MAGAZINE
California Lawyer

SUSPENSION

Romel Ambarchyan, State Bar #245216, Glendale (June 9, 2014). Ambarchyan, 33, was suspended for 120 days and placed on two years of probation for holding himself out as entitled to practice law in two states where he was not licensed, and collecting advance fees for loan-modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1).

Between January 2010 and June 2011 Ambarchyan committed seven acts of misconduct in five client matters. In two of the matters, Ambarchyan was hired for the purpose of obtaining home loan modifications on his clients’ out-of-state residences, one in North Carolina and one in Washington; Ambarchyan was not licensed to practice law in either state. In the three other matters, Ambarchyan was hired to perform legal services relating to obtaining mortgage loan modifications on his clients’ homes. In all of the five matters he was paid fees prior to performing all of the services he had agreed to perform. However, in all five matters, Ambarchyan provided refunds to his clients.

In aggravation, Ambarchyan had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. In mitigation, Ambarchyan showed evidence of good character through three references, and he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 9, 2014

Bita M. Azimi, State Bar #140519, Calabasas (June 26, 2014). Azimi, 50, was suspended for 30 days and placed on one year of probation for reporting to the State Bar that she was in compliance with her Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements when she knew that she was not, an act involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Azimi had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1989. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Mario E. Diaz, State Bar #76235, Los Angeles (June 9, 2014). Diaz, 62, was suspended for two years and placed on three years of probation for failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, and committing an act of moral turpitude.

In 2000 Diaz was hired by a client to pursue a personal injury and wrongful death action in connection with an automobile accident. Prior to filing a lawsuit, Diaz settled with the driver’s insurance carrier for $30,000, at the policy limits, obtaining $20,000 on behalf of his client for the deaths of two of her children and $10,000 for her surviving child’s injuries. After receiving $20,000 from the insurer Diaz deducted his fee of $6,600 and kept the remainder as an advance against costs in pursuing other defendants. The insurer informed Diaz that it would release the additional $10,000 to the surviving child upon proof of court approval of the minor’s compromise. However, the insurer’s letter was misfiled and Diaz did not learn of the mistake until eleven years later, when he reviewed his files in response to a State Bar investigation in October 2011.

In 2001 Diaz had filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against the State of California (CalTrans), the city and county of Merced, and the sanitation truck driver on behalf of his clients and their survivors. In 2005 Diaz reached a $130,000 settlement with CalTrans on behalf of all five plaintiffs. The city settled for $25,000, allocated specifically to the client’s surviving child. That same year Diaz filed a petition for court approval of the minor’s compromise, but Diaz failed to include the $10,000 from the prior settlement in 2000. With respect to the $130,000 CalTrans settlement, Diaz deposited the funds in his client trust account in January 2006. After deducting his costs and fees, he was required to maintain $42,470 on the plaintiffs’ behalf. However, within two weeks the balance had fallen to $36,663, and it continued to dip. During this time Diaz relied on his brother, who had been his office administrator for approximately 25 years, to handle his finances. Ultimately, Diaz paid all of the sums owed to his clients. In July 2011 Diaz’s client filed a complaint with the State Bar. In July 2012 the State Bar filed a four-count notice of disciplinary charges against Diaz, alleging failure to competently perform legal services, failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating client funds, and failing to promptly pay client funds. The hearing judge found Diaz culpable of failing to maintain client funds in trust and misappropriating client funds through gross negligence, but dismissed the other two charges. The State Bar appealed, arguing that Diaz was culpable of all four counts of misconduct. However, the hearing judge’s findings were upheld.

In aggravation, Diaz committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. Also, the court found that the uncharged misconduct of prolonged inaction in obtaining Diaz’s clients’ consent to the allocation of settlement funds, and his failure to provide them with an accounting, was an aggravating factor. In mitigation, Diaz had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1977. Also, he provided evidence of his good character, and he exhibited remorse for his misconduct. The order took effect July 9, 2014

Sean Donrad, State Bar #242665, Oakland (June 16, 2014). Donrad, 46, was suspended for six months and placed on three years of probation for holding himself out as entitled to practice law when he was not an active member of the State Bar, charging and collecting illegal fees, failing to return unearned fees, failing to inform a client of significant developments, failing to competently perform legal services, and failing to cooperate and participate in a disciplinary investigation.

In aggravation, Donrad had a record of prior discipline. In addition, his conduct involved multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. In mitigation, Donrad cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Ellen H. Ellison, State Bar #141429, Los Angeles (June 9, 2014). Ellison, 68, was suspended for 90 days and placed on three years of probation for failing to promptly disburse funds from a client trust account, and improperly withdrawing funds that were in dispute from the account.

In aggravation, Ellison had a record of prior discipline, and her misconduct of withholding settlement funds for three years caused her client serious financial harm.. In mitigation, Ellison cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 9, 2014

Frank Epstein, State Bar #97325, South Orange (June 9, 2014). Epstein, 70, was suspended for 90 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In August 2011 the State Bar Court imposed a public reproval with conditions requiring Epstein to submit written quarterly reports, participate and comply with the Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP), have the LAP submit written quarterly reports, attend LAP group meetings each week, and provide proof of passage of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). However, Epstein failed to timely submit two of the quarterly reports, failed to submit a final report, failed to have the LAP timely submit quarterly reports, and failed to provide proof of passage of the MPRE.

In aggravation, Epstein had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Epstein cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Jens Hoekendijk, State Bar #161001, Burlingame (June 26, 2014). Hoekendijk, 50, was suspended for 30 days and placed on one year of probation for reporting to the State Bar that he was in compliance with MCLE requirements when he knew that he was not, an act involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Hoekendijk had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1992. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Yeznik O. Kazandjian, State Bar #191917, Glendale (June 26, 2014). Kazandjian, 56, was suspended for 90 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to maintain client funds in trust and misappropriating funds, an act involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Kazandjian had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the Sate Bar in 1997. Also, although he mishandled his client’s funds, he repaid his client almost immediately. He also took corrective measures to prevent any future problems with his client trust account or client funds. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Kenneth J. Kleinberg, State Bar #110732, Irvine (June 26, 2014). Kleinberg, 63, was suspended for one year and placed on three years of probation for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In November 2008 the California Supreme Court ordered that Kleinberg receive a two-year stayed suspension and be placed on five years of probation. Among other requirements, he was ordered to submit written quarterly reports to the Office of Probation stating that he was in compliance with the State Bar Act, the Rules of Professional Conduct, and all of his probation conditions during the preceding quarter. Kleinberg failed to timely file reports due in October 2011, July 2012, and April and October 2013. Also, he failed to pay $80,381 in restitution to four governmental agencies, and his request to be relieved of the requirement based on an inability to pay was denied.

In aggravation, Kleinberg had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, during the period of his misconduct Kleinberg experienced severe financial difficulties. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Steven M. Klugman, State Bar #53902, Torrance (June 12, 2014). Klugman, 67, had his probation revoked and was suspended for 30 days and placed on three years of probation for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In 2010 Klugman was placed on probation for four years and required to comply with certain conditions. However, he failed to timely file reports with the Office of Probation; failed to timely report his possession of client funds, property, or securities; and failed to timely make restitution payments.

In aggravation, Klugman had a record of prior discipline, and he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, during the period of misconduct, Klugman experienced a number of health problems. The order took effect July 12, 2014

Theodore S. Lee, State Bar #191848, Los Angeles (June 5, 2014). Lee, 42, was suspended for one year and placed on three years of probation for committing 32 counts of misconduct, including failing to competently perform legal services, failing to promptly notify a client of the receipt of settlement funds, failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, and failing to provide appropriate accounts.

In 2007 Lee entered into an agreement with an advertising company under which he purchased a number of accounts to receive referrals. At one point Lee had twelve accounts, which resulted in him handling about 60 to 100 clients per month. Lee failed to properly handle the financial accounting of his firm, and he displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of his obligations regarding his client trust account.

In a number of client matters that Lee handled from March 2011 through August 2012, his firm deposited settlement funds into his client trust account and then immediately issued checks drawn against them—which resulted in the disbursements clearing before the client’s settlement check had cleared. Thus, Lee repeatedly issued checks drawn upon his client trust account when he knew or should have known there were insufficient funds.

In aggravation, Lee committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed one client. In mitigation, he had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1997. Also, Lee cooperated by entering into a stipulation, attending Client Trust Accounting School, and modifying his office procedures. The order took effect July 5, 2014

Louis A. Liberty, State Bar #147975, Foster City (June 11, 2014). Liberty, 58, was suspended for six months and placed on two years of probation for collecting advance fees in loan-modification matters in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1), obtaining liens on his loan modification fee agreements, and failing to promptly refund unearned fees.

Liberty collected advance fees from eight different clients in connection with loan mortgage modification services.

In aggravation, Liberty had a record of prior discipline that also concerns loan-modification services, resolution of which is currently awaiting approval by the California Supreme Court. In addition, Liberty committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. In mitigation, Liberty cooperated with the State Bar by entering into stipulation, and he took remedial measures. The order took effect July 11, 2014

Edward Medina, State Bar #204880, San Diego (June 9, 2014). Medina, 40, was suspended for 90 days and placed on one year of probation for falsely reporting to the State Bar that he was in compliance with MCLE requirements, an act involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Medina lacked candor during a State Bar investigation of his MCLE compliance. In mitigation, Medina had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1999, and he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 9, 2014

Elizabeth A. Mello, State Bar #244401, Coyote (June 26, 2014). Mello, 35, was suspended for 30 days and placed on one year of probation for reporting that she was in compliance with MCLE requirements when she knew she was not, an act involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Mello had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2006. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Michelle A. Perfili, State Bar #107580, Lakeside (June 26, 2014). Perfili, 57, was suspended for six months and placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to promptly respond to reasonable status inquiries, failing to return client files and papers, failing to promptly refund advance fees that were not earned, failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline, and failing to cooperate and participate in a disciplinary investigation.

In aggravation, Perfili had a record of prior discipline, and she committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Perfili cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Robert Roman, State Bar #93369, Chino Hills (June 26, 2014). Roman, 62, was suspended for two years and placed on three years of probation for failing to maintain client funds in trust, misappropriating funds, and failing to cooperate in a State Bar disciplinary investigation.

In aggravation, Roman had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, he recognized his wrongdoing and cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. Also, during the period of misconduct he was suffering from depression. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Verne C. Scholl, State Bar #48634, Carlsbad (June 26, 2014). Scholl, 72, was suspended for one year and until he pays restitution and placed on two years of probation for collecting advance fees for loan-modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1), practicing law in a state where he was not licensed, and charging and collecting illegal fees in a state where he was not licensed. Scholl committed 21 acts of misconduct in 13 separate matters relating to home-loan modification legal services. He engaged in misconduct in California, and in Michigan, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Florida, Indiana, Nevada and Arizona, where he was not licensed to practice.

In aggravation, Scholl had a record of prior discipline. He committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients, who were in financial distress. In mitigation, Scholl cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Donald C. Schwartz, State Bar #122476, Aptos (June 11, 2014). Schwartz, 60, was suspended for six months and placed on three years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to promptly return a client’s file, and a misdemeanor conviction of carrying a concealed handgun—loaded with six live rounds—in his car. In the latter incident, Schwartz had argued with his wife while in the car. The volatile situation caused his wife to flee the vehicle to a public place and call the police. The hearing judge found that such dangerous misconduct evidenced a “profound lack of respect for the law and for the safety of the public.”

In aggravation, Schwartz had a record of prior discipline, he displayed a lack of insight into his wrongdoing. In mitigation, Schwartz presented evidence of his good character. The order took effect July 11, 2014

John Vargas, State Bar #270181, Riverside (June 26, 2014). Vargas, 45, was suspended for 60 days and placed on two years of probation for violating a court order, failing to competently perform legal services, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to cooperate with a State Bar investigation.

In aggravation, Vargas committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed his clients. His lack of cooperation with one client was also an aggravating factor. In mitigation, Vargas exhibited sincere remorse for his wrongdoing. During the period of misconduct, he was experiencing financial difficulties that also affected his marriage. The order took effect July 26, 2014

Keith S. Walker, State Bar #73047, Claremont (June 5, 2014). Walker, 62, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to provide a client with significant documents, failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to render appropriate accounts, and failing to cooperate with a State Bar investigation.

In aggravation, Walker had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. In mitigation, during the period of his misconduct Walker experienced emotional difficulties. The order took effect July 5, 2014

Nia L. Woolliscroft, State Bar #262916, Campbell (June 3, 2014). Woolliscroft, 32, was suspended for six months and placed on three years of probation for sharing a legal fee with a nonattorney, failing to deposit client funds in trust, and failing to render appropriate accounts.

US Loan Auditors, US Loan Auditors Inc., and My US Legal Services (collectively, USLS) were companies partly owned by nonattorneys. Homeowners hired USLS to file predatory-lender lawsuits, and they paid advance legal fees in monthly installments. USLS then hired contract attorneys to handle the lawsuits and paid them attorney fees of $250 per month, per client. The money from the monthly installments the homeowners paid to USLS.

From March 2010 to September 2010 USLS hired Woolliscroft as a contract attorney to handle predatory-lender lawsuits. During that period Woolliscroft received about $88,250 in fees, which constituted impermissible fee sharing with a nonattorney. In October 2010 USLS ceased operating after the Attorney General of California filed a civil lawsuit. In aggravation, Woolliscroft committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. Moreover, she failed to deposit client funds in a trust account and failed to account for fees and costs. In mitigation, Woolliscroft cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 3, 2014

Actions From Previous Issues

Rayda Cabanillas-Alas, State Bar #140394, Burbank (April 29, 2014). Cabanillas-Alas, 62, was suspended for six months and placed on two years of probation for aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, forming a partnership with a nonlawyer, sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer, failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to competently perform legal services, failing to respond to reasonable status inquiries, and failing to promptly refund unearned fees.

In July 2010 Cabanillas-Alas formed a partnership with La Firma Inc., a California corporation operated by a nonattorney. Cabanillas-Alas was the only attorney employed by La Firma and was to provide legal services to its clients in the areas of bankruptcy and immigration law. Cabanillas-Alas and the owners agreed to equally divide legal fees received from clients.

Between July 2010 and April 2013 Cabanillas-Alas performed legal services in accordance with the partnership agreement. During the partnership, nonattorneys gave legal advice to clients to make strategic legal decisions and reported directly to La Firma’s owners, rather than to Cabanillas-Alas. Clients also paid advance legal fees and costs to the partnership for the preparation and filing of Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions. Cabanillas-Alas failed to segregate the advance costs from the total fees, and she did not place the costs into a client trust account. Furthermore, in two cases petitions were not filed with the bankruptcy court. Although clients left messages for Cabanillas-Alas with La Firma’s staff, she did not respond. She failed to file petitions for 30 clients and failed to refund unearned fees.

In aggravation, Cabanillas-Alas engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed her clients. In mitigation, Cabanillas-Alas had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1989. Also, she demonstrated candor by admitting to misconduct outside of the investigation’s scope. In February 2013 Cabanillas-Alas discovered that 40 bankruptcy petitions had not been filed because the principal of La Firma converted the funds to his personal use. She reported the theft to the police, hired a paralegal to help her file the petitions, and used her personal funds to pay filing fees for eleven of the petitions. She contacted the remaining clients and offered to return their files. In addition, Cabanillas-Alas cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Oscar A. DeChavez, State Bar #108605, Chula Vista (April 18, 2014). Oscar Arturo Ruiz DECHAVEZ, State Bar # 108605, Chula Vista (April 18). DeChavez, 66, was suspended for one year and had his probation revoked for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In aggravation, DeChavez had a record of prior discipline. In addition, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and demonstrated indifference toward rectification of or atonement for his misconduct. The order took effect May 18, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Jonathan G. Gabriel, State Bar #140381, Encino (April 29, 2014). Gabriel, 52, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation for seeking to mislead a judge and failing to report a judgment against him within 30 days.

In aggravation, Gabriel engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Gabriel had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1989. Also, he demonstrated good character and cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Gaspar R. Garcia, II, State Bar #215762, Sacramento (April 11, 2014). Garcia, 40, was suspended for two years and placed on three years of probation for repeatedly failing to competently perform legal services, failing to keep a client reasonably informed, and failing to cooperate in a disciplinary investigation.

In June 2009 a client retained Garcia for representation in a lawsuit against her employer, the California Department of General Services (CDGS) and James Martin. Garcia substituted into the case, which was already pending.

In December 2010 Garcia obtained leave from the court to file a Third Amended Complaint (TAC) by a certain deadline. Garcia did so, but the TAC was deficient because it failed to name Martin as a defendant and also failed to comply with filing requirements. As a result, CDGS filed a motion to strike the TAC. Garcia did not file an opposition to the motion to strike. Instead, he sought leave to file a Fourth Amended Complaint, which the court eventually dropped for lack of jurisdiction.

Ultimately, the court granted CDGS’s motion to strike the TAC. CDGS then filed a motion for dismissal, which Garcia did not oppose. The court granted the motion and dismissed CDGS from the case with prejudice.

In May 2011 Martin filed a motion to dismiss himself from the case. Garcia failed to file an opposition, and the following month the court granted Martin’s motion. Consequently, the court entered judgment in favor of CDGS in the underlying lawsuit. Garcia never informed his client that the TAC had been stricken, that the case was dismissed and Martin was dismissed, or that a judgment had been entered against her in the underlying lawsuit. In aggravation, Garcia had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused his client significant harm, and he failed to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation. In mitigation, Garcia cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Steve S. Gohari, State Bar #189339, Los Angeles (April 11, 2014). Gohari, 52, was suspended for 30 days and was placed on two years of probation for repeatedly failing to competently perform legal services. In February 2012 a client met with nonattorney Edison Castro about filing a civil complaint against his mortgage lender. Castro was the owner of a company called BKLAW4U, which provided paralegal services to Gohari on a regular basis. The client paid Castro $4,000 in advance fees.

In March 2012 Gohari filed a complaint on behalf of the client, and later that month Castro sent the client a fee agreement with Gohari’s law firm. The client signed the agreement. Later, Gohari filed an ex parte motion for a temporary restraining order on behalf of the client, which was denied. Eventually Gohari also filed a request to dismiss the underlying lawsuit, which was granted.

At all relevant times during his representation of BKLAW4U client, Gohari employed Castro for paralegal services. But Gohari failed to properly supervise Castro, who exceeded his client-intake duties by accepting the client for representation, assessing the case, collecting legal fees, and providing the client legal advice. Gohari severed all ties with Castro in August 2013.

In mitigation, Gohari had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1997. Also, he agreed to enter into a stipulation and presented evidence of good moral character. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

John E. Hayes, State Bar #144189, San Luis Obispo (April 29, 2014). Hayes, 52, was suspended for 60 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services.

In aggravation, Hayes had a record of prior discipline. Also, his misconduct caused significant harm to his client. In mitigation, Hayes cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation, and he demonstrated good character. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Lyndsey M. Heller, State Bar #188234, Encinitas (April 11, 2014). Heller, 50, was suspended for 60 days and placed on two years of probation for committing seven acts of professional misconduct in four client matters in California and one in New York.

Between May 2010 and December 2011 Heller was paid advance attorneys fees in the California matters to perform residential loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944(a)(1). Heller failed to obtain a loan modification that was acceptable to her clients. Furthermore, in two of these matters Heller was hired to file lawsuits against the clients’ lenders. In one of these, Heller failed to file an opposition to a demurrer and filed a substitution of attorney, substituting in the client to represent herself ten days prior to the hearing on the demurrer. The court then sustained the demurrer. In the other, Heller also failed to file an opposition to a demurrer and failed to appear at a hearing on the demurrer, resulting in the court sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend.

In a fifth client matter, Heller was hired by a resident of New York to perform loan modification services relating to a home in that state. However, Heller was not admitted to practice law in New York.

Heller failed to refund any of the legal fees paid to her in the five client matters.

In aggravation, Heller engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Heller had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1997. In addition, during the period of misconduct, Heller suffered extreme physical and emotional difficulties. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Dawn M. Hunter, State Bar #177153, Newell, IA (April 11, 2014). Hunter, 51, was suspended for 90 days and placed on two years of probation for holding herself out as entitled to practice law while suspended, collecting an illegal fee, failing to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation, and committing acts involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In May 2011 a client hired Hunter, paying her $1,000 in advance fees for a lawsuit pending in the superior court. Two days later Hunter was served a California Supreme Court order, effective July 2011, suspending her from practice for failure to pay State Bar membership fees. Hunter did not inform her client about the suspension and accepted $4,146 in legal fees from him while she was suspended. Also, Hunter sent her client several emails regarding issues connected with the lawsuit. When the client discovered her status, he filed a complaint with the State Bar. Hunter did not respond to letters sent by a State Bar investigator.

In aggravation, Hunter engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed her client. Also, she failed to show any remorse for her misconduct. In mitigation, Hunter had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1995. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Nathan N. Jardine, State Bar #158502, Farmington, UT (April 23, 2014). Jardine, 53, was suspended for 18 months and placed on two years of probation following disciplinary action in Utah for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to adequately communicate with a client, failing to refund unearned fees, and failing to promptly return a client file.

In August 2000 Jardine, who is admitted to practice in the State of Utah, was hired by a client to represent him in a civil rights action against the Utah Highway Patrol. In May 2002 Jardine filed a complaint, but he failed to serve it within the allotted time frame.

In April 2004 he had the original complaint dismissed and filed a second complaint. However, he failed to serve the correct Utah Highway Patrol officer. After neither party appeared at a hearing on an order to show cause, the complaint was dismissed again in June 2006.

Although Jardine refiled the complaint, the client complained to the Utah State Bar and discharged him. Throughout his six years of representing the client, Jardine had seldom communicated with the client.

There were also two other matters warranting discipline in Utah. In aggravation, Jardine had a record of prior discipline in Utah that he failed to report to the State Bar of California. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed his clients. In mitigation, Jardine cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 23, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Charles T. Marshall, State Bar #176091, San Diego (June 3, 2014). Marshall, 55, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, collecting advance fees in loan-modification matters in violation of Civil Code section 2944.7(a)(1), and failing to promptly refund unearned fees.

In aggravation, Marshall had a record of prior discipline. He committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients. In mitigation, Marshall cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 3, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

John E. Moran, State Bar #94179, Thousand Oaks (April 29, 2014). Moran, 66, was suspended for 30 days and placed on one year of probation for falsely stating to the State Bar that he was in compliance with the minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirements, an act involving moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Moran had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1980. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Paul C. Nguyen, State Bar #204713, Huntington Beach (May 13, 2014). Nguyen, 43, was suspended for two years and placed on three years of probation and until he shows proof of rehabilitation, fitness to practice law, and pays restitution. He committed 22 acts of misconduct by collecting advance fees in loan-modification matters in violation of Civil Code section 2944.7(a)(1).

In aggravation, Nguyen committed multiple acts of misconduct that caused significant harm to his clients. In mitigation, Nguyen had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1999. Also, he cooperated by agreeing to enter a stipulation. The order took effect June 12, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Rene C. Nunez, State Bar #226171, San Gabriel (April 18, 2014). Nunez, 42, had his probation revoked and was suspended for one year for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline. He was charged with failing to provide the Office of Probation with proof that he attended and passed the State Bar’s Ethics School, as well as failing to provide satisfactory proof of full payment of restitution. In aggravation, Nunez had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. The order took effect May 18, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.
Gene E. O'Brien, State Bar #99524, Palm Desert (May 13, 2014). O’Brien, 63, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to communicate, failing to refund unearned fees, and failing to render appropriate accounts.

In aggravation, O’Brien’s misconduct caused significant harm to his client. Also, he demonstrated indifference toward his client’s interests. In mitigation, O’Brien had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1981. Also, during the period of his misconduct O’Brien experienced severe emotional difficulties. The order took effect June 12, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Anthony J. Partipilo, State Bar #55991, Simi Valley (April 29, 2014). Partipilo, 67, was suspended for 90 days and placed on three years of probation for maintaining a website with misleading advertising, accepting fees from a nonclient, failing to render appropriate accounts, and failing to maintain client funds in trust. He was found culpable of 6 of 19 counts of misconduct in three client matters.

In aggravation, Partipilo engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Partipilo had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1973. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

James A. Reichle, State Bar #45807, Greenville (June 3, 2014). Reichle, 70, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation following his conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol with a prior DUI conviction. The facts and circumstances surrounding Reichle’s conviction warranted discipline, even though they did not involve moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Reichle had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, Reichle cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 3, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Mark B. Repogle, State Bar #151200, Apache Junction, AZ (April 29, 2014). Replogle, 55, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation and until he pays restitution. Replogle was disciplined for practicing in the states of South Carolina and Minnesota, where he was not licensed to practice law, and for collecting advance fees in loan-modification matters in violation of Civil Code section 2944.7(a)(1).

In aggravation, Replogle’s misconduct caused significant harm to his clients. Also, he committed multiple actions of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Replogle had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1990. In addition, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 29, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Michael A. Rivera, State Bar #136931, Downey (April 11, 2014). Rivera, 49, was suspended for 60 days and placed on two years of probation for filing an unjust legal action, failing to obey a court order, and failing to report judicial sanctions against him to the State Bar within 30 days.

In aggravation, Rivera had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in a single client matter. In mitigation, Rivera provided six letters from people attesting to his good character, and he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

John S. Sargetis, State Bar #80630, Roseville (April 11, 2014). Sargetis, 63, was suspended for six months and placed on two years of probation for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in another jurisdiction, collecting an illegal fee for loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1), failing to disclose to an out-of-state client that he was only licensed to practice law in California, improperly limiting his liability to a client in a fee agreement, failing to avoid representation of an adverse interest by obtaining the client’s informed written consent, and committing acts involving moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Sargetis had a record of prior discipline. The misconduct occurred just months after Sargetis had entered an Agreement in Lieu of Discipline, and while he was under State Bar supervision. Also, Sargetis committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused harm to a client and to the administration of justice. In mitigation, Sargetis cooperated with the State Bar during its investigation and proceedings. In addition, Sargetis displayed remorse for his conduct and made changes to his practice to avoid further misconduct. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Alan M. Schnitzer, State Bar #129024, Los Alamitos (April 11, 2014). Schnitzer, 54, was suspended for eight months and placed on three years of probation for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law while he was involuntarily enrolled as an inactive member of the State Bar.

In aggravation, Schnitzer had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, during the time of his misconduct Schnitzer was suffering from a serious illness, as well as associated extreme physical and emotional difficulties. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

David R. Schwarcz, State Bar #152896, Los Angeles (April 11, 2014). Schwarcz, 50, was suspended for 60 days and placed on two years of probation for knowingly entering into a business transaction with clients without fully disclosing potential conflicts of interest in writing in a manner the clients could reasonably understand, as well as failing to advise clients in writing that they may seek the advice of an independent lawyer.

In aggravation, Schwarcz engaged in a pattern of misconduct that harmed his clients, and he failed to pay $65,000 due them as part of one transaction. In mitigation, Schwarcz had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1991. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation and presented evidence of his good character. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Aalok Sikand, State Bar #248165, Oxnard (April 11, 2014). Sikand, 33, was suspended for six months and placed on two years of probation for practicing law in Virginia and New York when he was not licensed to practice in those states, collecting an advance fee for loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1), aiding and abetting in the unauthorized practice of law, and sharing legal fees with nonattorneys.

From June 2012 through October 2012 Sikand aided nonattorneys operating under the name Financial Research Group (FRG) in signing up loan modification clients for his law firm, Silver Law Center. In May 2012 a client received FRG’s mailer offering legal services related to mortgage loan modifications at her home in Virginia. She contacted FRG, which informed her that Sikand’s law firm could represent and assist her in the matter. The client paid the $2,995 retainer fee, and Sikand thereafter submitted a loan modification request on her behalf. The same scenario unfolded in New York, where a client paid Sikand $3,995 in fees related to loan modification services. However, Sikand was not licensed to practice law in either Virginia or New York. From June 2012 through October 2012 Sikand allowed FRG’s nonattorney employees to provide legal advice and to prepare loan modification requests without supervision. He also shared the fees he received with FRG’s nonattorney principals.

In aggravation, Sikand’s misconduct financially harmed his clients. Also, he engaged in a pattern of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Sikand cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Jason A. Smith, State Bar #237584, Mission Viejo (April 11, 2014). Smith, 40, was suspended for two years and placed on three years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services in eleven client matters, failing to promptly respond to reasonable status inquiries in ten client matters, collecting advance fees for loan modification services in violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a)(1) in six client matters, failing to refund unearned fees in six client matters, and failing to return a client file.

Between March 2010 and the first half of 2013, Smith committed misconduct in 17 client matters.

In aggravation, Smith had a record of prior discipline. Also, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, during the period of his misconduct Smith suffered extreme emotional difficulties and family problems. Also, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Cynthia L. Spalding, State Bar #170899, Rancho Cucamonga (April 11, 2014). Spalding, 60, was suspended for 90 days and placed on three years of probation for failing to respond to multiple status inquiries, practicing law while under suspension, and failing to cooperate with a State Bar investigation.

In March 2010 a husband and wife hired Spalding to provide legal services in a bankruptcy matter. Between September 2010 and September 2012 the clients called Spalding approximately 20 times requesting status updates, but she failed to respond. After the clients complained to the State Bar, Spalding failed to serve a written response to two letters from the State Bar investigator concerning the matter.

In a second matter, just two days after she was suspended from practice in September 2012 Spalding substituted in as the attorney of record for an applicant in a Workers Compensation Appeals Board case. In the following month she appeared in court for a defendant in a civil matter, and she permitted her law firm website to continue advertising her availability to practice as an attorney.

In aggravation, Spalding had a record of prior discipline. Also, she committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Spalding cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 11, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

David Yu-Kai Tang, State Bar #182357, Westminster (June 3, 2014). Tang, 55, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation for accepting compensation to represent a client from a person other than the client, and for committing acts involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In January 2011 a client hired Maximum Resources Inc. (MRI) to obtain home mortgage loan modification–related services. The client agreed to pay $1,500 as a down payment and $1,000 in monthly payments. MRI was not a law office and was neither owned nor operated by an attorney. In March 2011 MRI hired Tang to file a bankruptcy petition on the client’s behalf in an effort to postpone a foreclosure sale of the client’s home. MRI paid Tang $700. Tang did not obtain the client’s informed written consent prior to accepting MRI’s payment to perform legal services on his behalf. However, Tang did obtain the client’s oral consent to work on his bankruptcy filing. Tang filed a bankruptcy petition on the client’s behalf, ultimately postponing the foreclosure sale of the client’s home and obtaining a dismissal of the client’s bankruptcy petition.

In August 2011 MRI hired Tang to file a second bankruptcy petition on the client’s behalf to prevent another foreclosure sale of the client’s home. MRI paid Tang $1,000. Although the client orally consented to Tang’s employment, Tang again failed to obtain his informed written consent. Tang filed a second bankruptcy petition on the client’s behalf, but he relied on inaccurate valuations that substantially undervalued the client’s business and its inventory. Furthermore, although Tang was told and knew that the valuations were speculative, he made no effort to ascertain the true value of the client’s business and inventory.

In aggravation, Tang’s misconduct constituted gross negligence and harmed the administration of justice. In mitigation, Tang had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1996. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 3, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Adrian H. Triminio, State Bar #192894, Fair Oaks (April 11, 2014). Triminio, 46, was suspended for six months and placed on three years of probation for practicing law while suspended, failing to competently perform legal services, failing to respond to reasonable status inquiries, and committing an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In June 2009 a client hired Triminio to amend her certification of naturalization. Triminio filed a petition to do so in district court the following November. From August 2010 to October 2010 the client called and emailed Triminio several times, seeking a status update. Triminio did not return any of her calls or emails. In September 2010 the district court had ordered Triminio to show cause as to why the court should not dismiss the case due to failure to prosecute, but Triminio failed to file a response. In November 2010 the client’s petition was dismissed due to lack of prosecution.

In a second matter, between May 2012 and May 2013, Triminio was suspended from the practice of law for failing to pay child support. His suspension continued after July 2013 for failure to pay State Bar membership fees. However, in August 2012 and in January 2013 Triminio filed motions on behalf of a friend in superior court and argued the motions orally in January 2013. He failed to inform the court or his friend that he was suspended from practice. The following month the court vacated the motions and continued the matter, causing a three-month delay in the case.

In aggravation, Triminio had a record of prior discipline. 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 November 2014 issue.

Jeffrey B. Yazel, State Bar #210057, Sacramento (April 23, 2014). Yazel, 49, was suspended for 90 days and placed on two years of probation for sharing a legal fee with a nonattorney, failing to deposit client funds in trust, and failing to render appropriate accounts.

Yazel was hired as a contract attorney by three entities named US Loan Auditors, US Loan Auditors Inc., and My US Legal Services. The companies hired him to work on predatory-lender lawsuits on behalf of homeowners. The homeowners would hire one of these three companies and paid the companies monthly advance attorneys fees. Then, from the funds paid by the homeowners, these companies paid Yazel $250 per month for each client he was hired to represent in the predatory-lender lawsuits.

From June 2010 through October 2010 Yazel was hired to represent 43 clients through these three companies and was paid $33,700 in fees. Yazel failed to refund any of these fees, which were impermissible fee splits with nonattorneys, to his clients.

In aggravation, Yazel committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Yazel had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2000. Also, he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 23, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.

Tanya C. Zerounian, State Bar #235207, Simi Valley (April 23, 2014). Zerounian, 37, was suspended for one year and placed on three years of probation for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In March 2013 the California Supreme Court filed an order requiring that Zerounian timely comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. She filed her declaration of compliance 39 days late, in June 2013.

In aggravation, Zerounian had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, she admitted wrongdoing and fully resolved the matter by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect May 23, 2014

This action originally appeared in our November 2014 issue.

Teri S. Zimon, State Bar #213023, Los Angeles (May 13, 2014). Zimon, 39, was suspended for 60 days and placed on two years of probation for failing to inform her client of another attorney’s malfeasance, to the client’s detriment, an act involving moral turpitude.

Zimon represented multiple business entities owned by her client, covering a variety of matters. In January 2010 Zimon learned that another attorney, who represented the client and his entities, was concurrently advising a creditor of those entities without disclosing the concurrent employment to the business owner or his entities. Zimon also learned that another attorney was colluding with the same creditor in the creditor’s strategy to force several of the business owner’s entities into involuntary bankruptcy proceedings. That attorney also had not disclosed those facts to the business owner or his entities. Despite her knowledge, Zimon did not disclose any of these facts to her client or any representative of his entities, constituting a violation of her common law fiduciary duty to her client.

On March 17, 2010, the creditor filed involuntary petitions against several of the business owner’s entities consistent with the creditor’s strategy and aided by the other attorney. Zimon represented the business owner in at least one of those proceedings. Consequently, Zimon’s failure to disclose the other attorney’s actions deprived the business owner and his entities of the opportunity to prepare a defense for the creditor’s strategy. Moreover, Zimon’s conduct also left the business owner and his other entities unaware of the other attorney’s betrayal.

In aggravation, Zimon’s misconduct significantly harmed her client. In mitigation, Zimon had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2001. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect June 12, 2014

This action originally appeared in our December 2014 issue.