Jan. 1, 2020
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations, and public reprovals in California.
Benjamin Lawson Adams
State Bar No. 294295, Taylors, South Carolina (November 30, 2019)
Adams was summarily disbarred. He earlier entered a plea of nolo contendere to one count of committing a lewd act upon a child age 14 or 15 years old (Cal. Penal Code Section 288(c)(1)). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.
The Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar transmitted evidence of the conviction’s finality, demonstrating Adams did not file an appeal.
Richard Lee Bobus
State Bar No. 250664, Santa Rosa (November 30, 2019)
Bobus was disbarred after a two-day trial that consolidated seven separate cases. On the first day of trial, he stipulated to numerous facts on the record. On the second day, he admitted culpability to all charges against him.
His professional misconduct included: improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and two acts involving moral turpitude: holding himself out as entitled to practice law when he was not and allowing another to use his office in the unauthorized practice; two counts each of aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and failing to promptly release clients’ papers and property after terminating employment; and four counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigations of the wrongdoing alleged.
In addition, he was convicted of driving without a valid license (Cal. Veh. Code Section 12500(a)) as well as numerous acts of misconduct in the immigration court that also constituted failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to maintain respect due to a court, and failing to obey a court order.
Due to Bobus’s late admission of culpability, the State Bar Court judge decreed that the central issue in the instant case was determining the appropriate level of discipline. This required evaluating all aggravating circumstances and weighing potentially mitigating ones.
In aggravation, Bobus had two prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, failed to make restitution by refunding the unearned fees, and engaged in a pattern and practice of misconduct before the immigration court that caused numerous vulnerable clients significant harm.
In mitigation, though Bobus did not prove any mitigating circumstances, the judge found, sua sponte, that he was entitled to moderate consideration for his candor and cooperation at trial.
In recommending disbarment, the judge noted Bobus’s “overwhelming record of misconduct, the aggravating circumstances, and the lack of substantial mitigation.”
State Bar No. 280995, Santa Monica (November 30, 2019)
Falah was summarily disbarred after being convicted of first degree burglary (Cal. Penal Code Section 459) and grand theft (Cal. Penal Code Section 487(a)) — felonies involving moral turpitude.
She had earlier defaulted in a proceeding consolidating six cases in which she was charged with a total of 16 counts of professional misconduct. Her wrongdoing included: failing to obey a court order, threatening charges to gain advantage in a civil lawsuit, and misrepresenting to a client that she had filed a pleading on his behalf — an act involving moral turpitude.
She was also culpable of two counts each of: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to render accountings of client funds, failing to promptly release clients’ papers and property upon terminating employment, as well as three counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar disciplinary investigation.
In addition, she had failed to file a declaration of compliance for disciplined attorneys (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and failed to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation order.
Falah had a prior record of discipline.
Charles Jeffrey Fletcher
State Bar No. 142464, Sacramento (November 30, 2019)
Fletcher was disbarred after he stipulated to committing multiple acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters, as well as failing to comply with several conditions of an earlier disciplinary probation order.
In the client cases, he was culpable of two counts of failing to inform clients of significant case developments, as well as three counts each of accepting compensation from someone other than his client without the client’s prior written consent, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to return unearned advanced fees.
The fact patterns in those cases were substantially similar: Fletcher accepted advanced fees from criminal clients’ relatives without obtaining the clients’ written consent in advance. He then took little or no action in the cases before informing the relatives he had been suspended from practicing law and could not continue representation. Despite requests, he did not return any of the money paid to him.
In the probation violation matter, Fletcher’s violations included: failing to schedule, hold, and participate in a meeting with his assigned probation officer by the date specified, failing to timely submit two compliant written reports to the Office of Probation, and failing to pay restitution as ordered.
In aggravation, Fletcher committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that substantially harmed his clients and had been disciplined for professional misconduct twice previously.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Mark T. Gallagher
State Bar No. 180514, Folsom (November 30, 2019)
Gallagher was disbarred by default. He initially appeared at a number of status conferences in his disciplinary proceeding, and at the pretrial conference, informed the court that he intended to default at trial. He did not seek to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of six of the seven counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged. His wrongdoing included failing to promptly release his client’s papers and property after terminating employment, failing to promptly communicate the terms of a written settlement offer to the client, failing to communicate significant case developments to his client, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation as well as two counts involving moral turpitude: making misrepresentations to opposing counsel and forging his client’s signature on a settlement agreement.
Additional disciplinary investigations were pending against Gallagher when the disbarment order was recommended.
Michael Ross Lewis
State Bar No. 247934, Upland (November 30, 2019)
Lewis was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to d so. He did not move to vacate or set aside the default order entered against him.
He was found culpable of failing to participate in the State Bar investigation and of violating two probation conditions by failing to file three quarterly written reports and failing to provide proof of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School as mandated in an earlier probation order.
Lewis had two prior records of discipline, and there were other disciplinary charges pending against him when he was disbarred.
Scott Allan Maasen
State Bar No. 185735, Scottsdale, Arizona (November 30, 2019)
Maasen was summarily barred after being convicted of concealing assets in bankruptcy (18 U.S.C. Section 152(1)).
The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.
Owen Thomas Mascott
State Bar No. 134243, Palm Desert (November 30, 2019)
Mascott was disbarred after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single case. His wrongdoing included failing to support the law and misappropriating funds held for a client — an act involving moral turpitude, as well as two counts of mismanaging funds in his client trust account.
In the underlying matter, Mascott represented a client who had been injured in a car accident, aware that there was a Medi-Cal lien in the matter based on medical care the client had received after the accident. The case settled for $25,000, but the client died of causes unrelated to the accident before he was able to accept payment.
Mascott received the settlement check and deposited it into his client trust account, then immediately made disbursements of the entire amount, though he made no payment to the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to cover the Medi-Cal lien. Mascott and his co-counsel then sent a letter to DHCS claiming they had overlooked the lien until after the funds were disbursed. DHCS contacted Mascott at least a dozen times seeking more information and ultimately agreeing to reduce its lien to $10,361 before threatening legal action based on non-payment. Mascott’s response to the adjuster was that “he could care less” and “to tell Jerry Brown to go ‘F’ himself.”
In aggravation, Mascott committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, has failed to make restitution to DHCS, and has been disciplined three times in the past for professional misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Carlos Joel Perez
State Bar No. 285936, Downey (November 30, 2019)
Perez was disbarred by default after substantially failing to participate in his disciplinary proceeding after receiving adequate legal notice of it. Though he eventually filed a motion to set aside the default entered against him in the case, it was denied for failure to find good cause.
In the underlying matter, Perez drove past two motorcycle officers at a high speed, ignoring their commands to stop. When he eventually parked and exited his vehicle, he struggled with the officers attempting to handcuff him at the scene, injuring one of them. He was convicted of resisting a peace officer (Cal. Penal Code Section 148(a)(1)) and driving without a license (Cal. Penal Code Section 12500(a)); both are misdemeanors.
The State Bar Court judge found the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction did not involve moral turpitude, but did constitute other misconduct warranting professional discipline — and recommended disbarment, based on his failure to cooperate in the instant proceedings.
There were additional disciplinary matters pending against Perez when the recommendation of disbarment was issued.
Jonathan Edward Roberts
State Bar No. 166043, Rancho Cucamonga (November 30, 2019)
Roberts was disbarred after he stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Specifically, he failed to schedule a timely initial meeting with his assigned probation officer, failed to timely submit proof of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School and passing its final exam, failed to timely submit three quarterly written reports, and completely failed to submit three other quarterly written reports as well as a final report.
In aggravation, Roberts had three prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and showed indifference to the consequences of his misconduct by continuing to fail to comply with probation conditions after the State Bar had notified him of the need to comply and the consequences of not doing so.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Micah Jared Smith
State Bar No. 289527, Wilmington, Delaware (November 30, 2019)
Smith was summarily disbarred after the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar presented evidence of the convictions he had earlier appealed in Delaware.
He was found guilty of continuously sexually abusing a child (Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, Section 776) second degree sexual abuse of a child as a person in a position of trust or authority (Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, Section 778A), unlawful sexual conduct in the first degree and three counts of unlawful sexual conduct in the first degree — involving a child under the age of 13 (Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, Section 769).
The offenses are all felonies involving moral turpitude.
Michael Norman Splivalo
State Bar No. 128465, Fresno (November 30, 2019)
Splivalo was disbarred after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters.
Specifically, he was culpable of seeking to mislead a judicial officer by a false statement and failing to obey a court order, as well as two counts of failing to maintain a sufficient balance in his client trust account. He was also culpable of misconduct involving moral turpitude: two counts of making misrepresentations in court and client documents, as well as two counts of misappropriating client funds totaling more than $100,000.
In one client matter, Splivalo represented the husband in a dissolution matter, agreeing to hold the remainder of the proceeds from the sale of the family home in trust. He received a check for $94, 238 from the title company, which he deposited into his client trust account, then began withdrawing money from it for his own use and benefit. He later received additional funds representing refunds of overpayments on taxes for the couple’s community property.
He eventually drafted a proposed stipulated judgment in which he misrepresented that he held a total of $37,013 in the trust account, when in fact only $9,456 remained. Nearly a year later, he also sent a billing invoice to the client, falsely stating that he had maintained the client’s funds in trust and he had paid himself from those entrusted funds.
The misconduct in the second case was similar, in that Splivalo again received proceeds from the sale of a divorcing couple’s property, purporting to hold those funds in trust, but again, withdrawing them for his own use. In that case, he misappropriated more than $71,000.
And in a third matter, Splivalo represented the wife in a dissolution. In the course of the case, he finalized a declaration setting out the terms of child custody and visitation. Before filing it with the court, he instructed an employee to sign the declaration — forging the client’s name without her consent or knowledge.
In aggravation, Splivalo committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed one of his clients by depriving him of funds for a long period.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 26 years without a record of discipline.
Marc Alan Biederman
State Bar No. 68118, Los Angeles (November 30, 2019)
Biederman was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing 16 acts of professional misconduct: 13 related to four client matters, and the rest violations of an earlier discipline order.
The disciplinary probation violations included failing to timely file two quarterly written reports, one final probation report, four CPA reports, and seven proofs of restitution, as well as failing to complete restitution to the Client Security Fund as directed. In addition, he falsely reported that he was in compliance with his probation conditions on 13 separate reports that he filed with the State Bar — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In the client matters, he was culpable of improperly revealing confidential client information, failing to inform a client of a significant case development, and improperly withdrawing from employment; two counts of failing to perform legal services with competence; and four counts each of failing to render appropriate accountings and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigations of the wrongdoing alleged.
There were substantial similarities in the cases involving client wrongdoing: Biederman accepted flat fees to represent clients in various legal matters. All of them became dissatisfied with his representation and filed complaints with the State Bar. One of the former client’s case was dismissed; the other three were forced to hire others for assistance in their cases. State Bar investigators’ numerous requests for additional information, sent to Biederman’s counsel, went unanswered.
In aggravation, Biederman committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, significantly harmed his clients — including one who suffered from a serious mental disorder that made her highly vulnerable, failed to make full restitution as ordered, and showed indifference to rectifying his wrongdoing in numerous ways.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation. He was also allotted minimal mitigating weight for producing declarations from four individuals attesting to his good character.
Dennis Scott Carruthers
State Bar No. 68745, Stanton (November 30, 2019)
Carruthers was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to support the state and federal laws and constitutions, commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account, and failing to comply with several conditions attached to his disciplinary probation.
In the underlying matter, Carruthers operated a law firm specializing in debt collection — working on behalf of a client corporation that purchased delinquent debts from lenders and investors.
An individual filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, activating an automatic stay requiring all creditors to cease debt collections; her petition, however, failed to list a private student loan debt that the corporation had acquired. Several months later, one of Carruthers’ employees contacted the debtor, unaware that she had filed for bankruptcy — though she informed him of that fact when he contacted her by phone. The employee again contacted the debtor, informing her the debt he was seeking to collect had not been listed on her bankruptcy filing.
She provided her debit card number and agreed to withdrawals of $50 every two weeks to satisfy the student loan debt. A total of $150 in charges were made before the debtor sued Carruthers and his firm for violating the automatic bankruptcy stay. Even after being served with a notice of the lawsuit, the employee contacted the debtor again.
When the employee left the firm shortly after that, Carruthers reviewed the file and noted on it the importance of ceasing further contact with the debtor. The lawsuit was ultimately settled for $10,000, which Carruthers paid from his client trust account instead of withdrawing his earned attorney’s fees from it.
In aggravation, Carruthers had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided seven letters from individuals in the legal and general communities — all of whom were aware of the alleged misconduct and attested to his good character.
Peter Louis Cook
State Bar No. 232742, Glendale (November 30, 2019)
Cook was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to promptly respond to a client’s reasonable case status inquiries, improperly withdrawing from representation, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to promptly release the client’s papers and property after terminating employment, failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
Cook represented a company and its owner in a wage dispute with a former employee. When initial settlement negotiations failed, the former employee filed a complaint against the client. Cook filed an untimely answer to the complaint, then failed to respond to the client and to opposing counsel’s requests for discovery and other information for several months. He also ignored communications from the client’s son, who is also an attorney, requesting that he speak directly with the client (his father). The son ultimately settled the case with opposing counsel on his father’s behalf.
Cook subsequently failed to respond to the client’s letter discharging him or to return the unearned fees and case file as requested, nor did he respond to a State Bar investigator’s numerous requests for information while investigating the matter.
In aggravation, Cook committed multiple acts of misconduct, and showed both indifference toward rectifying his wrongdoing and lack of candor by his continuing failure to respond to the client and State Bar investigator.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, and had practiced law more than 10 years without a record of discipline.
State Bar No. 230157, Los Angeles (November 30, 2019)
Eliot was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing 10 acts of professional misconduct related to two separate client matters.
The wrongdoing, which occurred over a span of two years, included: failing to keep a client informed of significant case developments and improperly withdrawing from employment; two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to report court-imposed sanctions to the State Bar; and four counts of disobeying court orders.
In one client matter, Eliot was hired to represent a client in an unlawful termination case. She failed to appear at the initial case management conference and at a later status conference in the case. She later filed an ex parte motion to continue the trial date, stating she had hired substitute counsel to fill in for her while she received medical treatment. She was sanctioned twice for failures to appear and paid them, but did not report the sanctions to the State Bar as required. When the case was eventually called for trial, Eliot failed to appear and the case was dismissed with prejudice.
In the other case, also an employment matter, Eliot filed a complaint and appeared at several hearings, but was eventually admonished by the court for failing to perfect the requested default judgment despite being granted several continuances. She was again sanctioned for her failure to appear.
In aggravation, Eliot committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused significant harm to a client and to the administration of justice and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation and suffered extreme physical difficulties due to concurrent medical conditions as verified by her treating physician, who also stated she would be able to return to her law practice at full capacity.
William Craig Fuess
State Bar No. 125453, Escondido (November 30, 2019)
Fuess was suspended from practicing law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to being found culpable of 11 violations of law by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). He was suspended from practicing before the USPTO for three years and placed on probation for two year for that wrongdoing.
The State Bar Court judge found that the misconduct before the USPTO, which entailed mishandling at least 10 patents and involved moral turpitude based on multiple misrepresentations to clients, also warranted the imposition of discipline by the California State Bar.
In aggravation, Fuess committed multiple acts of professional misconduct.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for 22 years discipline-free.
Stephen Roy Girardot
State Bar No. 164847, Visalia (November 30, 2019)
Giradot was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters.
His wrongdoing included: failing to maintain client funds in trust, paying business expenses from his client trust fund account, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to render an accounting of client funds upon terminating employment, and failing to obtain written client consent in advance of receiving compensation for services from a non-client.
In one client matter, Giradot agreed to write a check for $3,900 and tender it to the district attorney’s office; the amount represented restitution to be paid by his client as restitution to a victim in a criminal matter. The client gave him cash to cover the restitution amount, and Giradot wrote the check from his client trust fund account. He left the cash in an envelope in his desk drawer, forgetting about it for the next five months.
In the meantime, he issued another check from his client trust account to pay for the personal expense of repairs to an office copier. When the restitution check was eventually negotiated, it was returned for insufficient funds. After the State Bar began an inquiry, Giradot then purchased a cashier’s check with the client’s funds in his desk drawer and gave it to the D.A. as agreed.
In another matter, Giradot was appointed to represent a gang member charged with threatening a rival gang member. He sought and was granted a continuance to locate an important witness in the case — a man identified only by first name. An investigator at the D.A.’s office subsequently located the alleged witness, but Giradot failed to locate and interview the man, who did not appear at trial.
Before trial began, Giradot’s client had motioned for two separate Marsden hearings, seeking new counsel. The client was convicted at trial, sentenced to serve 36 years to life. The court of appeal ordered a new Marsden hearing — concluding, among other things, that Giradot did not conduct a sufficient investigation to locate the witness and that he provided ineffective assistance of counsel.
In the third case, Giradot was hired by a married couple to represent their son in a criminal matter, paying $8,000 in advanced fees — though he did not seek informed written consent from the client for the fee arrangement. The discovery material was voluminous. Giradot hired an investigator to help review it, who ultimately charged $2,562. When the couple terminated the representation, asking for a return of the unearned fees, Giradot presented an accounting stating that he had earned a fee of more than $12,000.
In aggravation, Giradot committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, which significantly harmed a client who was deemed highly vulnerable due to his incarceration.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 25 years without a record of discipline.
Jonathan Donald Matthews
State Bar No. 232157, San Leandro (November 30, 2019)
Matthews was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to support the laws of the United States by acting in bad faith and for an improper purpose in a court filing.
Matthews was hired to file a bankruptcy petition for the wife in a couple who hoped to obtain an automatic stay on some property they hoped to keep occupying even though it had been sold earlier to a new owner at a foreclosure sale.
When he was retained, Matthews was aware the couple no longer owned the property, but nevertheless, filed two bankruptcy petitions on the client’s behalf. Both petitions were ultimately dismissed for deficiencies, and the bankruptcy court imposed a 12-month bar on the wife’s ability to file additional petitions. The next month, Matthews filed another bankruptcy petition, erroneously listing the husband as owner. That petition was also dismissed for deficiencies, and the rightful new owner gained possession of the property.
In aggravation, Matthews committed multiple acts of misconduct, and harmed the administration of justice by clogging the court system with improper filings.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 11 years, provided letters from eight members of the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to his good character, and submitted evidence of performing substantial pro bono and community service.
Fanya Elyce Young
State Bar No. 233426, San Francisco (November 30, 2019)
Young was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of failing to comply with various conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order — a private reproval. The underlying case was initially resolved through an Agreement in Lieu of Discipline, but Young failed to comply with all the conditions included in that agreement.
In the instant case, she was found culpable of several minor violations, including: failing to call the Office of Probation at an appointed time, using an incorrect form in a quarterly report, misdating her final written report, and failing to provide proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.
In aggravation, Young had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct — though both were given only limited weight due to their “relatively minor nature.” However, significant aggravation consideration was given for her demonstration of lack of insight and indifference, with the State Bar Court judge underscoring that “she does not take responsibility for her shortcomings,” but instead blamed the Office of Probation for her failure to meet the disciplinary conditions and claimed at trial that she had signed the earlier reproval “under duress.”
— Barbara Kate Repa