May 1, 2019
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations, and public reprovals in California.
Gregory P. Allen
State Bar No. 98002, Arcata (March 17, 2019)
Allen was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding. While he had previously engaged in negotiations with the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar, he did not file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against him. After the default was entered, he filed a motion for relief, but did not appear at the status conference, and the motion was denied.
Allen was found culpable of violating several conditions attached to a public reproval order entered earlier, including failing to complete the requisite 10 hours of participatory continuing legal education classes and failing to timely submit a final written report to the Office of Probation.
Allen had one prior record of discipline at the time he was disbarred.
State Bar No. 166315, Redlands (March 28, 2019)
After multiple appeals, DeAuguilera was found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct, including: failing to maintain a client's funds in trust, failing to render an accounting of advanced fees, misappropriating a client's funds, and misrepresenting facts to that client.
Those matters arose from DeAguilera's representation of clients seeking to operate medical marijuana dispensaries. In one case, he was hired to create a mutual benefit nonprofit for a client and his partner to own and operate a dispensary. The fee agreement form was unclear about whether client payments were retainer or advanced fees, but a cover letter and some text in the agreement specified DeAguilera would bill for each phase of representation as it occurred. He accepted two payments totaling $6,000, then urged the client to bring $50,000 to purchase or lease property for the business for safekeeping.
He did not deposit the $50,000 check in his client trust account, but eventually used $27,400 of the funds to purchase a cashier's check to cover an initial lease for the intended business property. Though the client had repeatedly asserted that fees should be billed separately from the $50,000 holding, DeAguilera informed him he would use the remaining funds to cover a related lawsuit, motions, and appeals.
The client eventually demanded a refund of the remainder of the amount forwarded. DeAguilera responded with an inaccurate and misleading email accounting of the funds, and also falsely stated that he had filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. In fact, it was filed 10 days later.
Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found DeAguilera had spent the balance of the funds -$22,600- on legal fees or matters unrelated to the dispensary. The panel also found the funds were misappropriated willfully, not through mere gross negligence. Lastly, both arbiters also found DeAguilera intentionally mispresented both that he held the entire sum of $10,000, and that he had filed the complaint.
In the second matter, DeAguilera accepted fees under the same conflicting fee agreement for unspecified "corporate services" related to another dispensary. The client, who had ceased operations after a raid and criminal charge, hired a new attorney who sought an accounting and refund of fees. The accounting was eventually provided, more than a year later. DeAguilera maintained at trial that his fee agreement provided for a fixed retainer fee that was earned when paid, but on review, did not dispute that he willfully failed to provide a prompt accounting.
In aggravation, DeAguilera committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients, had been disciplined for professional misconduct twice in the past, demonstrated indifference to rectifying the consequences of his misconduct, and showed a lack of candor by submitting fabricated substantiating documents to the State Bar Court during the trial of his disciplinary case.
In mitigation, the panel allotted him "only the slightest weight" for good character evidence offered by people who were not well-acquainted with him.
Manuel Angel Gonzalez
State Bar No. 219130, San Diego (March 28, 2019)
Gonzalez was disbarred after the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar appealed the hearing judge's recommendation of a two year actual suspension after finding him culpable of 21 acts of professional misconduct related to five client matters.
He stipulated to being culpable of failing to file a timely declaration of compliance as ordered by the California Supreme Court in a previous disciplinary matter (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and to three counts of failing to cooperate in State Bar investigations of the misconduct alleged.
Additionally, he violated the law by practicing while he was suspended; failed to perform legal services with competence; failed to respond to clients' reasonable inquiries, improperly withdrew from employment; failed to provide clients with accountings of fees, and failed to refund unearned advanced fees. He was also culpable of three acts of misconduct involving moral turpitude: failing to inform a client he was not entitled to practice law and two counts of accepting advanced fees when he was suspended from practicing law.
The fact patterns in the client cases were substantially similar. In some, Gonzalez accepted fees from criminal and immigration clients, and provided legal services while he was suspended from practicing law, in others he accepted the fees but provided no services.
In aggravation, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his highly vulnerable clients, failed to make restitution, and had two prior records of discipline for similar misconduct.
In mitigation, he stipulated to some of his culpability.
In recommending disbarment, the panel noted it was the third disciplinary proceeding in eight years and underscored: "The similarity of Gonzalez's past misconduct to his present wrongdoing demonstrates that he is a recidivist offender."
Chance Edward Gordon
State Bar No. 198512, Fort Worth, Texas (March 22, 2019)
Gordon was disbarred following his appeal of a hearing judge's finding of six counts of professional misconduct and recommending disbarment. He was found culpable of: forming a partnership with a non-lawyer, false advertising, failing to comply with the law, and making false representations in marketing materials -- wrongdoing which involves moral turpitude, as well as two counts of sharing legal fees with a non-lawyer.
Gordon, who was licensed to practice law only in California, went into business with a non-lawyer to provide loan modification services. As the enterprise grew, it employed approximately 20 non-attorney processors and more than 20 sales marketing representatives -- collecting advance loan modification fees from about 2,300 clients in California and other states, and taking in $11.4 million in revenue. At the height of the operation, clients were churned through mailers sent out at a clip of 10,000 per week. Gordon shared the advanced fees collected with his non-attorney partner and paid the sales reps based on the amount of fees they collected.
The business was fashioned as a "Pre-Litigation Monetary Claims Program" in which borrowers would sign a "pro bono" agreement for loan modification services after buying into the program. The services provided were "custom legal products" constructed by processors who filled in templates Gordon had created. In fact, the documents were not always prepared, and when they were, it was usually after a loan modification application had been submitted.
Sales reps followed a script and assured potential clients that a law firm that found them "qualified under federal guidelines" would represent them in their loan modifications, as long as they purchased the services within 72 hours. At trial, Gordon testified that he created the program to circumvent the law proscribing loan modification practices, and that he repeatedly changed the name of the company to avoid detection by the Better Business Bureau.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau eventually sought an injunction, alleging Gordon "was engaged in an ongoing, unlawful mortgage relief scheme that preys on financially distressed homeowners nationwide by falsely promising a loan modification in exchange for an advance fee." The court granted the injunction and entered a judgment against Gordon for more than $11,403,000.
The panel on appeal rejected Gordon's arguments as meritless, and were taken by the repeated threats and harassment he waged against State Bar investigators, as substantiated by numerous excerpts from emails he sent them and a Facebook post stating "no one should be surprised if blood is shed in the future" -- all of which were included in the Review Department's opinion. A superior court eventually issued a restraining order limiting Gordon's access to the Trial Counsel's offices and his contact with the investigators.
In mitigation, Gordon was given nominal credit for having practiced law for 11 years without a record of discipline.
In aggravation, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients, engaged in overreaching by attempting to intimidate clients who complained to the State Bar, demonstrated an indifference toward rectification by continuing to collect fees from clients despite several cease and desist orders -- and, showed a lack of cooperation through his "outrageous behavior toward State Bar employees."
Wayne Richard Hartke
State Bar No. 59474, Falls Church, Virginia (March 28, 2019)
Hartke was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding premised on the finding of professional misconduct he committed in Virginia.
The case before the California State Bar Court was limited to the determination of whether the Virginia proceeding provided fundamental constitutional protection, whether the finding of culpability there also warranted professional discipline in this state, and if so, the appropriate discipline to be imposed.
Because of his failure to appear in California, the record of discipline in the Virginia proceeding was deemed conclusive evidence of his culpability of misconduct in this jurisdiction. Specifically, he was found culpable of: repeatedly failing to represent his client with competence, failing to render appropriate accountings of client funds in two matters, improperly withdrawing from representing a client, and making two separate misrepresentations of material facts in connection with disciplinary matters -- misconduct involving moral turpitude.
James Michael Ibold
State Bar No. 157915, Chino Hills (March 3, 2019)
Ibold was summarily disbarred after the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar transmitted evidence of the finality of his conviction for possession of child pornography (Cal. Penal Code Section 311.11(a))
The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude per se.
Robert Edward Keen
State Bar No. 50871, Los Angeles (March 3, 2019)
Keen was disbarred after he stipulated to committing more than 40 acts of professional misconduct in nine different matters.
His wrongdoing included: disobeying a court order; failing to report court-imposed sanctions to the State Bar; failing to deposit client funds in a trust account, and failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds. In addition, he was culpable of numerous counts of failing to notify clients of funds received on their behalf, failing to provide legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to inform clients of significant case developments, failing to promptly convey terms of proferred settlement offers to clients, and failing to participate in the State Bar's investigations of the wrongdoing alleged. In at least four cases, he also forged clients' signatures on settlement agreements without their knowledge or consent -- misconduct involving moral turpitude.
Before recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge noted that Keen had been disciplined twice before, but in the nine cases at issue -- which spanned an eight-year period -- his misconduct "has also escalated in that his cases display remarkable similarities." In most of them, he accepted new clients but delayed advancing their claims -- filing civil lawsuits just before the statute of limitations were set to expire, then failed to work on the cases or respond to discovery until he unilaterally agreed to settle them. In some cases, he did not send the clients any of the settlement funds to which they were entitled.
The judge also enumerated and detailed the ways in which each of the clients were harmed -- depriving them of the use of their funds and in some cases, depriving them of any recovery.
In aggravation, Keen committed numerous acts of misconduct, had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before, engaged in a pattern of misconduct, caused significant harm to numerous clients, failed to make any restitution in several of the matters, and demonstrated his lack of insight into the seriousness of his misconduct by remaining unforthcoming while meeting with State Bar investigators.
Sanam Alicia Nikkhoo
State Bar No. 297290, La Habra (March 17, 2019)
Nikkhoo was disbarred following her conviction of identity theft (Cal. Penal Code Section 530.5(a)) -- a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude per se.
Upon receiving proof of finality of the conviction, the matter proceeded to trial in the State Bar Court to determine the proper level of discipline to be imposed.
Nikkhoo was employed as an independent contractor at a firm that was moving to new offices. She was responsible for purchasing items for the offices, including eight computers -- and also tasked with setting them up and downloading client files onto them. The business owner, while initially happy with Nikkhoo's work, testified that she "started dropping the ball" -- failing to appear at court hearings, showing up at work disheveled, and sleeping under her desk. She was terminated after being given a written warning.
One hour after being terminated, the business owner noticed client files being electronically transferred from the office to Nikkhoo's account. After initially denying the unauthorized downloading, Nikkhoo provided a zip drive of the files. After Nikkhoo was terminated, the business owner began to notice unverified charges on her account -- including Starbucks e-gift cards, ultimately traced to Nikkhoo.
Around that time, Nikkhoo befriended a woman who allowed her to use some vacant office space free of charge. She offered to help the woman obtain a lower care insurance rate -- gaining the woman's email and password in the process. She then used that information to make numerous unauthorized purchases and PayPal account withdrawals. The woman eventually filed an identity theft crime report against Nikkhoo, who lied to investigating officers about a number of issues related to the stolen property. The browsing history on her cell phone revealed records of the business owner's passwords and stores she frequented.
In addition, Nikkhoo electronically filed documents while representing the business owner's former clients - her signature was stolen and pasted into the proof of service forms.
In aggravation, Nikkhoo multiple acts of misconduct that was "surrounded by dishonesty," demonstrated indifference toward atonement by repeatedly minimizing and denying her misdeeds, and showed a lack of candor to the victims of her misconduct.
In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge quoted dicta from a 1936 case, noting that Nikkhoo's misconduct violated "the fundamental rule of ethics -- that of common honesty -- without which the profession is worse than valueless."
Rick L. Raynsford
State Bar No. 105157, Auburn (March 3, 2019)
Raynsford was disbarred. He was found culpable of 11 counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. He admitted to one of the counts of misappropriation in his response to the notice of disciplinary charges against him.
His wrongdoing included: breaching his fiduciary duty, intentionally omitting disclosure of a material fact -- misconduct involving moral turpitude; two counts of failing to obey court orders; aiding the unauthorized practice of law; intentionally misappropriating client funds -- misconduct that also involved moral turpitude; and three counts of commingling client and personal funds.
In the underlying matter, Raynsford, the only lawyer in a firm, was hired to represent a client seeking to postpone a trustee sale on a mortgage, accepting a $3,000 "retainer fee" and additional monthly checks of $1,500 as a "service retainer." The other non-lawyer employees in the firm took incoming calls and provided client intake services.
Raynsford initially attempted to personally serve the bank in the case, but, after being redirected to serve them on an out-of-state corporation, Raynsford's son filled out a proof of service -- claiming substitute and mail service had occurred. A default judgment was entered against the mortgage loan servicer, and its bank account was levied. It then paid $254,178, which Raynsford deposited into his client trust account, paying nearly half to the client and keeping the rest as fees.
Counsel for the insurance company subsequently sought to set aside the default and return the funds paid, due to defective service. Raynsford appeared at the hearing to set aside the default, but did not inform the court he had disbursed and kept the funds. The court enjoined the client, Raynsford, and his firm from dissipating the funds "wrongfully levied."
While the case was pending, Raynsford was suspended from practicing law under the terms of a disciplinary order -- though he continued to file documents and communicate with the client about the case. During that time, he also issued payments from his client trust account for advertising and child support.
In aggravation, Raynsford committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed the client and the administration of justice, had a prior record of discipline, demonstrated bad faith in his knowingly defective service, exhibited an indifference toward rectifying his misconduct, and failed to make restitution to those he harmed.
Kurt Kevin Robinson
State Bar No. 108095, Fremont (March 3, 2019)
Robinson was disbarred after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with 14 counts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. On the first day of trial, he admitted to the facts and culpability in nine of the counts charged, and the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar dismissed the remaining ones.
He was found culpable of: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's disciplinary investigation; two counts each of commingling personal and client funds and failing to timely withdraw fixed funds from his client trust account; and three counts of failing to obey court orders.
The first matter focused on Robinson's mismanagement of his client trust account. He received two checks from clients, totaling more than $5,200 -- depositing them both in his client trust account but failing to timely withdraw his attorney fees once they became fixed. Over a nine-month period, he made 14 deposits of personal funds into the account and issued nine checks or electronic withdrawals from that account for personal and business expenses; three of the checks were imprinted with "CA IOLTA ACCT" on the front.
When an overdraft occurred on the account, the bank acknowledged it had changed the check imprinting so that the IOLTA designation no longer appeared on them. Though Robinson admitted culpability for commingling funds, he defended that the bank's failure to imprint the checks caused him to confuse his personal and client accounts. However, the State Bar Court rejected this argument, as three of the checks for personal expenses did include the imprint. He also failed to provide State Bar investigators with the account information they sought in the matter.
In the second case, Robinson was hired to represent a client in a claim against a law firm. However, he failed to file any pretrial documents and did not appear in person at a pretrial conference as ordered by the court, nor did he appear for trial. He sent an inexperienced attorney to appear on his behalf at trial, who was not prepared to go forward, and who orally agreed to have a default entered against the client. Robinson arrived at court an hour and a-half after the case was scheduled, but the default had already been entered.
In aggravation, Robinson committed multiple acts of misconduct, had three prior records of discipline, and showed an inability to recognize the wrongfulness of his misconduct by attempting to blame the client for the default entered in the case.
In mitigation, he presented evidence from eight witnesses attesting to his good character. He was also allotted mitigation for evidence of community service work -- though that was diminished to moderate weight because he was previously afforded mitigation for it in prior discipline matters.
Sean Gardner Saxon
State Bar No. 230054, Arvada, Colorado (March 17, 2019)
Saxon was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his California State Bar proceeding after receiving actual notice of it. He did not move to have the default order set aside or vacated.
The issues in the proceeding were limited to whether his culpability of professional misconduct as determined in another jurisdiction also warranted discipline in California, and whether the proceeding in the foreign proceeding lacked fundamental constitutional protection.
The Supreme Court of Colorado suspended Saxon from practicing law there for three years after finding him culpable of several counts of professional misconduct -- including knowingly disobeying a court rule, committing a criminal act reflecting adversely on his honesty, and harming others in a way that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law.
The California State Bar Court judge deemed the Colorado allegations were supported by the facts upon entry of the default and found the misconduct there also constituted misconduct under California statutes -- specifically failing to support the laws of the United States, failing to maintain respect for the court, disobeying a court order, and committing misconduct involving moral turpitude.
Peter Lynn Smith
State Bar No. 197828, San Leandro (March 17, 2019)
Smith was disbarred after he stipulated to pleading guilty to one count of bringing an illegal alien to the U.S. without presentation and aiding and abetting (18 U.S.C. Section 2) -- a felony.
While visiting Mexico, Smith agreed to drive a vehicle across the border with individuals concealed in a compartment in the car's undercarriage - he was promised compensation for doing so. While being questioned by an officer at the port of entry in California, Smith falsely replied that he was going to Anaheim, that he had been visiting his daughter for the day in Mexico, and that he was not bringing back anything with him.
The officer then determined that the Lincoln Town car Smith was driving was not registered to him -- and noted that his hands were shaking as he handed over a falsified registration document. A search of the car revealed two undocumented men in the undercarriage. The men had been bolted into position by another individual, and crushed chili peppers had been applied to their hands and feet to disguise their smell and avoid detection.
Smith failed to report his subsequent felony conviction to the State Bar within 30 days as required, but reported it nearly four years later.
The State Bar Court found the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction involved moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Smith committed multiple acts of wrongdoing by making numerous misrepresentations to the border patrol officer and was given additional aggravating weight for the uncharged misconduct of failing to report the felony to the State Bar.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for nine years without a record of discipline, presented letters from 10 individuals -- friends, colleagues, family members, and attorneys -- attesting to his good character, and had suffered from mental health symptoms worsened by severe family and financial difficulties, but which are now treated and stabilized.
Jakrun S. Sodhi
State Bar No. 200851, Modesto (March 28, 2019)
Sodhi was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after a 16-day trial in which he was found culpable of five of the 20 counts of professional misconduct with which he was originally charged. The alleged misconduct related to three separate matters, consolidated in the proceeding.
His wrongdoing included seeking an agreement with his former shareholders to withdraw their disciplinary complaint, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant case developments, improperly withdrawing from employment, and entering into a business transaction with a client without fully disclosing the terms in writing.
Most of the counts were dismissed as not established by clear and convincing evidence. However, in the matter in which the State Bar Court found the most substantial misconduct, Sodhi was hired to represent two clients in a personal injury case. After one of the clients' claims was settled directly with the insurance company, Sodhi found him to be such a difficult client that he waived all fees for representing him, and had the insurance company write out the settlement check directly to the client. He sent information regarding the remaining client's claim to the insurance company, and initially continued to appear for her in court, but made no progress on the case in more than four years. He never served the defendants with a summons regarding the lawsuit he had filed, and then failed to appear in the matter on three separate court dates.
After Sodhi was terminated from the law corporation in which he had been a shareholder, the remaining shareholders resolved the matter for $3,000 -- attributing the small settlement to being unable to locate medical bills and records provided to Sodhi during his representation of the client.
In aggravation, Sodhi committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for 13 years without a record of discipline, presented testimony and declarations from 17 witnesses -- all of whom attested to his good character, and introduced evidence of substantial volunteer and pro bono work.
Paul Lawrence Stanton
State Bar No. 58378, Topanga (March 28, 2019)
Stanton was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to violating several conditions of a disciplinary probation order imposed earlier.
Specifically, he was culpable of failing to timely file two quarterly written reports, a final report, proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and attending Ethics School and passing its final test.
In aggravation, Stanton committed multiple acts of misconduct, had a prior record of discipline, and showed indifference toward rectification by failing to complete outstanding probation conditions even after the Office of Probation repeatedly notified him of his noncompliance and its consequences.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
David Chipman Venie
State Bar No. 204954, Rio Rancho, New Mexico (March 17, 2019)
Venie was disbarred by default in California after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding, despite having actual notice. The proceeding commenced after Venie had been disciplined by the Supreme Court of New Mexico for committing professional misconduct in that jurisdiction.
That court disbarred him after finding him culpable of numerous counts of professional misconduct related to three client matters. The wrongdoing included: knowingly making false statements of material fact both to a tribunal and in connection with a disciplinary matter, knowingly offering false evidence, filing a frivolous action, engaging in dishonest conduct, engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, revealing confidential client information without the client's consent, failing to hold the client's property separate from his own, failing to hold possession of disputed property until settlement, and failing to promptly deliver client funds.
The California State Bar Court found that, as a matter of law, the proven misconduct also warranted imposing professional discipline in this jurisdiction.
Venie had been disciplined in California for professional misconduct twice previously.
Lindsay Elizabeth Vose
State Bar No. 282377, Long Beach (March 3, 2019)
Vose was disbarred by default. After receiving actual notice of her disciplinary proceeding, she failed to participate, either in person or through counsel -- and did not move to have the default order entered against her set aside or vacated.
She was found culpable of 10 acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. Her wrongdoing included: accepting legal fees from a non-client, failing to render an accounting to a client, and two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigations of the alleged misconduct, and making intentional misrepresentations -- acts involving moral turpitude.
At the time the disbarment recommendation was made, other disciplinary matters were pending against Vose.
Daniel Paul White
State Bar No. 132457, Walnut Creek (March 22, 2019)
White was disbarred after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to provide an annual accounting of a trust of which he was trustee, breaching his fiduciary duties as trustee, and misappropriating the trust funds for his own use -- an act involving moral turpitude.
White became successor trustee of a spendthrift trust for an elderly man with disabilities. The trust included a self-dealing provision that allowed the trustee to borrow funds if backed by security. Over a three-year period, White borrowed more than $381,700 from the trust -- using it for personal living expenses and to support his law practice, but did not provide any security for that loan.
Over the six years he served as trustee, he provided only one of the annual accountings required, noting on it that much of the trust was invested in his business. A subsequent accounting by outside counsel revealed the amount borrowed, plus accrued interest - all without adequate security. He repaid a small portion of the amount borrowed, $20,000, before resigning as trustee. A court later entered a judgment against White for the unsecured trust funds borrowed, plus attorney fees. That judgment remains unpaid.
The State Bar began a disciplinary investigation, during which White invoked his right to remain silent -- acknowledging that would amount to non-cooperation resulting in his disbarment.
In aggravation, White committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, caused significant harm to the vulnerable trust beneficiary and to the administration of justice, and failed to make restitution for the funds he converted.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for more than 20 years, and was allotted some mitigating weight for physical difficulties attributed to the relapse of a heart condition.
Alejandro Alers, Jr.
State Bar No. 240532, Inglewood (March 28, 2019)
Alers was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in connection with several lawsuits filed on behalf of a single client.
He was culpable of failing to maintain only legal and just actions, failing to pay court-ordered sanctions, and failing to report the sanctions imposed to the State Bar as required.
Alers filed four separate lawsuits against a bank on behalf of his father. The first was for breach of contract and fraud; it was dismissed by a superior court, and that dismissal was affirmed on appeal. The second was a RICO claims, which was also dismissed -- that dismissal was affirmed on appeal as precluded by res judicata.
While the second appeal was pending, Alers filed another lawsuit, alleging 12 causes of action against the same bank. Both the trial and appellate courts dismissed it, finding all the claims were based on the defendant's protected petitioning activity.
And the fourth lawsuit, filed before the appeal in the third action, sought to set aside the dismissal of the first case -- claiming extrinsic fraud practiced by the opposition. The superior court found it "clearly legally unsound," dismissed it, and ordered Alers to pay $6,789 in sanctions. The appellate court agreed the case was "objectively unreasonable" and upheld the lower court's sanctions order.
In aggravation, Alers committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed the administration of justice and demonstrated indifference toward rectification by continuing to violate court orders.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law nearly 10 years without a record of discipline.
Brian Joseph Baker
State Bar No. 257228, Fresno (March 28, 2019)
Baker was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to failing to comply with numerous conditions in a disciplinary probation imposed earlier.
Specifically, he failed to abstain from using alcohol and failed to submit to two required laboratory tests. He also submitted one quarterly written report late to the Office of Probation, and completely failed to submit a number of other compliance reports -- including four self-help meeting reports, four Underlying Criminal Matter reports, two quarterly and one final written reports, and proof of attending the State Bar's Ethics School.
In aggravation, Baker committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and suffered extreme emotional difficulties for which he is now receiving treatment.
Amy Louise Butters
State Bar No. 212072, Ogden, Utah (March 17, 2019)
Butters was suspended from practicing law in California for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct related to two client cases in another jurisdiction.
In one matter, Butters, who was also licensed to practice in Utah, represented a couple filing for bankruptcy -- accepting $1,699 in attorney and filing fees, which she deposited into her operating account. When the case was later dismissed due to the failure to comply with the repayment plan, Butters filed an objection. The court ordered her to file an order sustaining an objection to the dismissal, but she failed to do so. The bankruptcy petition was dismissed.
In the other matter, Butters was hired to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. When the client was scheduled to be out of town on the date a creditor's meeting was scheduled, she assured him she would file a motion for a telephonic appearance or request a continuance. She failed to take either action, and the case was closed. Butters then filed a second bankruptcy petition. The client sent emails indicating he could attend the creditor's meeting in that case by telephone, but Butters misunderstood, and told him she would file a motion to have the meeting rescheduled. She failed to do so, however, and after the client did not appear at the subsequent meeting, the bankruptcy petition was dismissed.
The Utah State Bar found Butters culpable nine counts of professional misconduct based on the two case complaints, and the California State Bar judge accepted that as conclusive evidence that she was also culpable of professional misconduct in this state.
In aggravation, Butters committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed her clients and had a prior record of discipline, also based on professional misconduct in Utah.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation.
Lauren Nicole Chaikin
State Bar No. 297105, La Jolla (March 3, 2019)
Chaikin was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order, as well as misrepresenting that had complied with the terms in three written reports to the State Bar -- misconduct involving moral turpitude.
Specifically, she failed to contact the Office of Probation to set up an initial meeting, failed to timely complete and file three written reports, failed to submit timely proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, as well as failing to submit proof of attending the State Bar's Ethics School and passing its final test. In three of the written reports she did file with the Office of Probation, she incorrectly stated she had been in compliance with all conditions imposed in the disciplinary reproval.
In aggravation, Chaikin committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline, which the State Bar Court judge noted "was not remote in time."
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, submitted 10 declarations from members of the legal and general communities attesting to her good character and charitable works and donations, and suffered from diagnosed mental conditions -- now treated and under control.
Steve Sumner Christensen
State Bar No. 150517, Salt Lake City, Utah (March 17, 2019)
Christensen was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in another jurisdiction; he was placed on probation with conditions for one year there.
In the underlying matter, Christensen initiated the purchase of a home, for which the bank required a substantial down payment. He did not have sufficient funds in his personal account to cover the required amount, but transferred funds from both his Utah law firm's operating and client trust accounts to cover it. He later tendered a statement showing the inflated balance to the lending bank. The law partners in the firm were not aware of the transfers. In the meantime, a client check from the trust account failed to clear -- prompting a non-sufficient funds notice from the bank.
Though Christensen restored the amounts to the operating and client trust accounts about 12 hours after making the transfers from them, credit for the transfers was delayed due to a legal holiday.
The California State Bar Court judge concluded, as a matter of law, that Christensen's culpability determined in the Utah proceeding warranted professional discipline in this state as well.
In aggravation, Christensen's misconduct was surrounded by an intentional misrepresentation and dishonesty.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for 14 years in California and for 21 years in Utah without records of discipline, and presented evidence of substantial community service as well as letters from nine individuals taken from a range of the legal and general communities -- all of whom testified to his good character.
David Neil Clyde
State Bar No. 89068, Fresno (February 4, 2019)
Clyde was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.
Catherine Irene Denevi (aka Catherine Irene Denevi-Burris)
State Bar No. 222539, Vista (February 4, 2019)
Denevi was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination -- one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Mark Christopher Ellis
State Bar No. 170295, Canyon Lake (March 22, 2019)
Ellis was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing two counts of misconduct related to a single client case: failing to render an appropriate accounting to a client and failing to promptly return unearned advanced fees upon terminating employment.
In the underlying matter, Ellis accepted $2,100 in advance fees to represent a client at a hearing in a previously-filed dissolution case. At the hearing, the case was set for mediation; the client then instructed Ellis to prepare and file requests for telephonic appearances for the mediation, then cease working on the file. He did as requested, but did not provide an accounting or refund the unearned fees for more than a year after initially requested to do so -- and more than six months after the State Bar informed him it was investigating the wrongful conduct alleged.
In aggravation, Ellis committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his client, and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, presented references from five members of the legal community and six from the general community -- all attesting to his good character and legal skill, as well as evidence of performing substantial community service.
Lisa Lynn Gygax
State Bar No. 176029, Forestville (March 17, 2019)
Gygax was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years following a contested disciplinary proceeding in which she was charged with six counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
The State Bar Court judge found her culpable on three of the counts: failing to provide legal services with competence, failing to provide a client with notice of a relationship with a party in a legal matter, and failing to avoid interests adverse to a client.
In the underlying matter, Gygax was hired by a client to handle an eviction of a tenant operating a cannabis dispensary on some property he owned, though their fee agreement was somewhat confusing and contradictory. In reality, she acted as a go-between for the client and another dispensary operator -- another client she had represented for nearly 12 years -- in negotiating a lease and option agreement for the property, and became intimately involved in those negotiations while also pursuing the eviction.
At some point, the client provided a draft of a lease and option to purchase agreement. It was riddled with errors -- some of which Gygax corrected before the parties executed it. In later producing a copy of the agreement, she further corrected the date on the signed version, without getting prior approval from the parties involved. The State Bar Court judge noted that the seldom-invoked Doctrine of Scrivener's Error permits that a typo on a contract can be corrected if there is clear parole evidence supporting the correction; however, if property rights are involved, as in the present case, then it must first be approved by those affected.
In pressing his disciplinary claim, the client also established that Gygax had a current, if not ongoing, attorney/client relationship with the dispensary owner at the same time she was negotiating the lease and purchase agreement. Gygax disclosed this relationship orally to the client. However, in such situations, the law specifically requires a written statement containing both a description of the relationship and a fair statement of the actual or foreseeable adverse implications that relationship may have for the client. She did not provide such a document.
Finally, the facts revealed that, concurrent with handling the eviction, Gygax entered into a business transaction with the client -- agreeing to negotiate a lease and option to purchase in exchange for one percent of the sales price should the purchase option be exercised. The State Bar Court judge found that Gygax failed to inform the client that he could seek an independent lawyer to review the arrangement. In addition, the judge found she "did not fully disclose in writing to the client the terms of the business transaction in a manner in which he should reasonably have understood them."
In aggravation, Gygax was given limited weight for a prior record of discipline -- a private reproval -- that occurred many years ago, and she had since practiced law for many years discipline-free.
In mitigation, she presented evidence of her good character from five credible witnesses and declarants and did not act in bad faith when representing her client.
Stanley Howard Kimmel
State Bar No. 77007, Granada Hills (March 3, 2019)
Kimmel was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct while representing two clients, a mother and son, in various matters.
He was culpable of two counts each of failing to provide legal services with competence and failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments.
Kimmel was hired to handle a business dispute, a landlord and tenant matter, and illegal wiretapping cases.. In all three cases, he failed to appear at trial, or to file a response to a complaint and summons served, or to exchange exhibit and witness list with opposing counsel -- resulting in dismissals and a default.
He also filed a complaint against an insurance company on behalf of both the mother and son, but did not file an opposition to the insurer's motion for summary judgment or to appear at the hearing on the motion -- and that case was also dismissed. He did not inform either of the clients that the cases were dismissed due to his failures.
In aggravation, Kimmel committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly his clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for more than 35 years without a record of discipline, and submitted letters from 10 individuals who had been acquainted with him for a substantial time -- all of whom vouched for his good character and legal skill.
Kevin Gang Long
State Bar No. 195523, Monterey Park (March 3, 2019)
Long was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to maintain only legal or just actions.
Long was hired by a client who had been waiting to attain permanent resident status for more than five years. He filed an application for naturalization (Form N-400) despite knowing that she had not yet obtained permanent resident status -- a prerequisite. The client was informed of this when she appeared for her naturalization interview, then withdrew her citizenship application -- and promptly filed a complaint against Long with the State Bar.
Long told the investigator that the client had "enjoyed the benefit, opportunity, and service of the application for citizenship," though the State Bar Court judge noted "this position was specious and unsupported by the facts."
In aggravation, Long had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously and showed a lack of appreciation for both his misconduct and obligations as an attorney through his responses in the disciplinary investigation.
Sandra Lee Nassar
State Bar No. 199305, Irvine (February 1, 2019)
Nassar was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years following her appeal of a hearing judge's finding of culpability for three counts of professional misconduct related to her failure to produce evidence in a felony criminal trial, and recommending one year of actual suspension. She appealed, claiming her actions were appropriate, and no discipline was warranted.
Nassar was found culpable of one count of failing to support the law, as well as two counts of suppressing evidence -- misconduct involving moral turpitude.
The State Bar Court panel prefaced its opinion with an explanation that it original opinion was modified to correct clerical errors, which was incorrectly file-stamped. It noted the modified opinion does not alter findings or conclusions, nor does it extend any deadlines in the case
In the underlying matter, Nassar, a deputy district attorney, filed criminal charges alleging child abuse and torture of a five-year-old victim. The child's mother and a male co-defendant were implicated. Nassar directed that a "mail cover" be placed on both defendants' mail while they were in custody -- which allowed her to see all mail sent to and from the prisoners, with the exception of attorney/client communications.
As part of a plea agreement, the boy's mother pled to one count of child abuse and one count of accessory after the fact, agreeing to testify at the male defendant's trial.
Before trial, the defendant's attorney made repeated requests for discovery documents, but Nassar provided none of the more than 1,000 pages of material collected under the mail cover. This was discovered by the deputy district attorney who took over the case as part of customary rotation practice.
The defendant's attorney then moved to dismiss or recuse the district attorney's office based on its withholding of the evidence. Nassar testified at a hearing on the motion that she did not produce the material because it "related to trial strategy" -- which the trial judge found "wasn't even close to a reasonable excuse." That evidence included a letter from the mother to the male defendant, which the judge ruled could be used to impeach her at trial.
However, the defendant negotiated a plea agreement, pleading guilty to child abuse with enhancements for great bodily injury and prior convictions. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, rather than the possibility of a life sentence under the complaint.
The State Bar Court panel affirmed the hearing judge's findings of culpability on appeal, but reduced the actual suspension time from one year to six months, finding that it adequately met "the purposes of attorney discipline and prosecutorial accountability."
In aggravation, the panel found Nassar's misconduct significantly harmed the administration of justice, but reduced the weight given her lack of insight from significant to moderate.
In mitigation, she was allotted "less than full mitigation credit" for having practiced law for approximately 13 years without a record of discipline, but she did not establish the misconduct was unlikely to recur. She was also allotted minimal mitigating weight for stipulating to a short set of facts and some weight for the six witnesses and 28 character declaration -- all of which were from the legal community, rather than members of the general public.
State Bar No. 202731, La Habra (March 17, 2019)
Reyes was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
His wrongdoing included four counts involving practicing law while suspended and misrepresenting his inactive status -- misconduct involving moral turpitude, as well as failing to keep his client reasonably informed of a significant legal development - his inactive status.
In the underlying matter, Reyes was enrolled on administrative inactive status after he failed to comply with Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements. Several weeks after the State Bar notified him by mail, and while on "not eligible" status, he appeared in court and substituted in as counsel of record for a criminal defendant, who was also his nephew. Reyes then made several more appearances in the case before learning of his inactive status from another attorney. Reyes had been away from his office due to a medical condition and had not retrieved the State Bar's notification.
After he became aware of being inactive, however, he appeared in the courtroom for the criminal case, seated in the attorney section -- and informed the court that another attorney would be making a special appearance on his behalf, though he did not inform the judge or his client of his inactive status.
In aggravation, Reyes committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for more than 17 years, submitted evidence of volunteering with community service organizations, and also submitted letters from five witnesses -- three of them attorneys -- who attested to his good character.
Hayden Gifford Smith
State Bar No. 241606, Visalia (February 11, 2019)
Smith was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam -- one of the terms imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Craig Ronald Triance
State Bar No. 161079, Glendora (February 4, 2019)
Triance was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as required in the terms of a previous disciplinary order.
Amy Lillian Vichinsky
State Bar No. 250534, Corning, New York (March 3, 2019)
Vichinsky was suspended for two years and also placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to violating a court order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) by failing to file an affidavit of compliance for disciplined attorneys as mandated in an earlier probation order.
In mitigation, Vichinsky had practiced law discipline-free for 12 years and provided 11 letters from a wide range of references in the legal and general communities who attested to her good character.
Jonathan William Wallace
State Bar No. 288395, Costa Mesa (March 22, 2019)
Wallace was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to pleading guilty to four counts charged -- all alcohol related driving offenses.
They included: driving under the influence of alcohol with two prior DUI convictions (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(a)), driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more with two prior DUI convictions (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(b)), driving on a suspended license (Cal. Veh. Code Section 14601.2(a)), and being involved in a hit and run causing property damages (Cal. Veh. Code Section 20002(a)).
All the offenses are misdemeanors; the facts and circumstances surrounding them showed the conduct involved moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Wallace was driving down the ramp of a parking structure when he collided with four parked vehicles, damaging them. He then drove in reverse out of the parking complex, across lanes of traffic -- nearly causing collisions. When questioned by a police officer summoned to the scene, he initially denied he had been drinking; he was unable to pass field sobriety tests, and a subsequent blood test revealed his blood alcohol content to be .31 percent -- four times the legal limit.
Wallace had been convicted of alcohol-related driving offenses three times within a 12-year span -- the basis of the moral turpitude finding.
In aggravation, Wallace committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated his indifference toward rectification by failing to meaningfully address his substance abuse issues.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Thomas Lee Watkins
State Bar No. 162577, Banning (March 3, 2019)
Watkins was suspended for 18 months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing 20 acts of professional misconduct related to mismanagement of his client trust account and three client matters.
His wrongdoing included: commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account, improperly withdrawing from employment, entering into a business transaction with a client without fair and reasonable terms; two counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigations of the misconduct alleged; three counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about case status, failing to deposit client funds in a trust account, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees to clients, and misappropriating client funds for his own use -- misconduct involving moral turpitude.
The fact patterns in the client cases were substantially similar: Watkins was hired to pursue bankruptcy matter, accepted the advanced fees, then performed no substantial work on the cases -- while using the fees for his own purposes and failing to respond to the clients' request for information and direction.
During the time at issue, Watkins also made 67 withdrawals to pay personal expenses while client funds were also deposited into it.
In aggravation, Watkins committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed highly vulnerable clients, and showed indifference to the seriousness of his misconduct by failing to refund clients' fees until State Bar disciplinary charges were filed against him.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 24 years without a record of discipline, and provided letters from 10 individuals -- family members friends, and an attorney -- who were aware of his misconduct but attested to his overall good character and integrity.
Trisha Danielle Figueroa, aka Trisha Danielle Mauer
State Bar No. 204156, Novato (March 17, 2019)
Figueroa was placed on probation for three years after she stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to charges of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or higher (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(b)), with an admission of a prior DUI conviction within 10 years (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23540, and admitted enhancement of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or more (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23578).
Figueroa, while driving, rear-ended another car and driver stopped at a stoplight. Investigating officers questioned her at the scene, where a test revealed her blood alcohol content to be .267 -- well in excess of legal limits; she was unable to complete the field coordination tests satisfactorily. A background check showed she was on DUI probation, and she was arrested.
In aggravation, Figueroa caused significant harm in damaging others' property and compromising their safety, and was on DUI probation when involved in the incident in the instant case.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation and had no record of discipline in approximately 16 years of practicing law.
David Marc Kritzer
State Bar No. 170545, Encino (March 17, 2019)
Kritzer was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct: disobeying a court order.
In the underlying matter, a court imposed sanctions of $5,575 against Kritzer and his law firm for continuing to prosecute a demurrer deemed to be a frivolous or a bad faith action. He appealed the sanctions order three times before attempting to settle the balance with opposing counsel, then paid the amount in full -- six months after abandoning his appeal and 15 months after the sanctions were initially imposed.
In mitigation, Kritzer entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 23 year without a record of discipline, and provided letters from six individuals -- four attorneys and two personal references -- all of whom testified about his good character and regular community service work.
Dorinda Jo Myers
State Bar No. 257503, Rancho Mirage (March 3, 2019)
Myers was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case. Specifically, she was culpable of failing to provide legal services with competence, failing to respond promptly to multiple client inquiries, failing to keep the client informed of significant case developments, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
Myers was hired by an elderly client who was seeking payment on a promissory note, accepting $357 as a "proportionate share" of an advanced retainer. She filed suit against the company, then failed to return calls from the client and the client's subsequent attorney seeking updates in the case. When the company president filed for bankruptcy, Myers represented the client's interests and ascertained that the company was no longer active and lacked any assets -- though she failed to inform the client of those facts.
In the meantime, the court sanctioned Myers $100 for failure to prosecute, and dismissed the initial case against the company; she did not inform the client of this.
Myers closed her private practice without informing the client, and did not respond to any State Bar inquiries sent to her address of record.
In aggravation, Myers committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her highly vulnerable client.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, produced three declarations from individuals attesting to her good character, and had no record of discipline in approximately 10 years of practicing law.
-- Barbara Kate Repa