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Discipline Report

Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California

December 2017

Disbarment

Suspension

Probation

Public Reproval

Disbarment

Justin Thomas Allen
State Bar # 238195, Modesto (October 1, 2017)

Allen was disbarred by default after failing to appear at his disciplinary proceeding despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He did not move to have the default set aside or vacated within the required period after the order was entered.

Allen had earlier pled nolo contendere to possessing a firearm subject to a domestic violence restraining order (Cal. Penal Code §29825(b)) and to violating a court order (Cal. Penal Code §273.6(a)). Both offenses are misdemeanors, which the State Bar Court determined did not involve moral turpitude, but did constitute misconduct warranting professional discipline.

In addition, he was found culpable of six counts of misconduct related to a single client matter. That wrongdoing included failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to communicate significant case developments to a client, failing to deposit funds in a client trust account, and terminating his employment without proper notice as well as two counts involving moral turpitude: misrepresenting facts to the client and misappropriating $2,000 of the client’s funds.

Allen had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before.


Evan G. Anderson
State Bar # 249319, Los Angeles (October 1, 2017)

Anderson was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding charging him with six counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. The State Bar Court judge determined he had received adequate notice, and found him culpable of all counts charged.

The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to communicate significant case developments to a client, terminating his employment without proper notice to the client, failing to promptly turn over the client’s papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation, and concealing the fact that the case had been dismissed—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

Anderson had no prior record of discipline, though there were additional disciplinary matters pending against him when he was disbarred.


Thomas James Bayard
State Bar # 226247, Diamond Bar (October 1, 2017)

Bayard was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the trial of his disciplinary charge, despite receiving adequate legal notice. He was found culpable of failing to file proof of complying with duties of a disciplined attorney as required by court rules and in accord with a previous order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

Bayard had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct on three prior occasions.


Portia Bettis
State Bar # 269192, Hayward (October 5, 2017)

Bettis was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in her disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate legal notice.

She was found culpable of five counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to render an appropriate accounting of the client’s funds, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries about the case, and failing to cooperate with the State Bar in its investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.


Cody Jay Brownstein
State Bar # 269551, Los Angeles (October 5, 2017)

Brownstein was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the trial of his disciplinary charges. The State Bar Court judge determined he had adequate notice of the proceeding, and did not move to set aside the default entered in the case.

He had been charged with 11 counts of misconduct stemming from two consolidated matters and was found culpable of 10 of them: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to promptly pay client funds, failing to promptly refund an unearned advanced fee, failing to maintain client funds in trust, and misappropriating client funds—misconduct involving misappropriation. He was also culpable of two counts each of failing to provide clients with an accounting upon terminating employment and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.


Carl Edward Chapman
State Bar # 81665, Los Angeles (October 28, 2017)

Chapman was summarily disbarred following the State Bar Court’s receipt of finality of a jury conviction of first degree murder (Cal. Penal Code §187(a)). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude per se.


John Peter Christenson
State Bar # 184900, San Diego (October 5, 2017)

Christenson was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the trial of five charges of professional misconduct alleged: failing to report judicial sanctions, and two counts each of failing to obey court orders and failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigation of the misconduct with which he was charged.

The State Bar Court judge determined that Christenson had received adequate legal notice of the proceeding and had not moved to have the default judgment set aside or vacated and found him culpable on all counts charged, then recommended disbarment.


Steven Randall Cummings
State Bar # 150518, Fresno (October 1, 2017)

Cummings was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his disciplinary hearing despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

He was found culpable of failing to fulfill several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order. Specifically, he failed to timely submit four written quarterly reports to the State Bar and also failed to provide satisfactory proof of attending Ethics School and Client Trust Accounting School as well as proof of passing their final tests.

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


Bernard Richard Deetman
State Bar # 120511, San Diego (October 1, 2017)

Deetman was disbarred after being found culpable of multiple acts of misconduct in a single client matter: failing to notify the client that he had received her settlement funds, failing to render an accounting of those funds, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries about the status of her case, two counts of failing to maintain client funds in trust, and three counts involving moral turpitude related to misappropriating the client’s funds and misrepresenting to the client that he had not received settlement proceeds when in fact he had.

Deetman was retained to represent an elderly client who sustained injuries when she slipped and fell while a passenger on a cruise ship. Their fee agreement stated he was entitled to 33 1/3% for any amount received for her injuries and gave him a power of attorney to both sign releases and deposit any settlement checks received on the client’s behalf into his client trust account.

The case ultimately settled for $22,500, with Deetman signing the client’s name without mentioning he was signing on her behalf. The written release also required that the client was required to satisfy all Medicare liens. Deetman informed the client of the settlement amount, but did not explain the terms of the release or provide her with a copy. He received the settlement check and deposited it in his client trust account—ultimately causing the balance to fall below the required amount.

Over the next year, the client called Deetman 20 to 25 times, requesting information about the settlement and clarification of money due Medicare, which had contacted her seeking reimbursement. Deetman eventually agreed to meet the client in person; he then agreed to advance her $1,000 per month to cover bills, but did not make clear that he had already received a check for the full amount of the settlement.

In addition to filing a complaint with the State Bar, the client retained another lawyer to help in obtaining the settlement funds, alleging Deetman had committed malpractice, breach of contract, conversion, and elder abuse. That case was settled more than two years after Deetman originally received the settlement check and the day before the trial in the instant disciplinary matter commenced.

Deetman appealed the hearing judge’s findings, claiming he did not misappropriate the client’s funds because she had agreed to “loan” them to him—an argument both the judge and State Bar Court panel dismissed as disingenuous.

The panel on appeal affirmed most of the hearing judge’s findings of aggravating and mitigating factors.

In aggravation, Deetman committed multiple acts of misconduct, engaged in acts of concealment and overreaching, caused the client significant harm, lacked candor and cooperation in his dealings with the client, and was indifferent to the consequences of his misconduct.

In mitigation, he had practice law without a record of discipline for 28 years, entered into a limited stipulation to some facts, and was allotted minimal mitigation weight for community service that mostly predated his misconduct by several years.


Cari Donahue
State Bar # 273436, La Jolla (October 1, 2017)

Donahue was disbarred after she stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, aiding others in the unauthorized practice of law, receiving illegal fees, failing to release a client’s papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to deposit client funds in a trust account, failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and misappropriating the client’s funds—an act involving moral turpitude.

Donahue was hired to file a lawsuit to pursue a loan modification, accepting a total of $20,550 in legal fees. The client never met personally with Donahue, and had contact only with two non-attorneys at her firm, who drafted a complaint in the case without any input from her. Opposing counsel filed a demurrer; no one from Donahue’s firm appeared at the hearing on it, and the case was ultimately dismissed.

The mortgage lender then agreed to reduce the interest rate in exchange for a one-time payment of $25,000. The client agreed, and paid in three installments—which Donahue deposited in a general firm account, but did not pay the lender as specified in the settlement. Six months later, the client received a notice of default and retained another attorney to help with a short sale of his property. Donahue returned neither the unearned fees nor the client files in the case, despite requests to do so.

In aggravation, Donahue had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case that significantly harmed her client, and failed to make restitution.

In mitigation, she filed a pretrial stipulation.


John Henry Edwards, III
State Bar # 52343, Los Angeles (October 28, 2017)

Edwards was disbarred after the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) of the State Bar appealed the hearing judge’s decision dismissing his case.

Edwards had been charged with four counts of professional misconduct: depositing personal funds into his client trust account, paying personal expenses out of that account, and committing acts involving moral turpitude by issuing checks from the account knowing there were insufficient funds in it and concealing personal funds from the state taxing authorities. However, the hearing judge found that the account into which Edwards deposited funds, and from which he paid personal expenses, was a business checking account rather than a client trust account. The count involving insufficient funds was dismissed after trial at the OCTC’s request.

On appeal, the OCTC renewed its trial request for disbarment, urging a finding of culpability for commingling and for concealing funds from the government—a wrongdoing involving moral turpitude. Edwards did not file a responsive brief in the instant proceeding, and waived oral argument.

Between the years 1997 and 2014, Edwards submitted only two state tax returns. The Franchise Tax Board, however, believed he owed more taxes, and by 2015, it assessed his tax debt as totaling more than $100,000 and levied his personal and business accounts. He did not contact the tax board to protest the amounts assessed. In the meantime, he began depositing personal funds into a specialized Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) that had not been levied.

The State Bar Court panel found that the account in question was clearly marked as an IOLTA—and that Edwards, the State Bar and the bank all regarded it as his official client trust account. In addition, the parties had entered into a pretrial stipulation acknowledging that the account was a client trust account; the hearing judge disregarded this part of the stipulation, reasoning that the characterization of the account was a legal rather than a factual issue.

Since the hearing judge had exonerated Edwards of culpability, the panel made findings of aggravation and mitigation upon a de novo review of the record.

In aggravation, Edwards had four prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated a lack of insight into the seriousness of his misconduct.

In mitigation, he stipulated to and testified about some of the facts at issue. He was also allotted mitigation weight for his faith-based community service in founding a church—though that was given only moderate weight because the details were based on his own testimony and on out-of-court testimonials from individuals who were not aware of the professional misconduct alleged.


Dale Irving Gustin
State Bar # 76642, Paso Robles (October 5, 2017)

Gustin was disbarred by default. He failed to appear at the trial at which he was charged with eight counts of professional misconduct, despite receiving adequate notice of the court date. He had earlier maintained that the State Bar Court did not have jurisdiction over him because he had earlier tendered his resignation. However, the document he filed had been rejected due to improper service and other deficiencies.

Gustin was found culpable of six of the counts charged—including failing to obey a court order, threatening to present criminal charges to force a settlement in a civil case, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and being grossly negligent in doing so, which added a count of moral turpitude. In addition, he failed to file a conforming declaration of compliance with the State Bar as ordered earlier (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).and included a false statement on the declaration filed—both acts of wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.

Gustin had four prior records of discipline.


Lyndsey Michelle Heller
State Bar # 188234, Carlsbad (October 1, 2017)

Heller was disbarred by default after she failed to appear at her disciplinary hearing, despite receiving adequate legal notice and having sufficient opportunity to do so.

She was found culpable of failing to file proof of complying with duties of a disciplined attorney as required by court rules and in accord with a previous order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

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


Kathleen Marion Keefe
State Bar # 143817, Oakhurst (October 28, 2017)

Keefe was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in her disciplinary proceeding. The State Bar Court judge determined that she had been given adequate legal notice and had not moved to have the default set aside or vacated.

Keefe was found culpable of three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: commingling personal and client funds, issuing checks from the account when she knew or was grossly negligent in not knowing there were insufficient funds to cover them—wrongdoing involving moral turpitude, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigation of the misconduct alleged.


Michael Joseph Krantz
State Bar # 194417, Boca Raton, Florida (October 5, 2017)

Krantz was disbarred by default after failing to respond to the notice of disciplinary charges against him or to seek to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.

The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel initiated a disciplinary proceeding against Krantz after the Supreme Court of Massachusetts found him culpable of numerous acts of professional misconduct. His wrongdoing included: intentionally misappropriating approximately $19,500 in client funds, failing to hold trust property separately, failing to promptly deliver the client’s funds after being requested to do so, failing to protect the client’s interests upon terminating employment, engaging in dishonesty or misrepresentation, engaging in conduct adversely reflecting on the ability to practice law, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in another jurisdiction, making false or misleading communications, and using a false or misleading firm name.

The State Bar Court judge determined that the misconduct in Massachusetts also warranted professional discipline under California laws and rules.


Brian Joseph Kucsan
State Bar # 230951, Mission Viejo (October 1, 2017)

Kucsan was disbarred. On the day of his disciplinary trial, he stipulated to being culpable of failing to comply with conditions of a probation order imposed earlier. Specifically, he failed to contact the Office of Probation to schedule a meeting within 30 days of the date the discipline was imposed, failed to timely file several compliant written reports, and failed to submit proof of attending State Bar Ethics School and passing its final test.

In addition, he stipulated to failing to file proof of complying with duties of a disciplined attorney as required by court rules in accord with that previous order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In aggravation, Kucsan had been disciplined twice before, committed multiple acts of misconduct, and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying or atoning for the consequences of his misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into an extensive stipulation of facts and admitted culpability.

His claim of additional mitigation for emotional difficulties—depression occasioned by the disciplinary issues—was rejected for failure to prove a nexus between those difficulties and his misconduct, nor was there evidence the emotional problems had been satisfactorily resolved.


David Dale Lamb
State Bar # 199296, San Diego (October 28, 2017)

Lamb was summarily disbarred following the State Bar’s receipt of finality of his conviction of attempting to receive images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct (18 U.S.C. §2252(a)(2)). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude per se.


Michael H. Miller
State Bar # 118047, Glendale (October 5, 2017)

Miller was disbarred by default after failing to participate in any manner in the disciplinary proceedings charging him with two counts of professional misconduct: improperly withdrawing from employment and failing to respond to respond to the State Bar’s queries about the misconduct alleged.

After determining that Miller had received adequate notice of the proceeding and had not sought to have the default set aside or vacated, the State Bar Court judge found him culpable of both counts charged and recommended disbarment as the appropriate discipline.


Alan Douglas Negron
State Bar # 174256, Simi Valley (October 28, 2017)

Negron was disbarred after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct: failing to file a declaration of compliance with the clerk of the State Bar Court as mandated in an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and failing to comply with additional conditions attached to his disciplinary probation—including failing to schedule a meeting or to meet with his assigned probation deputy and failing to submit two quarterly written reports.

In aggravation, Negron had two prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and demonstrated indifference toward rectification or atonement for his misconduct.

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


Louisa Moritz Netto
State Bar # 232509, Glendale (October 1, 2017)

Netto was disbarred by default after failing to appear at her disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel. She had received adequate legal notice of the matter, and did not respond or seek to have the default entered in the case set aside or vacated.

She was found culpable of violating an earlier disciplinary probation matter by failing to file two written quarterly reports by the dates they were due.

Netto had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.


Robyn Lynette Pool
State Bar # 218837, Costa Mesa (October 5, 2017)

Pool was disbarred by default after failing to participate in her disciplinary trial despite having received adequate legal notice of the proceeding. She did not seek to have her default set aside or vacated.

The nine separate notices of disciplinary charges against her were consolidated—collectively charging her with 127 counts of professional misconduct in 50 client matters. Though one of the charges was dismissed, Pool was found culpable of all the others—most of which related to collecting advanced fees prior to completing all services in loan modification matters, then simply withdrawing from employment or mishandling the fees by failing to provide proper accountings. She also failed to provide any substantive responses to the State Bar’s numerous letters attempting to investigate the wrongdoing alleged.

In addition to recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge ordered Pool to pay clients a total of $318,140 plus interest.


Warren Wendell Quann
State Bar # 140032, Sacramento (October 28, 2017)

Quann was disbarred. He had earlier entered a plea of nolo contendere to the charge of reckless driving involving drugs or alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code §23103.5(a)).

In the underlying matter, Quann drove his car while intoxicated, in knowing violation of an informal criminal probation imposed following an earlier conviction involving driving under the influence. When stopped after driving erratically, he repeatedly lied to the police officer, both about his alcohol consumption that night and about the earlier-imposed probation. After refusing to perform field sobriety tests, he told the officer: “What I’m telling you is I’m a lawyer and I work with lawyers.”

The State Bar Court judge found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the misdemeanor violation in the instant case involved moral turpitude, as evidenced by Quann’s “decision to deliberately violate both the laws criminalizing drunk driving and the conditions of the criminal probation that was imposed on him” because of his earlier conviction.

The judge also found the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction also involved other misconduct warranting discipline because his remark to the arresting officer—“I’m a lawyer”—constituted the unauthorized practice of law, since he held himself out as entitled to practice when he was actually suspended.

In aggravation Quann had three prior records of discipline and lacked candor in falsely testifying in the instant case that he told the officer he had been drinking alcohol at a friend’s house; quotes from the transcript taken from the officer’s audio recording device contradict that assertion

In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a partial stipulation of facts and admission of documents and was given limited mitigation weight for testimony by one individual who attested to his good character and community service work.

In recommending disbarment, the judge underscored that Quann had previously been disciplined for making false statements and for fabricating evidence, noting: “Integrity and honesty are essential qualities that all attorneys must possess. Respondent has now twice-demonstrated a significant deficiency in this area.”


S. Benjamin Rozwood
State Bar # 181474, Beverly Hills (October 5, 2017)

Rozwood was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

He was found culpable of falsely reporting to the State Bar that he had completed the requisite 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education—misconduct involving moral turpitude.


Ruben Daniel Sanchez
State Bar # 164298, Cathedral City (October 28, 2017)

Sanchez was disbarred after being found culpable of numerous violations of his ethical obligations in a consolidated disciplinary proceeding.

Specifically, his wrongdoing included: failing to provide legal services with competence, failing to communicate with a client, failing to release a client’s file after being requested to do so, accepting fees from a third party without the client’s prior written consent, failing to file a declaration of compliance with the State Bar as ordered earlier by the California Supreme Court (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20), failing to comply with conditions of probation, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.

Most of the misconduct in the instant matter related to a legal malpractice action Sanchez undertook on behalf of a client, then did not take substantive action—including failing to file a timely answer to a cross-complaint, failing to respond to discovery requests, failing to oppose various motions, and failing to move to set aside the default ultimately entered against his client. He stipulated to wrongdoing in all counts charged in that matter and the others.

In aggravation, Sanchez had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct three times previously, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and significantly harmed his client who became subject to a judgment in favor of his opponent as a result.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into an extensive stipulation of facts and admitted culpability for all allegations and presented evidence of his good character as attested by more than a dozen individuals representing a wide range in the legal and general communities—all of whom were aware of the full extent of his misconduct.

In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge underscored Sanchez’s long history of misconduct and relationship with the disciplinary process, noting: “The fact that his misconduct has continued, despite his history of being repeatedly disciplined and even while he was on probation, demonstrates an ongoing inability or unwillingness to comply with the rehabilitation efforts of the disciplinary process.”


Richard Alan Wolf
State Bar # 216598, San Diego (October 28, 2017)

Wolf was summarily disbarred following the State Bar’s receipt of finality of his conviction of receiving images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct (18 U.S.C. §2252(a)(2)). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude per se.



Suspension

Ernest Linford Anderson
State Bar # 44784, Hayward (October 28, 2017)

Anderson was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about the case, and failing to release the clients paper and property after being requested to do so, as well as two counts each of failing to refund unearned advanced fees upon terminating his employment and failing to render accountings of clients’ funds.

In both matters—one, a request by a conservatee to remove his conservator and the other a request to remove a trustee and assist with other estate planning matters—Anderson accepted advance fees, then failed to take the agreed actions in their cases.

In aggravation, Anderson committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct three times previously.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and presented letters from five individuals from a mix of the legal and general communities—all of whom were aware of his misconduct, and all of whom attested to his good character.


Drago Charles Baric
State Bar # 105383, Manhattan Beach (October 28, 2017)

Baric was suspended from practicing law for two years, with credit given for the accrued period of inactive enrollment, and placed on probation for four years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).

In the underlying discipline matter, Baric had stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct. One count was failing to file a declaration of compliance as required in an earlier disciplinary proceeding (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

The other counts pertained to a client matter and included: improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries about the status of the case, failing to promptly release the client’s papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to refund the unearned portion of an advanced fee, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct he was alleged to have committed.

In aggravation, Baric had been disciplined by the State Bar twice before and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing demonstrating a pattern of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation as to both facts and culpability prior to trial. He also suffered from mental health issues with a demonstrated nexus to his misconduct, and his successful completion of both the ADP and Lawyer Assistance Program qualifies as the “meaningful and sustained period of rehabilitation” the California Supreme Court requires as evidence he no longer suffers from those issues.


Barbara A. Bell
State Bar # 264449, Palm Desert (October 28, 2017)

Bell was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to misconduct involving driving violations.

In one case, she stipulated to pleading guilty to two felony counts of child endangerment (Cal. Penal Code §273(a)(a)) as well as three misdemeanor counts—including driving under the influence (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(a)), driving under the influence with a blood alcohol count of .08% or greater (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)), and driving without a license (Cal. Veh. Code 12500(a)). She had been arrested after losing control of her vehicle and ending up in an empty lot; her two minor children were in the car.

In another case, she pled guilty to the felony of resisting arrest (Cal. Penal Code §69), driving under the influence, driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or greater, and an enhancement for driving with a blood alcohol level of .15% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §23578). When stopped by police after driving at a very slow rate and weaving down the highway, she attempted to bite the arresting officer’s arm.

In both cases, the State Bar Court judge determined that the violations did not involve moral turpitude, but did warrant professional discipline.

In addition, Bell was culpable of violating a court order by failing to timely file a declaration of compliance as required in an earlier disciplinary proceeding (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In aggravation, Bell committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately six years without a record of discipline, and demonstrated recognition of her wrongdoing by initiating steps toward sobriety by voluntarily entering a treatment center and attending daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily.


Michele Elaine Brooke
State Bar # 277863, Pasadena (October 5, 2017)

Brooke was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing one count of professional misconduct in a single client matter. She was culpable of failing to take only actions in representing a client that are legal and just.

Brooke represented an employer who was being sued for wrongful termination. In the course of that representation, she filed a motion for leave to file a cross-complaint against the employee for filing a fraudulent worker’s compensation claim against the employer. The employee’s counsel filed a demurrer and motion to strike, citing precedent forbidding employers from suing based on such claimed fraud and seeking sanctions.

Brooke persisted in maintaining the cross-complaint, which a court subsequently deemed “clearly in bad faith, frivolous, and designed to cause unnecessary delay and needless expense.” In fact, her actions precipitated multiple motions in the case. The court also ordered Brooke and her client to pay sanctions of $13,610 jointly and severally, for the misconduct.

In aggravation, Brooke significantly harmed her client, who paid the court-ordered sanction in full.

In mitigation, she filed a full stipulation before disciplinary charges were filed against her, and was also given nominal mitigation weight for having practiced law for five years without a record of discipline.


Peter T. Brown
State Bar # 125446, Van Nuys (October 30, 2017)

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


Luis Walters Camacho
State Bar # 163331, San Francisco (October 1, 2017)

Camacho was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to promptly pay client funds in his possession, and then misappropriating those funds—an act involving moral turpitude.

Camacho was hired to sue a mortgage company. The fee agreement provided for an upfront advanced fee of $3,500, with additional monthly payments of $1,000 until the lawsuit was completed. After about a year, the case was settled for $2,000. Camacho received the settlement check on his client’s behalf, but deposited it into his law office operating account. He then informed the client he was applying the amount to the fees she still owed him—a claim she disputed. He repaid the client six months later.

In aggravation, Camacho committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 21 years without a record of discipline, and was candid and cooperative during the State Bar’s investigation of the client’s complaint. In addition, he was allotted mitigating credit for anxiety suffered due to his spouse’s health problems, as well as for severe financial stress he suffered due to his office manager embezzling funds from his firm’s coffers.


Scott Michael Cantor
State Bar # 79851, Las Vegas, Nevada (October 5, 2017)

Cantor was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in another jurisdiction found to warrant discipline under California laws and rules.

Cantor, authorized to practice law in Nevada as well as California, entered into a conditional guilty plea with the State Bar of Nevada that included a stipulation of facts and admission of violating several of that jurisdiction’s Rules of Professional Misconduct in handling three separate client matters.

After reviewing the determination of facts found by the Nevada Bar authorities, the California State Bar Court judge found Cantor’s misconduct there to be violations constituting the local equivalent of: failing to perform legal services with competence, receiving illegal fees, failing to uphold the law, failing to inform clients of significant case developments, and disobeying a court order.

In aggravation, Cantor had a prior record of discipline in Nevada in which the underlying misconduct would also warrant professional discipline in California, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and failed to make restitution to one client after taking an illegal fee.

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


Roberta Ann DiPrete
State Bar # 118940, Novato (October 7, 2017)

DiPrete was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single matter.

Her wrongdoing included: holding herself out as entitled to practice law when she was not, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law—misconduct involving moral turpitude, failing to cooperate in a State Bar investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, misrepresenting facts to a State Bar investigator—another act involving moral turpitude, and failing to update her address on State Bar membership records as required.

While DiPrete’s license to practice law was suspended for failure to pay annual membership dues, she contacted the defendant in a small claims case—identifying herself as a friend of the plaintiff, a witness, and an attorney—and holding herself out as an “intermediary” to mediate their dispute.

When later questioned by a State Bar investigator regarding a complaint of potential unauthorized practice of law, DiPrete denied doing so, as well as denying she was familiar with either the plaintiff or defendant in the small claims case. She also declined to give the investigator her current address during that conversation.

In aggravation, DiPrete committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, she entered into a stipulation before charges were filed against her, had practiced law for approximately 30 years without a record of discipline, and provided evidence of performing community service with several organizations.


Sharon Marie Drew
State Bar # 182936, Westbrook, Minnesota (October 1, 2017)

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


Matthew Powell Fletcher
State Bar # 189923, Long Beach (October 5, 2017)

Fletcher was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years following his appeal of a hearing judge’s findings of culpability on two counts of professional misconduct and recommendation of an actual suspension of 45 days.

In the underlying matter, Fletcher was charged with two counts of professional misconduct: accepting compensation from non-clients without the client’s previous written consent and failing to render an appropriate accounting of those funds.

Fletcher, a criminal defense attorney, met with an individual who asked him to represent his brother on charges of murder and attempted murder in a pending case. He agreed to do so for a $30,000 fee, which the brother and the incarcerated client’s fiancée attempted to pay together—tendering a total of $20,500, which was deposited into Fletcher’s law firm account. He did not obtain a written consent from the client about the fee arrangement.

On appeal, Fletcher raised a number of objections, including that he was not aware the money had been deposited until after the State Bar charged him with misconduct, because his staff alone handled his law firm bank account—an argument both the hearing judge and State Bar Court judge on appeal found lacked credibility. He also argued he did not violate the rule requiring written consent because he represented the client pro bono—which was also rejected, with the judge and panel citing the fact that Fletcher never returned the funds he had received as fees.

Fletcher also took issue on appeal with the finding that he failed to provide the required accounting, arguing that no one requested one. The judge below and panel on appeal also disregarded that assertion—underscoring that “an accounting is required whether or not the client requests it.”

Finally, Fletcher argued he was denied a fair trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel, claiming he was prejudiced by his lawyer’s lack of understanding of State Bar hearing procedures. The panel also rejected this as meritless, noting: “The Supreme Court has held that the right to effective assistance of counsel depends on a demonstrated right to counsel, which does not exist in disciplinary hearings.”

In aggravation, both the judge and panel gave significant weight to Fletcher’s prior record of discipline, which had included anger management conditions based on nine acts of contempt in one criminal trial and occurred only eight years before the present misconduct.


Terri Raynell Hanley
State Bar # 199811, Benicia (October 1, 2017)

Hanley was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: holding herself out as entitled to practice law while actually suspended and doing so knowingly—an act involving moral turpitude, as well as charging and collecting an illegal fee and failing to return the illegal fee, which was characterized as unearned.

While earlier suspended from practicing law for failure to pay her State Bar membership dues, Hanley met with two clients, a married couple, and agreed to represent them in disputes with their neighbor and with their homeowners’ association. They paid her $750 in advanced attorney fees, and she agreed to draft letters to both of the parties involved.

Though the clients emphasized that time was of the essence in resolving their matters, Haney took no action for more than two weeks, when the clients learned she was not entitled to practice law. She was reinstated after paying the outstanding dues, but the clients complained to the State Bar. Haney did not provide them with the promised letters, nor did she return the fee they advanced.

In aggravation, Hanley committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, she had practiced law for nearly 17 years discipline-free and was also given limited mitigation weight for evidence introduced from three witnesses who attested to her good character.


Victoria Margaret Helton
State Bar # 141517, Ventura (October 28, 2017)

Helton was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. Her wrongdoing included: improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to deposit the clients’ funds in a trust account, failing to render an appropriate accounting of the clients’ funds, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct she was alleged to have committed.

Helton was hired by a couple to provide debt relief services and to file a bankruptcy petition for one of the client’s mother, who was under a conservatorship. They paid her $3,000 in advanced fees, as well as an additional $306 for the bankruptcy filing. Heller subsequently wrote to the clients to inform them she was closing her office, but would keep their file open and file the bankruptcy petition later so that it could include a pending debt. She later sent them two letters related to the legal actions, neither of which they received, then effectively withdrew from the case.

After the State Bar filed charges against her, Helton refunded the full amount the clients paid.

In aggravation, Helton committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, she entered into a dispositive stipulation prior to trial and had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 24 years before the misconduct in this case occurred.


Justin J. Kim
State Bar # 237501, Yorba Linda (October 2, 2017)

Kim was suspended from law practice following his convictions of the felonies of domestic battery with corporal injury (Cal. Penal Code §273.5(a)), assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code §245(a)(4)), and assault with a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code §245(a)(1)). He was also convicted of the misdemeanors of vandalism under $400 (Cal. Penal Code §594(a)/(b)(2)(A)), domestic violence battery (Cal. Penal Code §243(e)(1)), as well as two counts of criminal threats (Cal. Penal Code §422(a)).

While the judgment of the convictions is final warranting interim suspension, the case was referred to the hearing department for a decision as to whether the facts and circumstances of all the offenses involved moral turpitude or other conduct warranting professional discipline.


James Edward Kroetch
State Bar # 95434, Orinda (October 9, 2017)

Kroetch was suspended in the interim following final disposition of his conviction of possessing child pornography (Cal. Penal Code §311.11(a)), a crime involving moral turpitude.


Raymond Thomas Lee
State Bar # 206308, Dublin, Ohio (October 1, 2017)

Lee was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to being culpable of committing acts deemed to be professional misconduct in another jurisdiction. His wrongdoing there amounted to failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to reasonably communicate with a client, engaging in deceit, abandoning the client failing to release the client’s file, and practicing law contrary to the regulations of the legal profession.

Lee, who was admitted to practice law in California and Ohio, was paid a monthly retainer fee to handle disciplinary matters for the Federal Educators Association (FEA) collective bargaining unit; most of those matters involved teacher discipline. He was contacted by a former member of the FEA who had resigned her position as an elementary school teacher in Kentucky when her military husband was transferred. She had been accused of misconduct as a teacher. Lee helped her prepare a response to her disciplinary letter, and submitted it to the proper educational board in Kentucky.

Despite making occasional promises to review documents and help prepare the case, however, Lee took no substantive action for approximately four years, nor did he move to be admitted pro hac vice in Kentucky as he claimed he would. The client’s license to teach was ultimately revoked, and she hired another attorney for help in getting it reinstated.

In aggravation, Lee committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed a client and showed indifference toward rectifying his misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for 28 years in Ohio and 11 years in California with no record of discipline.


Dane Paul Miller
State Bar # 226332, Los Angeles (October 1, 2017)

Miller was suspended from practicing law for one year after a probation revocation proceeding in which he was found culpable of violating several conditions set forth in an earlier disciplinary order.

Specifically, he failed to contact his probation deputy to schedule a meeting as required, failed to timely submit two quarterly written reports and completely failed to file a third one, and failed to provide the requisite proof of attending and passing final tests for the State Bar’s Ethics School and Client Trust Accounting School.

In aggravation, Miller had one prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct, showed indifference to rectifying his wrongdoing, and demonstrated a lack of candor by failing to participate in the instant proceeding.


Raymond Roy Miller
State Bar # 144398, Castro Valley (October 5, 2017)

Miller was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after a hearing judge’s recommendation was affirmed on appeal.

In the underlying discipline case, Miller was found culpable of failing to comply with several probation conditions imposed in an earlier order. Specifically, he failed to timely submit four quarterly written reports as well as a final report to the Office of Probation and failed to provide proof of paying the sanctions imposed as required in that order.

Miller argued on appeal that the due date for filing his final report was unclear. The panel on review, however, found the date was clearly indicated by both the Supreme Court order and the Hearing Department decision.

He also argued he was financially unable to pay the sanctions until he received payment in other outstanding cases—a claim also rejected due to his failure to show a good faith effort to acquire the ability to pay or to seek a modification in payment terms.

And finally, he testified at his trial that a bankruptcy petition discharged his obligation to pay the sanctions deemed due. The panel held that claim also failed for lack of corroborating evidence: proof of his purported bankruptcy discharge—though it also noted that “bankruptcy proceedings do not discharge a member’s obligation to comply with the terms of disciplinary probation.”

In aggravation, Miller committed multiple acts of misconduct. Significant weight was also given to his two prior records of discipline—both of which were recent and involved serious misconduct—including making misrepresentations to a bankruptcy court and commingling personal and client funds in his trust account.


Anthony John O’Farrill
State Bar # 158847, Montebello (October 28, 2017)

O’Farrill was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter.

The wrongdoing included: failing to deposit client funds into a trust account, failing to render an appropriate accounting for client funds, and making misrepresentations to counsel and the court—an act involving moral turpitude.

O’Farrill was hired to represent a married couple in an anticipated unlawful detainer action related to commercial property they leased. Their fee agreement provided for an initial payment of $3,000, with additional monthly payments of $3,000 “until they were forced to vacate the property.” The clients paid O’Farrill the first $3,000, which he deposited into a general account.

The clients then signed a lease agreement in settlement of the matter—agreeing to pay $4,000 monthly in rent; however, that agreement was later questioned, since the landlords, who were divorcing, disagreed on the lease ownership. In the interim, O’Farrill wrote to one of the landlords, stating he would hold the rent in trust until their dispute was settled. An unlawful detained complaint was then filed against the clients, and they gave O’Farrill an additional $1,000 for costs of the unlawful detainer action, which he also deposited into his general account. O’Farrill then filed an answer to the action, alleging the clients were ready and able to pay the outstanding rent, which he erroneously claimed he held in trust.

Over the course of 16 months, he made 41 deposited into his client trust account, taking an agreed commission, but failing to maintain client ledgers or perform monthly reconciliations of the account.

In aggravation, O’Farrill committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 23 years without a record of discipline, and presented letters from seven individuals taken from both the legal and general communities—all of whom attested to his good character.


Elias Francisco Portales
State Bar # 230402, Fremont (October 2, 2017)

Portales 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.


Clifford Nelson Schuster
State Bar # 152164, Anaheim (October 28, 2017)

Schuster was suspended from practicing law for one year after he failed to participate in his probation revocation proceeding.

Under the terms of an earlier discipline order, Schuster was required to contact the Office of Probation, to schedule a meeting with his assigned probation deputy, and to submit four written quarterly reports. However, he failed to comply with any of these conditions despite receiving reminders from the Office of Probation.

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

In recommending that Schuster’s probation be revoked, the State Bar Court judge noted his prior record of discipline and emphasized: “His failure to participate in this proceeding is also a matter of considerable concern to this court.”


Carl Douglas Spieckerman
State Bar # 67636, Stockton (October 2, 2017)

Spieckerman was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of his conviction of possessing a controlled substance, methamphetamine, for sale (Cal. Health & Safety Code §11378). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.


David Turajski
State Bar # 155885, La Palma (October 5, 2017)

Turajski was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to commingling funds in his client trust account by repeatedly failing to withdraw them when they became fixed and earned, instead issuing dozens of checks from it for personal expenses related to advertising for his law practice.

He also stipulated to being culpable of professional misconduct while practicing in the bankruptcy court—and was suspended from that court for two years based on that wrongdoing. The bankruptcy court found Turajski had “altered, recycled or reused” electronic filing declarations, which constituted forgery, in at least six different cases; failed to properly supervise his staff of paralegals to ensure they complied with the filing rules; willfully violated court orders; and attempted to mislead the court—misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Turajski committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, had a prior record of discipline, and significantly harmed the administration of justice through his misconduct in the bankruptcy court. He was also accorded aggravating weight for his indifference, both in raising frivolous and meritless defenses and in his uncooperative stance with State Bar investigators. When asked about his multiple acts of commingling funds, for example, he responded: “What’s the big deal?”


Celeste Marie Vogler
State Bar # 281332, Petaluma (October 30, 2017)

Vogler was suspended from practicing law in the interim pending final disposition of her conviction of assault with a deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code §245(a)(4)). The offense is a felony that may or may not involve moral turpitude.


Jerry Isaac Wilson
State Bar # 73183, McComb, Mississippi (October 5, 2017)

Wilson was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct n another jurisdiction that also warranted discipline in California.

Wilson, licensed to practice in both California and Hawaii, was suspended for 120 days by the Hawaii Disciplinary Board after it determined he had submitted declarations to that State Bar falsely declaring he had maintained a compliant client trust account—an act involving moral turpitude. In fact, an audit showed he had transferred funds in the account to himself and other entities for personal expenses 61 times by check and 150 times by electronic transfer and had intentionally concealed Social Security checks in that trust account to avoid tax levies imposed by state and federal authorities.

In aggravation, Wilson committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law for more than 36 years without a prior record of discipline.



Probation

Craig Ronald Triance
State Bar # 161079, Glendora (October 5, 2017)

Triance was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to respond to the clients’ reasonable inquiries about the status of the case, failing to provide the clients with an accounting of the advanced fees paid, and failing to refund the unearned fees paid when he terminated employment.

Triance was hired by a married couple to obtain loan modification on two residential properties they owned, one owner-occupied and the other a rental property. They paid him $6,500 in four installments for case costs and fees. He was able to delay a pending foreclosure on the owner-occupied home, but did no work on the other case. Over a four-month period, the clients called Triance at least a dozen times and sent 40 faxes asking for a case update, but got no response.

The clients eventually sued Triance, alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of contract—and won a settlement of $9,295 to be paid in 12 installments. He made only seven payments, leaving an unpaid balance of $4,795.

In aggravation, Triance had a prior record of discipline and harmed his financially vulnerable clients in the instant case.

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



Public Reproval

David Reynold Fagen
State Bar # 155864, Santa Ana (October 27, 2017)

Fagen was publicly reproved after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to inform his client of a significant case development and failing to cooperate in the State bar’s disciplinary investigation.

Fagen was hired to represent a client in some immigration matters. From the outset, he advised the client he anticipated the petition for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would be denied unless he was able to produce certain qualifying documents. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services subsequently issued a notice of intent to deny the DACA petition and a request for evidence seeking the required proof. Both Fagen and the client received this notice and request. However, Fagen did not inform the client that he would not be responding to it because he had not yet obtained the requested documentation.

In addition, the client left telephone and text messages to inform Fagen of his changed cell phone number, but received no acknowledgment. The client then failed to appear at a mandatory appearance in immigration court, and the judge issued an in absentia removal order against him.

The client then terminated his relationship with Fagen, hired another lawyer to represent him in further immigration proceedings, and filed a complaint with the State Bar. Fagen failed to respond to several letters sent by State Bar investigators.

In aggravation, Fagen committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed his client by delaying his legal immigration process for 7 ½ months.

In mitigation, he entered into a detailed pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for more than 22 years, and submitted 10 letters from individuals representing a wide range of the legal and general communities—all of whom were aware of is misconduct, and all of whom attested to his good character. In addition he experienced family problems during the time of the misconduct: His mother, in deteriorating mental and physical health, required daily time and attention before being admitted to a long-term care facility.


Cynthia Ann Futter
State Bar # 114096, Santa Monica (October 14, 2017)

Futter, who was licensed to practice law only in California, was publicly reproved after he stipulated to the State Bar of Arizona that had committed the unauthorized practice of law in that state by performing legal services and holding herself out as “general counsel” of a homeowners’ association in that jurisdiction.

The Arizona tribunal found no moral turpitude in the violation, as it made no finding of gross negligence or dishonesty.

The California State Bar Court judge concluded that the conduct for which she was disciplined in Arizona also warranted the imposition of professional discipline in California.

In mitigation, Futter had practiced law in California for approximately 25 years without a record of discipline, entered into a stipulation in California as to facts and culpability, and submitted declarations from a range of 20 individuals who attested to her good character and pro bono and community service.


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