a))—with a special allegation based on two prior violations. He was released from custody on his own recognizance and later pled nolo contendere to the misdemeanor of failing to appear in court.

The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding Olson’s conviction did not involve moral turpitude, but did constitute other misconduct warranting attorney discipline.

Olson had one prior record of discipline.


Lawrence E. Sargent
State Bar # 134604, Monterey Park (August 30, 2017)

Sargent was disbarred by default. He had been charged with a single count of misconduct: failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s disciplinary investigation. However, despite receiving adequate procedural notice, he failed to appear at the proceeding on the matter or to seek to set aside or vacate the default entered.

He was found culpable of the offense charged.

Sargent had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before.


Steven Michael Scully
State Bar # 263092, Modesto (August 30, 2017)

Scully was disbarred by default. He did not participate, either in person or through counsel, at his disciplinary proceeding, and did not move to have the default order vacated or set aside within 90 days. The State Bar Court judge determined he had received adequate notice.

He was found culpable of six counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to return unearned advanced fees to the client, failing to render appropriate accounts of the client’s funds, failing to respond promptly to the client’s reasonable inquiries (which included two text messages, three emails, and 16 telephone calls), and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct he was alleged to have committed.


Thomas William Smith
State Bar # 93102, Oceanside (August 30, 2017)

Smith was disbarred by default after he did not participate in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with failing to comply with a court order. The State Bar Court judge determined he had been given adequate legal notice, and did not move to have the default entered against him vacate or set aside.

He was found culpable of failing to file a declaration of compliance as required in an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

Smith had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before.


Jeffrey Lemasters Tahir
State Bar # 216412, Riverside (August 12, 2017)

Tahir was summarily disbarred. He had failed to respond to the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar’s motion for summary judgment based on his conviction of forgery, a felony involving moral turpitude per se (Cal. Penal Code §470(b)). State Bar counsel also submitted evidence that the conviction had become final.


Barry L. VanSickle
State Bar # 98645, Mankato, Minnesota (August 12, 2017)

VanSickle was disbarred after he stipulated to committing a single act of professional misconduct: failing to file a compliance affidavit with the State Bar as required in a California court rule governing disciplined lawyers (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). While he did file an affidavit, he did so 87 days after the deadline date.

In aggravation, VanSickle had been disciplined by the State Bar three times previously.

In mitigation, he filed a pretrial stipulation in the instant action.


William Jake Wong
State Bar # 75571, San Francisco (August 30, 2017)

Wong was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel at his disciplinary proceeding despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

He was found culpable of violating conditions attached to a disciplinary probation imposed by the California Supreme Court, including failing to submit two quarterly written reports to the State Bar.

He had two prior records of discipline.



Suspension

David Thaddeus Achord
State Bar # 200703, San Diego (August 14, 2017)

Achord was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of his convictions of the misdemeanor of resisting an officer (Cal. Penal Code §148(a)(1)) and the felony of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse (Cal. Penal Code §273.5).

The State Bar Court judge noted the offenses may or may not involve moral turpitude.


Mehrdad Alborz
State Bar # 188790, Winnetka (August 12, 2017)

Alborz was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order, a public reproval.

Specifically, he failed to timely submit four quarterly written reports, a final written report, and proof of attending and passing the exam for the State Bar Ethics School.

In aggravation, Alborz committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, was confronted with family problems—the death of his mother—and also suffered physical problems requiring hospitalization during the time of his misconduct.


Florito Lontoc Carunungan
State Bar # 216117, Cerritos (August 28, 2017)

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


Eve Susan Chesbro
State Bar # 145698, Tujunga (August 12, 2017)

Chesbro was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for three years after she stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation.
Specifically, she failed to timely submit four written quarterly reports, completely failed to submit five quarterly reports and a final written report, and failed to submit a timely report of attending the State Bar’s Ethics and Client Trust Account Schools.

In aggravation, Chesbro committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, acknowledging her misconduct and saving the State Bar resources and time.


Garbis Dickran N. Etmekjian
State Bar # 151989, Glendale (August 30, 2017)

Etmekjian was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on suspension for one year after he stipulated to improperly withdrawing from employment.

In the underlying matter, he was retained to represent a client in a marital dissolution case, accepting an initial fee of $2,600. After about a year, their attorney/client relationship deteriorated, and they had difficult communicating. Without Etmekjian’s permission, the client went to his home; though Etmekjian was not present, the client’s behavior caused his wife to summon the police for help. The next day,

Etmekjian sent the client a letter, explaining that he intended to withdraw from the case, and the day after that sent her case file, a signed substitution of counsel form, and a billing statement for services rendered.

The client received the items but did not retain new counsel before a status conference in the case, scheduled for two months later. Though he was still listed as attorney of record, Etmekjian did not appear at the conference and the court did not set a date for a new status conference. Three months later, he filed to substitute the client, in pro per, in his place.

In aggravation, Etmekjian had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, acknowledging his misconduct.


Bruce Edward Grubaugh, Jr.
State Bar # 74503, Camarillo (August 12, 2017)

Grubaugh was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts 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 his case.

Grubaugh was hired to handle claims arising from a car accident, with his fee to be paid on a contingency basis. He filed a civil lawsuit in the matter, but then failed to appear at an Order to Show Cause hearing, and the case was dismissed. He did not disclose the dismissal to his client, and failed to refile a motion to set aside the dismissal after his first motion was rejected.

In aggravation, Grubaugh committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, had a prior record of discipline, and significantly harmed his client—preventing her from securing any recovery in the case.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation acknowledging his wrongdoing, saving the State Bar significant resources and time.


John Michael Harmata
State Bar # 131668, Las Vegas (August 12, 2017)

Harmata was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing 14 ethical violations in four separate client matters. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to maintain the required balance in his client trust account, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, failing to notify his client of settlement funds received on his behalf, failing to promptly pay settlement proceeds the client was entitled to receive, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about case status, failing to inform a client of significant case developments, failing to promptly release a client’s papers and property after terminating employment, failing to promptly respond to a client’s reasonable cases status inquiries, and misappropriating client funds for his own purposes—wrongdoing involving moral turpitude. He was also culpable of four counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigations of the wrongdoing alleged.

In the matter involving the most numerous violations, Harmata was hired to represent a client in a dispute with a former business partner. They orally agreed the client would pay $300 an hour for the legal services.

In settlement, the partner agreed to pay the client $90,000 in two large initial payments totaling $60,000, with subsequent payments in monthly installments. Harmata received the first three installments, but did not inform the client or forward any of the funds until after the client’s prompting; he then forwarded one of the three amounts due. He did not provide the client with any accounting nor did he maintain the requisite balance in the firm’s client trust account, which dropped below the permissible limit.

In aggravation, Harmata committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to clients by depriving them of funds to which they were entitled, and exhibited indifference toward rectification of his wrongdoing by refusing to return unearned fees and client property in his possession.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had no prior record of discipline in 20 years of practicing law.


Georg David Hartson, III
State Bar # 119812, Sunland (August 12, 2017)

Hartson was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).

In the underlying matter, Hartson had stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct: failing to perform legal services competently and failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries. The wrongdoing occurred in a single client matter.

In aggravation, Hartson had two prior records of discipline and admitted that his misconduct in the present matter significantly harmed his client by depriving him of settlement funds for three years.

In mitigation, he provided letters from seven individuals attesting to his good character; the references were from a range in the legal and general communities and demonstrated that they knew the full range of the misconduct at issue. In addition, Hartson was allotted mitigating weight for evidence demonstrating he was suffering from mental health issues during the time of the misconduct and that there was a nexus between the misconduct and the health issues. He was also given mitigation credit for successfully completing the ADP.


Dan Romaine Kirkham
State Bar # 60324, Corona (August 7, 2017)

Kirkham was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of his convictions of conspiracy to defraud the United States (26 U.S.C. §7201) and attempt to evade and defeat payment of taxes (26 U.S.C. §7201).

There is probable cause to believe the offenses, both of which are felonies, involve moral turpitude.


Michael Ross Lewis
State Bar # 247934, Upland (August 30, 2017)

Lewis was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to obey four court orders. While representing a single client, Lewis failed to appear at three separate hearings and failed to timely pay the sanctions imposed for his failure to appear.

In aggravation, Lewis was afforded moderate weight for the multiple acts of misconduct, which the State Bar Court judge found was repeated, but limited in scope.

In mitigation, he had practiced law for nearly nine years without a record of discipline, entered into a stipulation as to facts and admission of documents that also established his culpability, and submitted letters from eight individuals who attested to his good character.


Marlon Brent Messer
State Bar # 230984, Pasadena (August 12, 2017)

Messer was suspended from the practice of law for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing several acts that constituted professional misconduct in North Carolina.

Messer, licensed to practice law only in California and Texas, became president of a company he incorporated in Texas that provided legal services to residents of Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

At one point, he executed a declaration stating he was personally responsible for representing the company’s clients in the state of North Carolina. In retainer agreements with clients, the company guaranteed approval for mortgage reductions.

The State Bar of North Carolina issued a Consent Order detailing seven matters—six in North Carolina and one in Virginia—in which Messer’s company solicited loan modification clients by mail that was not expressly marked as an advertisement. The clients involved had no contact with Messer, but received legal help from non-attorney employees; none of the clients received beneficial results.

Messer agreed he had violated North Carolina rules by: aiding the unauthorized practice of law, allowing employees to hold themselves out as authorized to provide legal advice, sending unsolicited advertisements without the requisite disclaimer, representing that his company was authorized to practice law where it was not, charging fees for loan modification services in jurisdictions where he was not authorized to do so, failing to keep clients reasonably informed about their cases, and improperly splitting a legal fee with another lawyer.

The State Bar Court determined the culpability in North Carolina warranted professional discipline in California as a matter of law.

In aggravation, Messer committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed several clients.

In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against him, had practiced law for nine years without a record of discipline, and displayed candor and cooperation as well as remorse throughout the North Carolina proceedings.


Margarita Mkrtchyan
State Bar # 230191, Glendale (August 30, 2017)

Mkrtchyan was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to pleading guilty to one count of obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. §1509). The offense is a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude as a matter of law.

In the underlying matter, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was notified that Mkrtchyan was soliciting her ability to obtain Letters of Refusal from an employee working for the Armenian Consulate. After such documents were issued, indicating that a foreign nation would not accept an alien, ICE would generally release the person pending removal proceedings as long as it was determined he or she did not pose a risk of danger or significant risk of flight. The agency was also informed that Mkrtchyan was charging approximately $20,000 to secure each Letter of Refusal.

Over the course of a month, Mkrtchyan unwittingly communicated with an ICE undercover agent, who feigned the need for help with an alleged relative held in custody pending deportation to Armenia. After the agent had paid her the demanded fee of $35,000 in cash, Mkrtchyan secured a Letter of Refusal and directed that the consulate submit it directly to ICE.

One year later, a second undercover agent contacted Mkrtchyan, also claiming the need for her services to prevent the deportation of an alleged relative being detained by ICE. She advised him she would check with her “contact,” and quoted a fee, claiming she did not personally profit from the service, but does so “to help future clients.” After checking with her contact, Mkrtchyan informed the agent that, given the facts of the case, it would be more fitting to obtain a travel document package instead of a Letter of Refusal. She secured the travel package and received $15,000 from the agent, shortly before being arrested and charged with two felony counts of obstruction of justice. A later complaint reduced the offense charged to one misdemeanor count, to which Mkrtchyan pled guilty.

In mitigation, Mkrtchyan entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted letters of reference from six individuals who attested to her good character. She was also allotted nominal mitigation credit for having practiced law for four years without a record of discipline before engaging in the misconduct.


Michael William Newcomb
State Bar # 188321, Temecula (August 30, 2017)

Newcomb was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct in two client matters. His wrongdoing included: engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, practicing law while he was not an active member of the bar—an offense involving moral turpitude, failing to render an appropriate accounting of a client’s advanced fees, and two counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s disciplinary investigations.

In the unauthorized practice matter, Newcomb appeared as counsel in a court hearing in a civil matter four months after he had been involuntarily enrolled on inactive status for failure to pay a fee arbitration award in an unrelated case. When opposing counsel informed the court of his status, Newcomb stated he no longer wished to participate in the proceeding.

In the second client matter, Newcomb was hired to write a letter to a client’s business associate requesting payment of funds owed, accepting an advance fee of $2,500. Three months passed and he failed to produce a draft of the letter or take any additional legal action in the case. The client terminated the employment a month later, asking for a refund of the fees paid. Newcomb did not respond, nor did he provide a refund or an accounting.

In aggravation, Newcomb committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, acknowledging his wrongdoing and saving the State Bar resources and time.


Tina Amouei Nia
State Bar # 237610, Woodland Hills (August 12, 2017)

Nia was suspended from the practice of law for one year and placed on probation for two years following an appeal of an original discipline order recommending 120 days of actual suspension.

The hearing judge below found Nia culpable of several counts of professional misconduct in two client matters: failing to promptly notify a client of settlement funds received, representing clients with potential conflicts without first obtaining their informed written consent, two counts of failing to promptly pay client funds, and one count of misrepresentation involving moral turpitude.

The State Bar’s Office of the Chief Trial Counsel did not contest the culpability findings, but argued on review that Nia was culpable of two additional counts of misappropriation that the hearing judge dismissed and was not entitled to any of the mitigation credit allotted. It also urged a finding of lack of candor as additional aggravation and contended that one year of actual suspension is more appropriate discipline in the case.

In one matter, Nia was hired to represent a client who had sustained personal injuries and property damage in a car accident. The retainer agreement they executed provided for an attorney fee of 1/3 of the recovery received as property damage before a court filing or arbitration demand, and 40% if a lawsuit or arbitration demand was filed. However, Nia testified it was not her usual practice to take her fee from a client’s property damage award.

The insurer settled the property claim for $3,605—and Nia advanced that amount to the client. The two then became involved in a dispute, after which the client fired and rehired Nia, signing a retainer agreement with provisions the same as the first one. Nia explained to the client she would invoke the provision entitling her to one-third of the damage settlement as her fee, as the client “required more attention than most clients.”

The insurer subsequently paid $1,100 on the client’s loss of use claim. Nia informed the client that because her fee was 1/3 of both the property damage and loss of use settlements, the client had been overpaid. After arbitration 18 months later, however, Nia was ordered to pay the client the full loss of use recovery, plus interest.

The client earlier sought medical treatment, incurring two medical liens in the case. When Nia received a check for $14,000 in settlement of the personal injury claim, she disbursed 1/3 to herself as fees. In fee arbitration, the arbitrator determined that fee was unearned as Nia had delayed more than one year in disbursing the bodily injury settlement funds.

In another matter, Nia was hired to handle a property and personal injury claim related to a car accident for a client who was the driver and her minor son who was the passenger; they did not give written consent acknowledging their potential conflicts of interest. They executed a retainer agreement similar to the one in the other case, along with a authorizing a special power of attorney allowing Nia to endorse documents on behalf of both clients in furtherance of a settlement.

The insurer eventually settled for a total of $22,500 for bodily injuries and just over $1,000 for property damages, but did not inform the clients. The releases indicated they were “properly signed” by the clients, as opposed to being made in representational capacity. When the adult client became aware that the case had settled, she repeatedly asked for status updates about distributing the funds, which Nia ignored. Frustrated, the client complained to the State Bar—and testified at trial that Nia repeatedly pressured her to drop the complaint—estimating that she called about six times in one day, “insisting” that she reconsider.

Nia subsequently contacted a State Bar complaint analyst, explaining she was on a three-way call with the Spanish-speaking client, who wished to withdraw the complaint. The analyst learned, however, that the third party on the phone was not the client involved in the dispute, but a former client who had the same last name.

The hearing judge and panel gave aggravating weight to multiple acts of misconduct committed. The panel also gave increased weight to Nia’s lack of candor in dealing with the State Bar—which it found was exacerbated by using the client impersonation tactic and harassment in attempting to have the client withdraw her complaint.

Both the judge and panel allotted slight mitigation weight for cooperating with the State Bar based on stipulating to some easily provable facts, minimal weight for good character evidence offered by witnesses who did not represent “a wide range in the legal and general communities,” and modest weight for community service that was unspecified in scope and level.

The panel on review, however, diminished the mitigation credit the hearing judge had allotted—finding no good faith for an honest belief she was entitled to fees, as the underlying charge had been dismissed. It reduced the weight afforded the testimony about physical and mental difficulties from moderate to minimal, since it was presented only through lay witnesses, with no evidence those concerns not longer presented a risk of future misconduct.

In recommending the increased actual suspension, the panel noted: “In particular we are extremely troubled by Nia’s attempt to pass someone off as the complaining witness to secure withdrawal of the disciplinary complaint. We also find that her lack of candor at trial on this issue further aggravates her misconduct, increasing our concern. Such deception is inappropriate and unbecoming of a member of the legal profession who is expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards.”


Andrew Michael Oldham
State Bar # 144287, Campbell (August 28, 2017)

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


Joseph Darrell Palmer
State Bar # 125147, Carlsbad (August 7, 2017)

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


James Louis Parks, Jr.
State Bar # 202571, Mill Valley (August 12, 2017)

Parks was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct in two client matters: two counts each of commingling personal funds in his client trust account, misusing the funds for his own personal use, and issuing transfers from the account when grossly negligent in not knowing there were insufficient funds to cover the amounts—wrongdoing involving moral turpitude. He had issued a total of 226 checks and electronic payments from his client trust account to pay his own personal expenses, and authorized transfers and checks from his client trust fund on 11 occasions.

In aggravation, Parks committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation in one of the cases, had practiced law for more than 15 ½ years without a record of discipline, and provided letters from six individuals attesting to his good character—though that credit was reduced because not all letters reflected that the writers were aware of the full extent of his misconduct.


Mark Allen Peterson
State Bar # 111961, Clayton (August 21, 2017)

Peterson was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of his conviction of perjury (Cal. Penal Code §118) a felony involving moral turpitude.


David James Quezada
State Bar # 47134, Orange (August 7, 2017)

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


Donald Eugene Royer
State Bar # 72463, Dana Point (August 7, 2017)

Royer was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as required in an earlier disciplinary order.


Lawrence John Semenza
State Bar # 47134, Henderson, Nevada (August 7, 2017)

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


Rae Diane Shirer
State Bar # 167137, Anaheim (August 7, 2017)

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


Derek William St. Pierre
State Bar # 200131, San Francisco (August 14, 2017)

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


Alice Brown Traeg
State Bar # 79823, San Francisco (August 7, 2017)

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


Todd Albert Warshof
State Bar # 232227, San Diego (August 28, 2017)

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



Probation

Khachik Akhkashian
State Bar # 213607, Montrose (August 12, 2017)

Akhkashian was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to comply with court orders—including orders to appear in a bankruptcy court hearing, pay sanctions, and file a declaration that he had disgorged attorney fees, as well as failing to report court-imposed sanctions.

In mitigation, Akhkashian entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law 14 years discipline-free, submitted letters from nine individuals attesting to his good character, experienced severe financial difficulties occasioned by his contentious divorce and personal medical problems, and suffered family difficulties related to his pending divorce and ongoing custody dispute.


Debbie Lee Morawski
State Bar # 248466, Orcutt (August 30, 2017)

Morawski was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct. Her wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to a client’s reasonable inquiries about case status, failing to render an appropriate accounting of advanced fees paid, and failing to obey a court order. She was also culpable of failing to comply with several conditions attached to a previous disciplinary probation order, as well as three counts of failing to cooperate in State Bar investigations.

In one client matter, Morawski was hired to substitute into a pending marital dissolution case, and was paid an advance fee of $3,500; she did not provide an accounting for those funds. After an agreement was reached at a settlement conference, the client signed final dissolution and settlement documents, but Morawski failed to return them to opposing counsel for completion. She did not respond to opposing counsel’s subsequent request for action, nor did she respond to repeated queries from the client about the status of the case. The client eventually requested that Morawski sign a substitution of attorney form; she delayed in signing it for nearly two years after effectively abandoning his case.

In the other client matter, Morawski substituted into a probate case as counsel for the executor. She failed to appear at a scheduled Order to Show Cause hearing in the case, claiming a medical emergency, then failed to appear at the rescheduled hearing without notifying the court or involved parties of her inability to appear.

In aggravation, Morawski committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had no prior record of discipline, and submitted letters from nine individuals from the legal and general communities attesting to her good character and involvement in community service and pro bono work. She was also allotted some mitigating credit for the time and distractions caused by family difficulties during some of the time of the misconduct: her husband’s near-fatal accident injuries, her own medial problems requiring surgery, and her son’s chronic medical condition.


Michael Anthony Younge
State Bar # 170929, Anaheim (August 30, 2017)

Younge was placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to failing to perform legal services with competence in a single client matter.

A married couple hired Younge to obtain permanent legal resident status for the wife, accepting a total of $5,450 for filing fees and representation. The clients met with him and signed the applications and other documents he had prepared.

The completed documents were never filed, and Immigration Services subsequently notified them that a year of inactivity had passed. As the clients still wanted to proceed with the matter, Younge prepared an updated set of documents, assuring the clients he would promptly filed them. He then gave the paperwork to his legal assistant, who was also his wife, for filing.

Dissatisfied with the legal representation, the clients hired a new attorney and filed a complaint against Younge with the State Bar.

The legal assistant then discovered she had misfiled the clients’ documents in another client file instead of filing them with immigration. She met with the clients and apologized, offering to pay them $4,000 if they agreed to withdraw the State Bar complaint. They declined. Younge learned of that meeting about a month later, and subsequently informed the State Bar of the meeting and the offer—then refunded $3,300 to the clients.

In aggravation, Younge had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, cooperated with the State Bar in all stages of its investigation of the misconduct alleged, and submitted letters from four individuals, two attorneys and two clients, who attested to his good character. He was also given mitigating credit for the physical difficulties he suffered—a digestive disease and a torn rotator cuff—which flared and required medical treatment during the time of the misconduct, as well as marital problems culminating in separation and divorce.



Public Reproval

Thor Olav Emblem
State Bar # 141880, Escondido (August 24, 2017)

Emblem was publicly reproved after he stipulated to pleading guilty to driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §415(2)) and disturbing the peace (Cal. Penal Code §415(2)). The complaint against him also alleged he was on probation for a prior conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(a)).

In the underlying matter, Emblem was driving erratically on the freeway when another driver alerted police there was a possible drunk driver on the road. After responding police officers pulled Emblem over, he was unable to successfully complete sobriety tests at the scene. Officers pepper sprayed him after he struggled with them during his subsequent arrest.

The State Bar Court judge concluded the violation did not involve moral turpitude, but did warrant professional discipline.

In aggravation, Emblem committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference to the consequences of his misconduct by violating the terms of probation.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law discipline-free for 24 years.


Kevin Matthew Kirby
State Bar # 224835, San Diego (August 18, 2017)

Kirby was publicly reproved after he stipulated to pleading no contest to a single count of assault with a stun gun or taser (Cal. Penal Code §244.5(b)), a misdemeanor.

In the underlying matter, Kirby was arrested and charged after firing a taser at another individual he pursued and found standing in the doorway outside a hostel. He claimed the man, along with others, had previously verbally harassed him and caused him to be attacked by dogs.

The State Bar Court judge found the misconduct did not involve moral turpitude, but did warrant professional discipline.

In mitigation, Kirby entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for nearly 12 years without a record of discipline.


Melissa Renee Anne McKowan
State Bar # 203031, Redwood City (August 31, 2017)

McKowan was publicly reproved after she stipulated to making a false statement to a potential witness in a case—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

McKowan was the assigned deputy district attorney handling the prosecution of a case involving a child psychiatrist accused of molesting his young patients. After the initial trial, the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction—and after that, there were several blog postings critical of both the D.A.’s office and the handling of the case.

In connection with a retrial, McKowan wrote an email message to a potential witness in an effort to encourage her to testify in the case. In an attempt to downplay the import of a victim’s advocate in the case, McKowan wrote: "Every agency that has been forced into investigating this case . . . has found that her accusations are entirely false and have no bases whatsoever."

That statement was specifically referenced in the stipulation as being untrue.


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