MAGAZINE
California Lawyer

DISBARMENT

Heroico M. Aguiluz, State Bar #79580, Los Angeles (June 11, 2014). Heroico M. Aguiluz, State Bar # 79580, Los Angeles (June 11). Aguiluz, 77, was disbarred for repeatedly failing to comply with court orders. In October 2003 the trial court sanctioned Aguiluz and his client $2,000, to be paid within 30 days. In January 2004 the court sanctioned Aguiluz an additional $2,000, again payable within 30 days. In 2005 the court of appeal affirmed the sanctions orders. At all times, Aguiluz received the notice of the sanctions orders but did not pay the sanctions.

In December 2006 the trial court sanctioned Aguiluz and his client $500. On that same date, in the same matter, the court issued another sanctions order for $500. In July 2007 the trial court sanctioned Aguiluz $8,500, payable to the opposing law firm. In January 2008 the court again sanctioned Aguiluz and his client $2,382 for discovery abuse. The following month the court ordered Aguiluz and his client to pay the $1,000 in sanctions imposed in December 2006, with interest. In addition, the court ordered Aguiluz and his client to pay $2,382 for misuse of the discovery process.

In March 2008 the court ordered Aguiluz and his client to pay $3,207 because of their continued failure to pay the 2006 sanctions. In July the court ordered Aguiluz and his client to pay $9,720 in total sanctions for their discovery abuses. At all times, Aguiluz received notice of the sanctions orders but paid none of them.

In November 2009 Aguiluz filed for bankruptcy protection. However, the bankruptcy court found that the judicial sanctions ordered against him were the result of litigation misconduct, and it declined to discharge those sanctions. In sum, Aguiluz failed to pay $31,190 in court-ordered sanctions. Although the first two sanction orders were barred by the statute of limitations, the remaining sanctions, totaling more than $27,000, were within the five-year limitations period.

In aggravation, Aguiluz had a record of prior discipline. He committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, demonstrating a pattern of misconduct. His repeated failure to comply with discovery orders caused significant harm to the administration of justice. Also, he showed complete indifference toward rectification of or atonement for his misconduct. The order took effect July 11, 2014

Haig P. Ashikian, State Bar #183083, Encino (June 9, 2014). Ashikian, 48, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with seven counts of misconduct, including misappropriating client funds, failing to render appropriate accounts, and failing to deposit a settlement draft into a blocked account for a minor client.

In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that there were four investigations pending against Ashikian, and that he had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect July 9, 2014

Michael W. Coopet, State Bar #111063, San Dimas (June 26, 2014). Coopet, 57, was disbarred in connection with misconduct he committed in Minnesota.

Coopet was admitted to practice law in both California and Minnesota. In 1992 the Minnesota Department of Commerce issued an insurance agent’s license to Coopet, authorizing him to sell insurance. Although his insurance license was suspended in November 1998 for failure to pay renewal fees, Coopet engaged in insurance-related activities in 1999 with an altered insurance license. In 2000 the purchaser of an annuity complained to Coopet’s employer that he had not explained the true nature of the insurance product. The complaint prompted an investigation of the transaction by the Commerce Department, which discovered that Coopet did not possess a valid license. Coopet submitted three checks he purportedly wrote as payment for the 1998 license-renewal fee, but two of those checks actually represented payment for notary commissions. Also, none of the checks or the amounts supported Coopet’s claim that the checks evidenced payment of his 1998 renewal fee. Furthermore, Coopet covered up the memo portion of the checks to conceal the annotations on the checks.

In April 2001 Coopet entered into a consent order for the revocation of his insurance agent license, based on the allegation that he sold an annuity policy without first obtaining a valid license in violation of Minnesota law.

In September 2001 the director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility in Minnesota initiated an investigation into the matter, requesting Coopet’s response. Coopet denied any wrongdoing and alleged that the Commerce Department’s action was a personal vendetta against him. He made other statements that he knew to be false, including assertions about the checks he submitted to the Commerce Department. The director then obtained copies of the altered checks Coopet had submitted.

In March 2006 Coopet entered into a stipulation with the director, unconditionally admitting the allegations against him. The director and Coopet jointly recommended a 36-month suspension. In July 2006 the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered Coopet’s indefinite suspension by the Minnesota Bar, considering his misconduct a violation of professional rules prohibiting actions involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and knowingly making a false statement of material fact in connection with a disciplinary matter.

Based on findings in the Minnesota proceeding, the California State Bar Court determined discipline was warranted. It found Coopet culpable of committing acts involving moral turpitude by misrepresenting the true nature of an annuity, altering documents, and making misrepresentations to the Commerce Department and to the director of Minnesota’s Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. The State Bar Court also found Coopet culpable of failing to cooperate with a disciplinary matter and culpable of misconduct in five client matters related to legal work in Minnesota, which were also violations of California law.

In aggravation, Coopet had a record of prior discipline. Also, he engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Coopet cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. Also, during the period of his misconduct Coopet was experiencing extreme emotional difficulties. The order took effect July 27, 2014

M. I. Daniel, State Bar #163403, South Pasadena (June 26, 2014). Daniel, 58, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

In April 2013 the State Bar properly served a notice of disciplinary charges (NDC) on Daniel, charging her with four counts of misconduct, including failing to competently perform legal services, failing to communicate, failing to return unearned fees, and failing to render proper accounting. Daniel failed to file a response to the NDC. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Daniel had other investigations or disciplinary charges pending against her. The order took effect July 27, 2014

Jeffrey R. Dreiling, State Bar #221285, North Highlands (June 26, 2014). Dreiling, 41, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

In April 2013 the State Bar Court properly served Dreiling with two notices of hearing following his conviction in two separate criminal matters in Nevada for felony possession of a controlled substance and driving under the influence. Dreiling failed to respond, his default was entered, and the factual allegations were deemed admitted. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Dreiling had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2002. His two underlying convictions stemmed from his arrest for driving under the influence in March 2009, and possession of methamphetamine in March 2010. The order took effect July 26, 2014

William A. Hirst, State Bar #36401, Pleasanton (May 13, 2014). Hirst, 74, was summarily disbarred following his conviction for submitting a false statement to the IRS.

In December 2012 Hirst pleaded guilty to submitting a false statement to the IRS. The chief trial counsel then requested that Hirst be summarily disbarred because his offense was a felony that included an element of specific intent to make a false statement, which involved moral turpitude. Hirst filed a notice of nonopposition to the request for summary disbarment. The order took effect June 12, 2014

Rosemarie T. Hollander, State Bar #114175, Fountain Valley (June 26, 2014). Hollander, 69, was disbarred for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in another jurisdiction, collecting an advance fee for loan-modification services in violation of Civil Code section 2944.7(a)(1), failing to cooperate with a State Bar investigation, and failing to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

In August 2010 Hollander was hired by a client to perform legal services relating to a home mortgage loan modification in Connecticut. Although Hollander led the client to believe she was licensed to practice law in Connecticut, she was not. The client paid Hollander $3,495 in fees, but the loan-modification package she submitted on his behalf was denied.

In April 2011 another attorney hired by the client demanded that Hollander refund the entire fee. Later that month Hollander sent a partial refund of $1,747.50. In June 2013 the State Bar opened an investigation after Hollander’s client filed a complaint alleging misconduct. Although Hollander received two letters from the State Bar investigator she failed to respond.

In a second matter, in June 2013 Hollander was ordered by the California Supreme Court to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court, but she failed to do so.

In aggravation, Hollander had a record of prior discipline. She committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her client, and she failed to make full restitution to the client. In mitigation, Hollander cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Kay Del Carmen Holley, State Bar #87549, San Francisco (June 9, 2014). Holley, 72, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so.

In March 2013 the State Bar filed and properly served Holley with a notice of disciplinary proceedings (NDC), charging her with failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline. Holley failed to respond, and the State Bar moved for entry of her default. In its petition for disbarment the State Bar noted that Holley had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect July 9, 2014

Elizabeth M. Karnazes, State Bar #118922, Foster City (May 14, 2014). Elizabeth M. Barnson KARNAZES, State Bar # 118922, Foster City (May 14). Karnazes, 59, was disbarred for failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, commingling, failing to render appropriate accounts, improperly withdrawing from representation, and seeking an agreement from a client to not cooperate with a State Bar investigation.

In January 2005 Karnazes signed a fee agreement to provide legal services to her son, who had turned 18 one day earlier and was disabled. The fee agreement provided for a 50 percent contingency fee on any remaining recovery. Karnazes then represented her son in at least three lawsuits: the MHYR lawsuit, the Odyssey lawsuit, and the Moore lawsuit.

In 2009 Karnazes settled the MHYR and Odyssey matters for $40,000 and $60,000, respectively. She deposited those funds in a client trust account (CTA) and issued $7,500 in total advances to her son. As of June 2009 her son was entitled to $33,740 after deducting costs and attorneys fees. Despite the son’s repeated requests for the remainder of the funds, Karnazes refused to distribute them, accusing him of hating and abandoning her.

In 2009 Karnazes commingled about $100,000 of her personal funds into her CTA. She eventually withdrew the funds for her own use.

In June 2010 Karnazes’s son filed a complaint with the State Bar, but Karnazes continued to refuse to distribute the funds. In October 2010 she petitioned the superior court to appoint her as conservator of her son’s estate, which the court denied. Also in 2010 Karnazes obtained a default judgment in the Moore lawsuit for $56,995.

In March 2011 Karnazes received the funds and deposited the check into her CTA by forging her son’s signature. Karnazes claimed her son’s share was $23,757, after deducting $9,482 in alleged costs and $23,757 in attorneys fees. In total, Karnazes owed her son $57,496. In May 2011 Karnazes had a $63,000 cashier’s check drawn against her CTA made payable to her son, and she offered the sum to him if he agreed to release his right to any disputed funds from the settlement and to abide by a nondisparagement clause. At the time she made this offer, Karnazes knew her son had filed a complaint with the State Bar. Her son refused the offer.

In June 2012, four days before her disciplinary trial, Karnazes ultimately paid her son $53,508 as his share of the settlement proceeds and provided him with an accounting. However, the accounting omitted multiple withdrawals from her CTA and overstated her attorneys fees. Moreover, even assuming that the costs she claimed were accurate, her son was entitled to $3,988 more than what she gave him.

The State Bar charged Karnazes with 17 counts of misconduct. The hearing judge found her culpable of 9 counts, including misappropriation and trust account violations for her refusal to distribute settlement funds for more than three years. The hearing judge recommended her disbarment. Karnazes appealed the hearing judge’s findings, arguing that she should have been exonerated of all the charges. Although the State Bar Court found fewer violations than the hearing judge, it adopted the hearing judge’s recommendation.

In aggravation, Karnazes had a record of prior discipline. In addition, while committing much of the current misconduct, she was on disciplinary probation. Also, Karnazes committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her client. Her misconduct was widespread, and she demonstrated a lack of remorse. In mitigation, Karnazes was entitled to moderate mitigating weight for her good character. The order took effect June 13, 2014

Milton Kerlan, Jr., State Bar #39719, Fresno (May 13, 2014). Kerlan, 73, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with failing to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Kerlan had a record of five prior disciplinary matters. The order took effect June 12, 2014
Estrelita Lane, State Bar #215086, Los Angeles (June 5, 2014). Lane, 49, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. She was charged with failing to competently perform legal services, failing to return unearned fees, and failing to render appropriate accounts. The State Bar Court recommended her disbarment and ordered payment of $2,000 in restitution with interest. The order took effect July 5, 2014
Patrick M. Passenheim, State Bar #140752, San Diego (June 9, 2014). Passenheim, 67, was disbarred for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline and failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Passenheim had a record of three prior disciplinary matters. The order took effect July 9, 2014
Daniel L. Pearson, State Bar #157206, Glendora (June 26, 2014). Pearson, 49, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, and failing to participate in a State Bar investigation. The order took effect July 26, 2014
Alexander J. Pecel, State Bar #167229, Valencia (June 5, 2014). Pecel, 46, was disbarred for failing to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Pecel had a record of four prior disciplinary matters. The order took effect July 5, 2014
Neal R. Safran, State Bar #72491, Westlake Village (May 13, 2014). Safran, 64, was disbarred for failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, and committing an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In January 2009 Safran was hired by a client to represent him on a contingency basis involving a personal injury claim stemming from an automobile accident. In August 2010 Safran settled the client’s personal injury claim for $39,775. Safran deposited the funds he received into a client trust account.

In April 2011 Safran disbursed $13,292 to the client, and the next month he disbursed $325 to pay for the client’s paramedic services. Safran made no other disbursements of settlement funds until February 2013, after the State Bar intervened in the matter. Ultimately, Safran paid all of the outstanding medical liens and disbursed the rest of the client’s settlement.

In aggravation, Safran had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect June 12, 2014

Danielle M. Scherrer, State Bar #271115, Oceanside (June 26, 2014). Scherrer, 36, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. She was charged with misappropriating funds and failing to cooperate with a State Bar investigation. The order took effect July 26, 2014
James J. Seltzer, State Bar #54533, Muntinlupa City, (June 26, 2014). Seltzer, 66, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with six counts of misconduct in one client matter, including failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, failing to promptly pay client funds, and failing to participate in a State Bar investigation. The order took effect July 26, 2014
Victoria M. Walter, State Bar #187805, Glen Ellen (June 26, 2014). Walter, 49, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Walter had a record of two prior disciplinary matters. The order took effect July 26, 2014
Robert D. Wyatt, State Bar #73240, Walnut Creek (June 5, 2014). Wyatt, 74, was disbarred following his conviction for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which included factual findings involving moral turpitude.

In December 2010 Wyatt drank vodka at his home and drove to a restaurant, where he had dinner and drank one beer. While driving home he hit an 85-year-old resident of the gated senior community where Wyatt lived. The victim was thrown between 38 and 52 feet and suffered a severe head wound. Because Wyatt did not have a cell phone, he drove to the guard station, leaving the victim alone, and reported the incident to the security guard. When the police arrived Wyatt explained that the victim had “streaked” in front of his car and that Wyatt could not avoid the collision. Wyatt told the officer that he had one beer, but he failed the officer’s field sobriety tests. He never mentioned the vodka he drank. The officer then arrested Wyatt, and a blood test revealed his blood-alcohol content was .18 percent. The victim died 60 hours after the accident. Later, in an interview with the police, Wyatt stated that he did not feel he was impaired when the accident occurred. In April 2012 he pleaded nolo contendere to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

A hearing judge determined that the conviction involved moral turpitude because of Wyatt’s disregard of the law, the resulting loss of life, his leaving the victim alone, and making misrepresentations to the police. The hearing judge also recommended disbarment. Wyatt appealed the hearing judge’s decision, seeking a reduction in discipline to a one-year suspension plus credit for time spent on interim suspension. However, the Review Department agreed that the conviction involved moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Wyatt’s misconduct greatly harmed the victim’s family and friends. Wyatt also lacked candor during the proceedings. In mitigation, Wyatt had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1976. In addition, he demonstrated his good character and showed remorse for his misconduct. The order took effect July 5, 2014

Actions From Previous Issues

Bryan C. Becker, State Bar #241956, San Diego (April 29, 2014). Becker, 36, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Becker was charged with failing to competently perform legal services, failing to make necessary court appearances or to file court documents on a client’s behalf, failing to respond to a client’s reasonable status inquiries, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to return $2,529 in unearned fees. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Roderick K. Bickerstaff, State Bar #153180, Los Angeles (April 11, 2014). Bickerstaff, 56, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Bickerstaff was charged with four counts of misconduct stemming from one client matter, including failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to promptly pay client funds, misappropriating funds, and committing an act of moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Bickerstaff had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Raymond O. Buendia, State Bar #94975, Chula Vista (April 29, 2014). Buendia, 62, was disbarred for failing to competently perform legal services, misleading a judge with false statements, and committing an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In aggravation, Buendia had a record of prior discipline. Moreover, his misconduct harmed his client, and it demonstrated a pattern of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Buendia cooperated with the State Bar in its investigation and proceedings. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Raymond O. Buendia, State Bar #94975, Chula Vista (April 29, 2014). Buendia, 62, was disbarred for failing to competently perform legal services, misleading a judge with false statements, and committing an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In aggravation, Buendia had a record of prior discipline. Moreover, his misconduct harmed his client, and it demonstrated a pattern of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Buendia cooperated with the State Bar in its investigation and proceedings. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Alfred W. Driscol, III, State Bar #60996, Chico (April 11, 2014). Driscol, 66, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Driscol was charged with misappropriating $87,534 in client funds and misrepresenting to his clients that the funds in the client trust account were still available. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that there were 13 misconduct investigations pending against Driscol. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Sean P. Gjerde, State Bar #217467, Wilton (April 11, 2014). Gjerde, 38, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Gjerde had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.
Samantha C. Harris, State Bar #170337, Sunland (April 11, 2014). Harris, 49, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Harris was charged with 42 counts of misconduct involving seven client matters. The charges included failing to competently perform legal services, failing to communicate, making misrepresentations and habitually disregarding the interests of her clients, collecting advance fees in connection with loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7, aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, permitting the misuse of her name, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to return unearned fees, failing to notify clients of the sale of a law practice, failing to cooperate in a State Bar investigation, and committing acts involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar recommended that Harris also be ordered to pay $30,978, plus interest, in restitution. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.
Lawrence V. Harrison, State Bar #202689, Riverside (April 11, 2014). Harrison, 69, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with six counts of misconduct, including failing to communicate, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to render appropriate accounts, failing to refund unearned fees, and failing to return a client’s papers or property. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Harrison had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.
Daniel M. Horton, State Bar #160532, Rancho Cordova (April 11, 2014). Horton, 49, was disbarred following his misdemeanor conviction for annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18, an act involving moral turpitude.

At the time of the misconduct, Horton served as a juvenile judicial commissioner for the Sacramento County Superior Court, presiding over juvenile dependency and detention hearings.

In November 2010 Jane Doe claimed that Horton approached her at a tanning salon and falsely represented that he was a modeling agent in search of a model. Horton brought up the issue of nude modeling even after Jane Doe revealed she was only 17. During the course of Jane Doe’s interaction with Horton, he inappropriately touched her and indecently exposed himself. Jane Doe did not have the courage to file a complaint until after the statute of limitations had passed. As a result, authorities could not charge Horton with a crime. However, the Sacramento Police Department decided to conduct a sting operation on Horton using two decoys who could pass as juveniles.

In February 2012 the police department deployed two female decoys on Horton’s expected travel route during his lunch break. Horton approached the decoys in the same way he reportedly approached Jane Doe. Horton, purporting to be a modeling agent in search of nude models, asked one decoy if she would be interested in auditioning to perform in a nude video, but she declined. However, she did express interest in nude modeling. Horton then asked her to perform a five-minute audition in a nearby alley, but she declined.

Ultimately, Horton was charged with violating Penal Code § 647.6(a)(2) (motivated by unnatural sexual interest in children); and Penal Code § 664/288.4(a)(1) (motivated by unnatural sexual interest in children, attempting to arrange a meeting).

Horton pleaded no contest and was convicted of one misdemeanor count, which involved conduct motivated by an unnatural sexual interest in children. He was sentenced to 90 days of jail time and three years of probation. He was also required to register as a sex offender, and to complete a sex offender management program.

In aggravation, Horton significantly harmed Jane Doe and the administration of justice, and he engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Horton had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1992. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation and was entitled to some mitigation based on letters attesting to his good character. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.

John A. Hurley, State Bar #145907, Anaheim Hills (April 11, 2014). Hurley, 59, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline, including failing to timely submit quarterly reports, failing to provide proof of restitution payments, failing to comply with Lawyer Assistance Program conditions, and failing to provide proof of attendance and completion of State Bar Ethics School. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Hurley had a record of five previous orders of discipline. It ordered him to pay $13,000, plus interest, in restitution. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.
Carl W. Nyman, State Bar #57915, Irvine (April 29, 2014). Nyman, 65, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Nyman was charged with failing to comply with conditions to a previous order or discipline. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Emeka G. Onwualu, State Bar #161868, Inglewood (April 11, 2014). Onwualu, 62, was disbarred for committing 29 acts of misconduct involving seven client matters. His misconduct included repeatedly failing to competently perform legal services, collecting advance fees for loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1), failing to promptly respond to reasonable status inquiries, failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant developments, failing to take steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice to a client upon termination of employment, failing to render appropriate accounts, failing to refund unearned fees, failing to cooperate and participate in a State Bar disciplinary investigation, and failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In aggravation, Onwualu had a record of prior discipline, and the misconduct involved multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.

Henry A. Pattiz, State Bar #44073, Studio City (April 11, 2014). Pattiz, 72, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with violating rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Pattiz had a record of two prior disciplinary orders, and that the State Bar’s Client Security Fund had paid $24,000 in claims resulting from his misconduct. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.
Matthew H. Powell, State Bar #87602, San Diego (April 29, 2014). Powell, 62, was disbarred for failing to support the law, disobeying a court order, misappropriating funds, and committing an act of moral turpitude.

In December 2010 Powell was hired by a client to file a bankruptcy petition on his behalf. Later that month Powell filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition for the client, whom Powell represented until October 2012. During this period, the client paid Powell $12,250 in attorneys fees. However, Powell never sought the bankruptcy court’s approval for payment of the fees, as required by 11 U.S.C. § 327 and related rules. Powell also failed to obtain the bankruptcy court’s approval of his employment. In May 2013 the bankruptcy court ordered Powell to disgorge $12,250 in attorneys fees, but he failed to do so.

In aggravation, Powell engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing, harming his client and the administration of justice. In mitigation, Powell had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1979. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Padrik S. Ryan, State Bar #256997, Coarsegold (April 11, 2014). Ryan, 39, was disbarred following his conviction for importing marijuana, an act involving moral turpitude. In addition, Ryan failed to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In September 2012 Ryan drove his truck from Mexico into the United States through the San Ysidro port of entry. A narcotics-detecting dog alerted Border Patrol agents to his truck. Agents discovered 84.96 pounds of marijuana, with a wholesale value of at least $25,000, concealed in the truck’s gas tank. Ryan had knowledge of the illicit cargo, and knowingly entered the country with it for commercial purposes.

At the time of his arrest, there was an outstanding bench warrant for Ryan’s arrest in California on charges of felony hit-and-run and resisting arrest. Ultimately, he was convicted of violating of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and 960 for the importation of marijuana.

In February 2013 Ryan was sentenced to ten months in prison. That same month the State Bar Court issued an order suspending Ryan from the practice of law pending final disposition of his criminal case. He was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court, but he failed to do so.

In aggravation, Ryan had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, Ryan cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.

Martin B. Snyder, State Bar #78253, Los Angeles (April 11, 2014). Snyder, 63, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He was charged with failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Snyder had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Paul E. St. Amant, State Bar #236141, Menifee (April 11, 2014). St. Amant, 42, was disbarred for permitting nonattorneys to use his name and State Bar number to operate a purportedly lawful business, sharing legal fees with a nonattorney, aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, improperly soliciting a prospective client, collecting advance fees for loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1), failing to deposit funds in a client trust account, misappropriating funds, failing to competently perform legal services, failing to inform a client of significant developments, failing to render appropriate accounts, failing to refund unearned fees, and committing acts involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In 2010 nonattorney Ruben Vargas registered Consumer Legal Centers, A Professional Law Corporation, with the California secretary of state. However, CLC was not and has never been a professional law corporation registered pursuant to the laws of California and the State Bar Act or to relevant state regulations. CLC was managed and owned by Vargas and other nonattorney employees.

In 2011 St. Amant entered into a contract with Vargas on behalf of CLC in which he agreed to a monthly payment of $5,000, provided that he worked a minimum of 20 hours per month on CLC legal matters. Afterward, St. Amant held himself out as the managing attorney and/or owner of CLC. CLC nonattorney employees also informed the public and their clients that St. Amant was the attorney handling all legal matters when in fact he did not. As a result, St. Amant misled several clients and shared fees he received from those clients with nonattorney CLC employees. St. Amant also allowed CLC’s nonattorney employees to provide legal services, with scant supervision, to clients St. Amant obtained through CLC. He repeatedly failed to competently perform legal services, provided false accounting, misappropriated $37,500, and failed to refund more than $88,000 to clients.

In aggravation, St. Amant’s misconduct caused significant harm to his clients. Also, he engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing, involving 30 counts of misconduct. In mitigation, St. Amant had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2005. Also, he agreed to enter into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Roger D. Stacy, State Bar #208500, San Diego (April 11, 2014). Stacy, 44, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Stacy was charged with failing to competently perform legal services, failing to return unearned fees, failing to communicate, failing to obey a court order, and misappropriating funds. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Stacy had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Diane M. Trzcinski, State Bar #78199, Los Angeles (April 29, 2014). Trzcinski, 68, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Trzcinski was charged with failing to cooperate in a State Bar investigation involving MCLE compliance, and failing to maintain a current membership records address. In its petition, the State Bar noted, among other things, that Trzcinski had not contacted the State Bar since the entry of default against her. Trzcinski also failed to respond to the petition for disbarment. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Jennifer M. Urquizu, State Bar #231134, Riverside (April 23, 2014). Urquizu, 37, was disbarred for failing to participate in a disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. Urquizu was charged with 16 counts of misconduct involving three client matters and a bankruptcy court matter. The charges included failing to competently perform legal services, failing to communicate, failing to pay client funds, failing to render appropriate accounts, failing to refund unearned fees, failing to release client files, failing to comply with the bankruptcy court’s disgorgement orders, and failing to cooperate with a State Bar investigation. In its petition for disbarment, the State Bar noted that Urquizu had a record of prior discipline. The order took effect May 23, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Hal E. Wright, State Bar #157814, Davis (April 23, 2014). Wright, 60, was disbarred for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to promptly notify a client of the receipt of funds, failing to render appropriate accounts, failing to refund unearned fees, and committing multiple acts of moral turpitude.

In September 2010 a client retained Wright in a personal injury matter against the Big Idea Theater in Sacramento. Without informing the client, Wright settled the claim through the theater’s insurance company for $40,000, even though the value of the case greatly exceeded that amount.

In April 2011 Wright forged the signatures of his client and his client’s wife on a release form he sent to the theater’s insurance company. Thereafter, Wright received two checks amounting to $40,000 from the insurance company. Wright again forged the signatures on these checks, deposited them in his client trust account, and then diverted the funds to another account for his own personal benefit. Furthermore, between September 2010 and January 2013 Wright made numerous false statements to the client regarding the personal injury case. Wright indicated that he had filed and was pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, but that was not true.

In May 2012 the client also hired Wright to obtain proceeds that were left to the Davis Musical Theater Company in a patron’s will. After receiving $15,500 from the trustee of the patron’s trust, Wright deposited the funds into his client trust account. He paid $3,000 to his client and then falsely told him that it was a payment from the insurance company in relation to the personal injury case. Wright never told his client that he received $15,500 from the trust, misappropriating $12,500 for his personal use.

In aggravation, Wright had a record of prior discipline. He engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. Also, he demonstrated indifference toward rectification of his misconduct by failing to return any of the funds. In mitigation, Wright cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 23, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.