Nov. 1, 2019
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations, and public reprovals in California.
Logan Michael Fairfax
State Bar No. 243381, Maryville, Tennessee (November 9, 2019)
Fairfax was disbarred after he stipulated to pleading guilty to a single count of a felony: structuring and assisting in structuring transactions with a domestic financial institution to evade statutorily imposed reporting requirements (31 U.S.C. Sections 5324(a)(3) and 5324(d) and 18 U.S.C. Section 2).
In the underlying matter, Fairfax, a solo practitioner, counseled a number of clients in the cannabis industry about complying with state laws — drafting corporate governance documents for them. During part of this practice, Fairfax, along with another attorney and a CPA, operated an enterprise helping cannabis industry clients form nonprofits — also filing false tax returns and structuring cash transactions enabling them to evade bank anti-money laundering programs. In some cases, the clients used the services to cover large-scale manufacturing operations for hash oil to be shipped for out-of-state sales, which was illegal.
The State Bar Court found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the offense involved moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Fairfax committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation as to facts and culpability and was afforded slight mitigation credit for having practiced law for approximately 7 years without a record of discipline.
Steven Mark Klugman
State Bar No. 53902, Torrance (November 9, 2019)
Klugman was disbarred following a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier discipline order.
Specifically, he was found culpable of failing to meet timely with his assigned probation deputy, failing to file three timely and compliant written quarterly reports with the Office of Probation, failing to timely submit the required Client Funds Certificate, failing to submit timely and compliant proof of paying restitution to several clients, and failing to submit complete proof of restitution to the State Bar’s Client Security Fund (CSF) as agreed.
On appeal, Klugman did not deny that he failed to comply with his probation conditions. He argued that his financial condition precluded him from complying with the restitution provisions — and that he had substantially complied by making a lump payment of $40,000 to the CSF.
In rejecting those arguments, the State Bar Court judge pointed out that Klugman still owes the CSF more than $56,225. The judge also underscored that Klugman’s probation officer had provided him with specific instructions as to what constitutes sufficient proof of payment, but he failed to comply with those terms or to work with the officer to determine whether any other proof of payment would suffice.
Klugman also contended that his poor health had hampered his efforts to comply with his probation conditions, though he offered no medical records to support that position.
In aggravation, Klugman committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct three times previously.
In mitigation, he was afforded moderate consideration for entering into a stipulation regarding the facts and admissibility of evidence, as well as minimal credit for presenting testimony of two character witnesses and declarations from four individuals — none of whom were aware of the full extent of the misconduct alleged, nor were the witnesses gleaned from a wide range in the legal and general communities, as required.
Raymond Thomas Lee, III
State Bar No. 206308, Dublin, Ohio (November 9, 2019)
Lee was disbarred following an appeal of a proceeding consolidating two disciplinary charges. At the initial trial, he was found culpable of willfully violating conditions imposed by the California Supreme Court in an earlier order: failing to file a timely proof of compliance (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and also failing to schedule a meeting with his assigned probation deputy and to file a quarterly written report. He scheduled a meeting with his probation deputy nearly four months after the deadline, and filed his first quarterly report about six weeks after its due date.
The hearing judge recommended disbarment.
At trial, Lee admitted that the State Bar staff sent him correct compliance information as email messages and status updates on his attorney listing on its website, but he did not open or read the information. He also conceded he failed to monitor the court’s expected issuance of an order requiring his Rule 9.20 and probation compliance and follow through with its requirements.
At trial and on appeal, Lee contends that his failure to read the State Bar communications deprived him of actual knowledge of his compliance deadlines, so that his failure to comply was not “willful.” He relied on his interpretation of People v. Garcia (25 Cal. 4th 744 (2001)), as requiring actual knowledge of the duty to act to find a willful violation of the Court rule. In the alternative, he argued that his mitigating evidence merited a sanction less severe than disbarment.
The State Bar Court panel rejected both arguments.
In recommending disbarment, it noted: “Requiring an ‘actual knowledge’ standard, as defined by Lee, could only encourage an attorney subject to Rule 9.20 to do exactly what Lee did: ignore the duties and compliance deadlines by not timely reading relevant communications sent by Probation or other readily available information. It underscored that would risk “sharply diluting” the intended protection of the public, courts, and legal profession.
The panel also found that significant aggravating factors outweighed mitigating ones in the instant case.
In aggravation, the panel afforded significant weight to Lee’s prior discipline order, which revealed serious misconduct and was also related to the nature of his offenses in the current proceeding. He was also given moderate weight for committing multiple acts of misconduct.
The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar urged finding an additional aggravating factor: lack of insight and refusal to accept responsibility for his misdeeds, as evidenced by “persisting in a meritless defense based on inept case law.” The panel, however, opted to follow the hearing judge’s approach in using Lee’s defense as a ground to reduce the mitigating weight of his stipulation of facts.
In mitigation, Lee was afforded nominal weight for that stipulation, modest weight for evidence of his good character and community service offered in seven letters by individuals who were not taken from a “wide range of references in the legal and general communities aware of the full extent of the misconduct alleged,” as required.
Kim Dennise Scovis
State Bar No. 182059, Las Vegas, Nevada (November 9, 2019)
Scovis was disbarred following her plea of guilty to the unauthorized practice of law (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Section 6126(b)). The offense is a felony.
State Bar No. 236087, Alameda (November 8, 2019)
Weiss was disbarred following an appeal of the hearing judge’s recommendation of that discipline. The judge found him culpable of seven of the nine counts of professional misconduct with which he had initially been charged. The State Court Bar panel on appeal found him culpable of five counts of misconduct related to two client matters, noting that some of the charges were duplicative.
The panel found Weiss had failed to maintain client funds in trust and failed to obtain a client’s written consent to representation involving adverse interests. It also found he had made false and misleading misrepresentations to State Bar investigators as well as intentionally misappropriating client funds — both acts involving moral turpitude.
In one of the client matters, Weiss agreed to represent two individuals in a lawsuit against a former client. Before the action was filed, he provided the original client with advice in a couple matters; the client also testified he believed that he and Weiss had an attorney/client relationship. Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found a “substantial relationship between representations to establish a conclusive presumption” that Weiss possessed confidential information adverse to the clients.
In the other matter, Weiss represented a client in a real estate dispute involving three parcels of property. During the course of the case, Weiss and the two attorneys representing the plaintiffs signed an agreement directing that the proceeds of the sale of one of the parcels should be retained until joint instruction was received from the parties’ counsel. They signed a second agreement related to a second property — this one directing that escrow should be closed and any outstanding issues would be resolved later. However, when escrow closed, Weiss did not provide closing instructions to the title company or inform it of the trust agreement, nor did he inform the other attorneys of the sale.
There was a dispute in the record about whether Weiss received the requisite authorization to withdraw client trust funds related to the property before doing so; both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found this constituted intentional misappropriation.
The panel found the misappropriation charge, “the most serious misconduct alleged,” to be dispositive of the instant discipline matter. In recommending disbarment, it reiterated that misappropriating trust funds “breaches the high duty of loyalty owed to the client, violated basic notions of honesty, and endangers public confidence in the profession.”
In aggravation, Weiss omitted multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of misconduct. The panel underscored that the present misconduct occurred only three months after Weiss signed a stipulation in the first discipline matter and during the reproval period imposed — when he “should have had a heightened awareness of his professional and ethical duties.”
In mitigation, he received moderate weight for testimony supporting his pro bono activities and vouching for his good character, submitted by five witnesses who demonstrated “only a minimal understanding” of the misconduct alleged
Scott Michael Cantor
State Bar No. 79851, Las Vegas, Nevada (November 9, 2019)
Cantor was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as mandated in an earlier discipline order.
Victor Waidor Luke
State Bar No. 193150, Santa Ana (November 9, 2019)
Luke was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
He was culpable of failing to pay two court-imposed sanctions and report them to the State Bar as required, as well as failing to cooperate in its investigation of his alleged wrongdoing.
Luke represented a plaintiff in a matter to be heard in superior court, but failed to file a Case Management Conference Statement and also failed to make two scheduled appearances in the case. He was sanctioned $1,000 for each of the failures to appear, but neither paid them nor reported them to the State Bar. In addition, he failed to respond to the State Bar’s letters of inquiry while it was investigating the matter.
In aggravation, Luke committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference toward rectifying his misconduct through his continued violation of court orders.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 19 years without a record of discipline.
Michael Jay Stewart
State Bar No. 75354, Scottsdale, Arizona (November 9, 2019)
Stewart was suspended in the interim, pending final disposition of his conviction for mail fraud (18 U.S.C. Section 1341). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.
— Barbara Kate Repa