MAGAZINE
California Lawyer

PROBATION

Michael K. Groves, State Bar #110645, Rancho Mirage (October 29, 2013). Michael King Groves, State Bar # 110645, Rancho Mirage (October 29). Groves, 61, was placed on one year of probation for accepting advance fees in loan-modification matters, a violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a).

In aggravation, Groves had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, Groves cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect November 28, 2013

Louis A. Liberty, State Bar #147975, Foster City (December 3, 2013). Liberty, 58, was placed on two years of probation for accepting advance fees in loan-modification matters, a violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a). He was ordered to pay $2,200 in restitution, plus interest.

In aggravation, Liberty failed to accept responsibility for his misconduct. In mitigation, Liberty had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1990. The order took effect January 2, 2014

Angela L. Morgan, State Bar #208585, San Ramon (October 29, 2013). Morgan, 41, was placed on one year of probation for collecting an illegal fee in a probate matter.

In mitigation, Morgan had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2000. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect November 28, 2013

Guillermo M. Suarez, State Bar #181893, East Los Angeles (December 9, 2013). Suarez, 63, was placed on one year of probation for aiding and abetting in the unauthorized practice of law.

Between September 2011 and October 2012 Suarez was an attorney for Inland Empire Immigration Service. The company hired nonattorneys to file immigration forms on behalf of customers. The nonattorneys also made strategic legal decisions, made recommendations to customers, and provided legal advice regarding the likelihood of success in obtaining immigration relief. Consequently, Inland Empire was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

Suarez’s main duty was to make appearances in immigration court for customers. Suarez also provided the nonattorneys support by conducting biweekly training on current developments in immigration law. Thus, he facilitated the unauthorized practice of law.

In aggravation, Suarez’s misconduct harmed the public and the administration of justice. In mitigation, Suarez 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 January 8, 2013

Eric V. Traut, State Bar #146644, Santa Ana (October 29, 2013). Traut, 48, was placed on one year of probation for accepting advance fees in loan-modification matters, a violation of Civil Code § 2944.7(a); failing to promptly disburse client funds; and failing to return unearned fees.

In aggravation, Traut committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed clients. In mitigation, Traut had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1990. Also, he cooperated with the investigation and presented evidence of his good character. The order took effect November 28, 2013

Joanna T. Vogel, State Bar #158495, Garden Grove (December 11, 2013). Vogel, 52, was placed on one year of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to promptly respond to reasonable status inquiries, and failing to render appropriate accounts.

In mitigation, Vogel had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1992. Also, she cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect January 10, 2014

Susan P. Widule, State Bar #166530, Alameda (November 13, 2013). Widule, 49, was placed on one year of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to refund unearned fees, failing to respond to reasonable status inquiries, failing to release client files, and failing to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation.

In aggravation, Widule committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, Widule had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1993. Also, she accepted responsibility for her misconduct and cooperated in resolving the matter. The order took effect December 13, 2013

Actions From Previous Issues

Richard D. Ackerman, State Bar #171900, Riverside (August 28, 2013). Ackerman, 44, was placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, and failing to promptly respond to reasonable status inquiries.

In aggravation, Ackerman engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused his client significant harm. In mitigation, Ackerman had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1994, and he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect September 27, 2013

This action originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.

Jessany E. Garrett, State Bar #241893, Sherman Oaks (August 14, 2013). Garrett, 33, was placed on two years of probation following her misdemeanor conviction for making criminal threats.

In October 2010 a man working for a car-repossession company attempted to take Garrett’s vehicle from her driveway. When the car’s alarm went off, Garrett ran outside and retrieved certain items from it, including a handgun. She held the gun while threatening the man, causing him to fear for his safety. He called 911 and the police arrived, but not before Garrett had returned her gun to the car. The Los Angeles district attorney charged Garrett with assault with a firearm and making criminal threats, both felonies.

In August 2012 Garrett pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of Penal Code § 422, making criminal threats. The court placed Garrett on two years of probation.

In aggravation, Garrett harmed an individual by placing him in fear for his safety. In mitigation, Garrett cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect September 13, 2013

This action originally appeared in our February 2014 issue.

Russell A. Greenman, State Bar #244064, Los Angeles (June 24, 2013). Greenman, 33, was placed on two years of probation for failing to keep his membership records current, holding himself out as an attorney when he was not entitled to practice law, and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

In February 2010 Greenman was required to report his compliance with Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements. Although he had completed the required number of MCLE hours, he failed to report his compliance at the time his membership fees were paid.

The following month Greenman terminated his employment with one law firm and began work on a contract basis for another. However, he failed to update his membership records address. As a result, he did not receive the State Bar’s correspondence regarding his noncompliance. Because he failed to reply to the State Bar’s letters and voicemail messages, the State Bar enrolled him as an inactive member who was ineligible to practice law as of September 2010. Greenman continued representing his clients even though he was not entitled to practice law. In late December 2010 a colleague informed Greenman that he was not entitled to practice law. He promptly contacted Member Services and took the necessary steps to return to active status. He remained ineligible to practice law until January 2011, when he submitted proof of his compliance with the MCLE requirements.

In aggravation, Greenman committed multiple acts of misconduct by failing to update his membership records and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law on at least two occasions. In mitigation, Greenman had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2006. His misconduct did not cause harm to his clients or the administration of justice, and he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect July 24, 2013

This action originally appeared in our November 2013 issue.

Gayle A. Gutekunst, State Bar #91826, San Francisco (September 25, 2013). Gutekunst, 62, was placed on two years of probation for failing to comply with conditions to a previous order of discipline.

In aggravation, Gutekunst had a record of prior discipline. In mitigation, Gutekunst cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect October 25, 2013

This action originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.

Victor S. Haltom, State Bar #155157, Sacramento (August 21, 2013). Haltom, 48, was placed on one year of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to inform a client of significant developments, failing to obey a court order, failing to maintain respect due the courts and judicial officers, improperly withdrawing from representation, failing to refund unearned fees, and committing acts involving moral turpitude.

In April 2005 Haltom was hired by the mother of a felon convicted of first-degree murder based on his participation as the getaway driver in an attempted robbery that led to a killing. The convict’s mother claimed someone else was the getaway driver. Haltom discussed the possibility of filing a habeas petition in the case, knowing he could not do so unless he found evidence that her son was innocent, and the deadlines for filing were approaching. The mother paid Haltom $12,500 for legal services.

Haltom reviewed the trial records and hired investigators. He later requested an additional $10,000 to pay further investigative fees. But it wasn’t until after the habeas petition deadlines had passed that Haltom received the two investigation reports: Both indicated that key testimony against the convicted felon was false.

Haltom continued to work on the case for several years, although he spent most of his time working on other matters. The mother contacted Haltom on many occasions, questioning why he had yet to file a habeas petition.

Eventually, she filed a State Bar complaint. Shortly thereafter, Haltom filed a state habeas petition, but it failed to meet any exceptions for the filing deadlines and was denied as untimely. Later, after disciplinary charges had been filed against Haltom, he refunded some of the fees he had been paid for the case. There was one other matter involving conduct warranting discipline.

In aggravation, Haltom committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused significant harm to his clients. He also obtained compensation from a person other than his client without obtaining his client’s informed consent. In mitigation, Haltom had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1991. Also, he showed candor, cooperated with the investigation, and demonstrated sincere remorse for his wrongdoing. The order took effect September 20, 2013

This action originally appeared in our February 2014 issue.

James D. Ivey, State Bar #154832, Oakland (July 24, 2013). Ivey, 50, was placed on two years of probation for failing to competently perform legal services, failing to promptly respond to a client’s status inquiries, and failing to cooperate in a State Bar investigation. In July 2011 a client hired Ivey to prepare and prosecute a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Ivey filed the patent application with the PTO in September 2011 but failed to perform any additional work on the matter. Later that month the PTO asked Ivey for missing portions of the application, giving him two months to file the additional items. Although Ivey received the notice, he failed to respond or to tell the client about it. As a result, in November 2011 the PTO deemed the application to be abandoned.

After the client received no response to emails asking Ivey for a status update, he filed a complaint with the State Bar. Ivey received an investigator’s letter regarding the complaint, but he did not provide a written response to the allegations.

In aggravation, Ivey committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed his client. In addition, he demonstrated indifference toward rectification of or atonement for his misconduct. In mitigation, Ivey had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1991, and he cooperated by entering into a stipulation. The order took effect August 23, 2013

This action originally appeared in our December 2013 issue.

Henry D. Nunez, State Bar #63412, Fresno (August 22, 2013). Nunez, 66, was placed on one year of probation for failing to competently perform legal services and failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant developments.

In September 2006 Nunez was hired to represent a trustee in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. The client hired Nunez as special counsel to pursue various claims on behalf of the bankruptcy estate, and the bankruptcy court approved the appointment.

In December 2009 Nunez became counsel of record on his client’s behalf in a matter before the Superior Court of Fresno County. Nunez thereafter failed to adequately respond to discovery requests in the matter. As a result, the court imposed discovery sanctions of $6,025 on his client. Nunez paid the sanctions, but he never informed his client about them.

In aggravation, Nunez engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused significant harm to his client. In mitigation, Nunez had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1974. Also, he cooperated by entering into a full stipulation. The order took effect September 20, 2013

This action originally appeared in our February 2014 issue.

Zachary B. Reber, State Bar #241534, Sacramento (October 29, 2012). Reber, 37, was placed on four years of probation for sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer, failing to competently perform legal services, and engaging in the practice of law while enrolled as inactive.

Reber was hired to perform legal work for My US Legal, a company owned in part by nonattorneys. Homeowners hired the company to file predatory-lender lawsuits, paying My US Legal advance fees in monthly installments. The company then hired contract attorneys, who were paid $250 a month per client to handle the lawsuits.

Prior to January 2010 Reber received $1,250 in contract attorney fees from My US Legal. However, he failed to competently perform legal services, failed to earn any portion of the fees, and failed to refund the fees.

From April through October 2010 My US Legal paid Reber a total of $21,000 to handle predatory-lender lawsuits. The amount constituted impermissible fee splitting with a nonattorney. Moreover, Reber failed to perform any work of value on behalf of the homeowners and did not earn the $21,000. In October 2010 the state Attorney General sued My US Legal, which later filed for bankruptcy.

In aggravation, Reber engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused significant harm to his clients. In mitigation, Reber had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2006. He cooperated in the disciplinary proceedings and displayed remorse for his misconduct. The order took effect October 28, 2013

This action originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.

Steven O. Sorensen, State Bar #270477, Yucaipa (September 25, 2013). Sorensen, 35, was placed on two years of probation for misconduct warranting discipline.

In February 2012 Sorensen was charged with violating Vehicle Code § 23152(a) and (b) (driving under the influence of alcohol), and § 20002 (hit and run), after police found him intoxicated and in possession of keys to a vehicle seen hitting a parked car and driving off. In July 2012 Sorensen pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, a misdemeanor.

In mitigation, Sorensen had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 2010, and he provided letters attesting to his good character. The order took effect October 25, 2013

This action originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.

Bridget L. Tracy, State Bar #171772, Huntington Beach (August 7, 2013). Tracy, 60, was placed on two years of probation for knowingly making a false report to the police, an act involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In September 2011 Tracy called 911 and falsely reported to police that a woman acquaintance was threatening to stab a male friend of hers at his home. When police responded, they discovered Tracy had made a false report, and that she harbored ill feelings toward the woman because she considered her a romantic rival. Later, Tracy told the police and the State Bar that she made the false report because she was angry. Tracy also admitted that making the call was in bad judgment, and that she did so after consuming an excessive amount of alcohol.

In aggravation, Tracy harmed the administration of justice by making a false police report that required a criminal investigation. In mitigation, Tracy had no record of prior discipline since being admitted to the State Bar in 1994. She admitted her misconduct and expressed remorse for her wrongdoing. Also, in April 2012 she voluntarily entered into the Lawyer Assistance Program to address her alcoholism. The order took effect September 6, 2013

This action originally appeared in our January 2014 issue.