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April 2020

| Apr. 1, 2020

Discipline Report

Apr. 1, 2020

April 2020

Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.


James Drew DeOlden

State Bar No. 200878, Newport Beach (February 29, 2020)

DeOlden was disbarred by default after he failed to file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges he received or to move to have the default ultimately entered against him set aside or vacated.

He was found culpable of violating a rule of court (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) by failing to file a declaration of compliance as required for disbarred, resigned, or suspended attorneys. The mandate was imposed upon him in an earlier disciplinary order.

DeOlden had a prior record of discipline, and there was another disciplinary matter pending in the State Bar system at the time he was disbarred.

Victoria Margaret Helton

State Bar No. 141517, Ventura (February 29, 2020)

Helton was disbarred by default after she failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in her disciplinary proceeding. The State Bar Court judge determined that she had actual notice of the proceeding — and had earlier stipulated to being enrolled in inactive status and indicated that she would not be filing a response to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against her.

After Helton did not move to have the default entered against her set aside or vacated, she was found culpable of failing to comply with several probation conditions imposed earlier.

Specifically, she failed to submit three quarterly written reports and a final report, as well as failing to provide the Office of Probation with proof of completing the State Bar’s Ethics School and Trust Accounting School and of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility exam as ordered.

Helton had one prior record of discipline when she was disbarred.


Rita Mae Lingwood

State Bar No. 214145, Citrus Heights (January 10, 2020)

Lingwood was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after she appealed the recommendation from the hearing judge below recommending disbarment.

On appeal, she was found culpable of failing to avoid interests adverse to a client and of violating state law.

In the underlying matter, Lingwood prepared a trust agreement and durable power of attorney for her neighbors; she served as a trustee of the trust and attorney-in-fact on the power of attorney. Concerned that the trust was losing money, she arranged to make a loan from the trust to herself, secured by her real property, to guarantee a return on investment. She sent the clients’ daughter an email first, asking for her agreement that the loan would be a prudent investment.

Lingwood then executed a promissory note for $60,000 payable to the trust and wrote a check for $30,000 to herself from the trust account. That same month, she wrote a second check to herself to complete the loan. She did not inform the surviving client or the two trust beneficiaries about the transactions.

The client’s daughter then emailed Lingwood, stating that she objected to the loan arrangement. The daughter hired an attorney, who demanded that Lingwood repay the $60,000 immediately. She was unable to do so, as she had spent most of that money — but agreed to refinance her real estate to make the repayment. In the meantime, she made monthly payments of $600 to the trust. About a year after initially making the loan, Lingwood repaid the balance in full.

Both the hearing judge and the panel on appeal found Lingwood culpable of entering into an unfair business transaction. They noted that the trust settlor had become mentally incompetent, so Lingwood owed the beneficiaries a fiduciary duty. Specifically, the transaction terms were not favorable to those to whom she owed a fiduciary duty, the loan was unsecured when executed, she did not advise the clients in writing that they could seek advice about the transaction from an independent attorney, and the trust settlor and beneficiaries did not consent to the transaction in writing.

The panel also found that withdrawing the $60,000 from the trust account without seeking permission from the fiduciaries expressly violated the Probate Code (Cal. Prob. Code Section 16004). It dismissed the charges of misappropriation and misrepresentation involving moral turpitude — finding them unsupported by clear and convincing evidence — and recommended suspension instead of disbarment as the proper discipline.

The panel also disagreed with the hearing judge’s findings of several aggravating factors, and found none.

In mitigation, Lingwood had practiced law discipline-free for 15 years, entered into a stipulation as to facts and culpability, presented nine witnesses and four declarants who attested to her good character, and offered some evidence of performing community service.

Scott Nicholas Orona

State Bar No. 129594, San Diego (January 11, 2020)

Orona was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct: being convicted of a criminal act and submitting false information on a form filed with a court — wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.

In the underlying matter, Orona pled guilty to possessing a firearm while the subject of a protective order (Cal. Penal Code Section 29825(b)), a misdemeanor. The statute requires a restrained individual to relinquish all firearms and ammunition within 24 hours of being served with the order, and to notify the court within 48 hours of how the disposal took place.

Orona, who was the subject of a temporary restraining order that had been extended twice, completed the California Judicial Council’s mandatory TRO response form (Form CH-120), indicating he did not own or control any guns or firearms — and signed it under penalty of perjury.

However, when Bureau of Firearms investigators later came to search his residence, they retrieved two pump-action shotguns, a semi-automatic rifle, a semi-automatic pistol, a revolver, several thousand rounds of ammunition and a magazine from his bedroom. They also found seven firearms, gun shells, and ammunition in Orona’s brother’s bedroom in the residence, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a hall closet.

In aggravation Orona committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 20 years without a record of discipline, and provided reference letters from seven individuals — all of whom attested to his good character.

Derik Justin Roy, III

State Bar No. 264052, Huntington Beach (January 10, 2020)

Roy was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years.

In a consolidated matter, the Hearing Department of the State Bar Court considered whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions involved moral turpitude or other conduct warranting professional discipline.

Roy earlier pled guilty to two misdemeanors: driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code Sections 23152(a and b)). Six months later, he pled guilty to committing child abuse and endangerment (Cal. Penal Code Section 273a(b)) — also a misdemeanor.

In the first case, Roy spent the day drinking heavily, driving home early in the morning the next day. While a few houses away from his own, he crashed into a fire hydrant, which spewed a great quantity of water. Roy walked to his house and summoned police, but told the dispatcher inconsistent stories about how and why the incident occurred. He told investigating officers that he had 10 beers to drink, though the total was much higher — and also claimed his car had been stolen, which was not true, signing a fabricated stolen car report under penalty of perjury. He was enrolled in a First Offender Program as part of probation conditions, but was kicked out for missing too many classes.

Seven days after he pled guilty to the first conviction, Roy was again drinking heavily during the day at his girlfriend’s house — then took her child out for a walk to get ice cream, without the mother’s consent. The child was barefoot and wearing only a nightgown. During the walk, Roy sometimes carried her and at one point, walked into approaching traffic with her on his shoulders. Several passersby were so concerned that they called 911; one of the observers followed them, fearing for the child’s safety. Arriving officers arrested Roy, who resisted them. After pleading guilty, he again received probation conditions — including attending the Child Abuser’s Program, but he failed to comply with it.

The two matters were consolidated for trial; Roy arrived two hours late the first day, and failed to appear on the second day.

The State Bar Court judge found the convictions involved moral turpitude, noting that Roy’s behavior “reflects a flagrant disregard for societal norms,” and that he also “demonstrated extensive levels of deception, which cannot be absolved by the fact he was intoxicated.”

In aggravation, Roy committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference toward rectifying his wrongdoing by failing to comply with the terms of his criminal probation and by his disrespectful actions in court.


Michael Sean Devereux

State Bar No. 225240, Los Angeles (January 10, 2010)

Devereux was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, and failing to refund unearned advanced fees to his client.

The wrongdoing was related to a single client matter in which he accepted $4,875 as a retainer to file and prosecute a civil case alleging libel, stalking, invasion of privacy, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He met with the client and reviewed some relevant documents a few days later, and eventually interviewed a couple witnesses, but was mostly unresponsive to the client’s queries about the status of the case.

Three years after being retained, Devereux informed the client that her claims were then barred by the statute of limitations.

He eventually refunded unearned fees to the client totaling $682.50.

In aggravation, Devereux committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed his client, who was forced to forfeit her claims.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law 12 years discipline-free prior to the misconduct, and was given limited mitigating credit for family problems suffered after his parents died within months of one another.

Steven James Foster

State Bar No. 130975, Los Altos (February 7, 2020)

Foster was placed on probation for one year.

He had earlier stipulated to committing professional misconduct in Colorado: obtaining a loan from a client without first obtaining the client’s written consent and without advising of the possibility of seeking independent counsel in the transaction. As a result, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered that he be publicly censored.

The matter was referred to the California State Bar Court to determine whether the Colorado proceedings lacked fundamental constitutional protections, and whether Foster’s wrongdoing there also warranted imposing professional discipline in California.

In the instant reciprocal disciplinary matter, Foster separately stipulated to culpable conduct, but argued — as he has done previously in both the State Bar Court and federal court — that California’s reciprocal discipline statute (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Section 6049.1) violates his due process rights by precluding him from litigating his constitutional claims in federal court.

Both the hearing judge below and panel on appeal rejected this argument as meritless and moot — underscoring that because he earlier stipulated to all facts establishing culpability, he is bound to them both at trial and on review.

In aggravation, Foster had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, he was allotted nominal weight for stipulating to facts that were easily provable.

Charles Joshua Katz

State Bar No. 68459, Millbrae (February 7, 2020)

Katz was placed on probation for one year after a disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of violating several conditions attached to a private reproval order previously imposed on him by the State Bar Court.

Specifically, he failed to contact the Office of Probation within 30 days of his discipline order; failed to timely submit a written quarterly report, final report, and final Client Funds Certificate; failed to balance his client trust account; and failed to provide proof of successfully completing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.

In aggravation, Katz had a prior record of discipline, and also received limited weight for committing multiple acts of misconduct, which were relatively minor offenses.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a comprehensive stipulation of facts and admission of documents, presented good character testimony from four attorneys — all of whom knew him well and were generally aware of the charges against him, demonstrated remorse for his wrongdoing and submitted evidence of performing pro bono and community service work.

Jerome Alan Kaplan

State Bar No. 49142, Beverly Hills (January 10, 2020)

Kaplan was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct: acting as an attorney without authority to do so.

In the underlying matter, a corporate client hired Kaplan’s firm to defend it in a lawsuit with a supplier and to sue an insurer for refusing to pay out on a theft claim. The supplier suit settled, and the entry of judgment was stayed with the proviso that the client must pay the supplier “from the first proceeds of any recovery, an additional sum up to a total of $80,000.”

The other lawsuit was settled in mediation, with the insurer agreeing to pay the client $135,000. The client signed two checks — one for $55,000 and one for $85,000 — which were jointly payable to Kaplan’s firm, and awaited its share of payment.

The firm did not forward payment, contending that its cost exhausted one check amount, nor did it pay the supplier as agreed in the settlement terms. The supplier then sought an order directing the client to turn over the $80,000 to the supplier.

Though the client did not authorize Kaplan or his firm to take any further action on its behalf, the firm did so — opposing the initial application, opposing a motion to enforce the settlement, and prosecuting an appeal in the matter.

In aggravation, Kaplan caused significant harm to his client, who was exposed to $15,320 in attorney fees.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for 40 years discipline-free, produced seven letters from a range of individuals attesting to his good character, and also offered evidence of performing pro bono and community service work.

— Barbara Kate Repa


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