Jun. 1, 2020
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Thomas Mark Burton
State Bar No. 35856, Sandy, Utah (May 15, 2020)
Burton was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding. Though he initially filed a motion to dismiss both of the matters in the instant consolidated case, that motion was denied, and he did not file an answer as directed. Burton did not move to have the default then entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of five counts of professional misconduct. In one case, he failed to notify clients he represented in pending matters of his suspended status and failed to file an affidavit of compliance with the State Bar Court -- both required by court rules (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
In the second matter, he was found culpable of failing to comply with the law by holding himself out as entitled to practice law when he was not, actually practicing law when not entitled -- misconduct involving moral turpitude, and failing to comply with probation conditions requiring him to file three written quarterly reports with the Office of Probation.
Burton had a prior record of professional discipline, and there was one additional investigation pending against him when he was disbarred.
Vicki E. Cody
State Bar No. 157842, Sacramento (May 8, 2020)
Cody was disbarred by default after failing to respond to the Notice of Disciplinary Charges filed against her. The motion for entry of default was accompanied by a supporting declaration of reasonable diligence used to give her notice of the disciplinary proceedings. She did not move to have the default set aside or vacated.
Cody was found culpable of four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep her client reasonably informed of significant case developments, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
There were three other disciplinary matters pending against Cody when she was disbarred in the present case.
Patrick Bernard Greenwell
State Bar No. 124014, Modesto (May 8, 2020)
Greenwell was disbarred after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional discipline related to a single client matter: failing to avoid the client's adverse interests, failing to maintain the client's funds in trust, and intentionally misappropriating those funds -- an act involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, a client sought Greenwell's advice and counsel about safeguarding a large sum of money he had inherited, fearing he would spend it all at once. Greenwell agreed to keep the money -- more than $306,300 -- in trust for the client, and to distribute funds to him as needed. The client's understanding was that a separate trust would be established for his funds alone, but Greenwell deposited them into his own client trust account.
Greenwell subsequently sought and obtained a $6,000 loan from the client, but did not set out the loan terms in writing, nor did he advise him of the right to seek advice from independent counsel about the terms of the transaction.
Over a seven-year period, Greenwell made 33 payments to the client totaling $174,500 -- and intentionally misappropriated nearly $131,800 for his own use and benefit. He did not reimburse the client for either the loan or misappropriated funds.
In aggravation, Greenwell committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his client, and failed to make restitution,
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 26 years without a record of discipline.
Earle Arthur Partington
State Bar No. 45731, Honolulu, Hawaii (May 29, 2020)
Partington was disbarred after appealing the State Bar hearing judge's culpability finding and recommendation of disbarment.
He was found culpable of violating an earlier California Supreme Court order requiring him to give notice to counsel, clients, and parties of his suspended status and to file a declaration signifying his compliance (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
In a pretrial stipulation, Partington admitted he had failed to file the declaration, but raised the novel argument that he purposely violated the order so that he could appear before the State Bar Court and challenge the initial discipline case brought against him by the U.S. Navy's Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG). He had unsuccessfully appealed the JAG order in three courts -- including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Based on the JAG order, the California Supreme Court ordered him to be disciplined in a reciprocal matter -- and later, in a probation violation matter.
In recommending that Partington be disbarred, the panel on appeal in the instant case noted: "He may not disregard the California Supreme Court's rule 9.20 order because he disagrees with, and seeks to collaterally attack, the JAG order, which is final."
In aggravation, Partington had been disciplined by the California State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously, and demonstrated continuing indifference and a lack of insight into his misconduct.
In mitigation, he was allotted moderate weight for a pretrial stipulation related to facts and admission of documents which contained no admission of culpability.
Robert Michael Salomon
State Bar No. 194660, Chula Vista (May 29, 2020)
Salomon was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, at his disciplinary proceeding. The subsequent motion for entry of a default against him was accompanied by a supporting declaration of diligence of service. Salomon did not move to have the default set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order. Specifically, he failed to timely schedule and participate in the initial meeting with his assigned probation officer, failed to submit a declaration of compliance stating that he had reviewed the Rules of Professional Conduct and Business and Professions Code as mandated, failed to make restitution and submit proof of restitution payments, and failed to submit two quarterly written reports to the Office of Probation.
Salomon had a prior record of discipline.
Luke Christopher Zouvas
State Bar No. 216154, San Diego (May 22, 2020)
Zouvas was summarily disbarred following the finality of his conviction of money laundering (18 U.S.C. §1956(a)(3)(B)).
The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude per se.
Roberta Ann DiPrete
State Bar No. 118940, Novato (May 15, 2020)
DiPrete was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct -- all related to practicing law while administratively suspended due to her failure to pay State Bar annual membership dues.
Specifically, she was culpable of two counts each of holding herself out as entitled to practice law while not an active member of the State Bar and doing so knowingly -- misconduct involving moral turpitude.
While suspended due to dues nonpayment, DiPrete worked as a licensed real estate broker. She sent an email inquiring about a potential neighborhood merger, identifying herself as an attorney in the signature line. She also maintained a website and profile page that stated she was an attorney with training in contracts and real estate law.
After the State Bar instigated an investigation, DiPrete removed the language from her website and profile.
In aggravation, DiPrete had a prior record of discipline -- also related to unauthorized practice.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, did not harm any individuals through her misconduct, and suffered an extreme physical disability due to cancer treatment that caused her inattention to the matters posted on her internet pages.
State Bar No. 249134, Sacramento (May 15, 2020)
Kwun was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to three client cases.
He wrongdoing included one count of disobeying a court order and three counts of failing to perform legal services with competence.
Kwun represented all three clients in separate immigration matters -- failing to file the requisite applications and in one case, failing to file a responsive pleading as ordered by the court. In another case, he erroneously sought relief for which the client was not eligible.
In aggravation, Kwun committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and was also allotted slight mitigating credit for having practiced law for nine years without a record of discipline.
Byron Thomas Nelson
State Bar No. 274059, Modesto (May 8, 2020)
Nelson was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to a felony violation: driving under the influence and causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code §23153(a)).
The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation involved moral turpitude. In calculating his term of suspension, Nelson was given credit for the period of interim suspension already accrued.
In the underlying incident, Nelson had drinks at three different bars. When leaving the last bar with an acquaintance, he backed into another parked car. The other car owner saw the accident and asked Nelson to provide insurance information; when he refused, his acquaintance, then a passenger in his car, handed it over. Nelson then sped off, hitting the other car owner's leg, causing injury. After that, he continued to speed and lost control of the car; the frightened passenger jumped out of the convertible and ran away.
Nelson then crashed his car into a cellphone store, where it stopped. He disingenuous and disrespectful to investigating officers called to the scene -- lying about how much alcohol he had consumer, falsely claiming he was not the driver of the car, giving a fake name for his former passenger, claiming his relative was a district attorney who would ensure any charges against him would be dropped, disparaging a "Mexican guy and girl" he claimed were stealing from the store into which he had crashed.
He failed all sobriety tests at the scene, where a breath test registered a blood alcohol concentration of .19%.
In aggravation, Nelson committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, caused significant harm to the public, and made numerous misrepresentations to investigating officers.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, submitted letters from 20 individuals -- all of whom attested to his good character, and was given some mitigating credit for having practiced law discipline-free for almost six years.
Patricia Renee Rodriguez
State Bar No. 270639, San Gabriel (May 29, 2020)
Rodriguez was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year following her appeal of the hearing judge's recommendation of that same discipline.
She had been found culpable of 10 counts of professional misconduct related to home loan modification services in three client matters. Specifically, in all three maters, she was found culpable of failing to provide separate statements disclosing that third party representation was not necessary, charging illegal fees, and failing to support state laws. In addition, she failed to render an appropriate accounting in one of the cases.
In all three cases, the clients signed retainer agreements authorizing Rodriguez "to engage in any form of litigation that she deemed appropriate;" she submitted loan modification applications to each of their lenders. She did not provide any separate disclosure statements emphasizing that a third party negotiator was not necessary, as is statutorily required (Cal. Civ. Code §2944.6(a)).
Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found Rodriguez was culpable of violating the statute regulating loan modification services.
Finally, the controlling statute specifically prohibits charging or receiving any compensation for loan modification services until every service is fully performed. Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found she had collected preperformance fees in each client matter. While the panel agreed with the hearing judge that Rodriguez violated this provision in all three cases, it found the charges duplicated the counts charging violations of state law, and did not assign any additional weight for the finding of culpability.
On appeal, Rodriguez argued that the statute controlling loan modifications does not apply when the work is combined with "valid litigation," that she did not operate or advertise her services as a loan modification practice, that the controlling statutory language is ambiguous, and that the hearing judge abused her discretion by excluding an expert witness without explanation. The panel rejected all those claims.
In aggravation, Rodriguez committed multiple acts of misconduct that caused substantial financial harm to her financially-strapped clients.
In mitigation, she provided 14 references in the form of testimony and declarations by individuals representing a broad spectrum of the community who vouched for her good character, and was also allotted moderate mitigating credit for stipulating to easily provable facts and the admission of documents.
William Monroe Rubendall
State Bar No. 80616, Citrus Heights (May 8, 2020)
Rubendall was suspended from the practice of 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: presenting a legal claim that was unwarranted under existing law, failing to maintain a legal or just action, and aiding another in a campaign of vexatious litigation -- wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.
As background for the current case: An individual who was a lawyer purchased a residential property, then sued the seller and several of the neighboring property owners in a series of lawsuits. A court subsequently declared the individual to be a vexatious litigant; the seller declared bankruptcy.
For the next eight years, the litigious lawyer filed a series of motions, appeals, and removal requests -- all of which were unsuccessful -- alleging that state court rulings would be void because of the bankruptcy proceedings involving the seller, and that all court orders would be stayed as long as there was any appeal pending in the matter. An appellate court held that the lawyer "has pursued a persistent and obsessive campaign of litigation terror" regarding the property, and again declared him to be a vexatious litigant. He was subsequently disbarred.
Rubendall entered into the matter, knowing that the attorney had been declared a vexatious litigant, and filed a motion for reconsideration of the attorney's fees awarded to the seller of the property -- and an appeal once that motion was denied. He was ultimately sanctioned $9,575 and the appellate court dismissed both his appeal of the sanction and of the attorney award as frivolous. It noted that Rubendall had "acted as a puppet" for the disbarred lawyer, who had drafted, edited, and approved the pleadings before they were filed.
In aggravation, Rubendall committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed the administration of justice and also harmed the seller, who was forced to spend time and money defending the various claims raised.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for more than 35 years without discipline before the misconduct at issue.
Brian Stuart Stern
State Bar No. 64642, San Francisco (May 8, 2020)
Stern was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.
His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds, failing to promptly release the client's papers and property, and failing to respond to the client's reasonable inquiries about case status.
Stern was hired to represent a client seeking a marriage dissolution, working on the case for about three years until it was nearly completed. He then failed to take any steps to complete the matter and failed to respond to the client's emails -- effectively terminating his representation.
He also ignored initial requests for client files and an accounting from a lawyer subsequently hired to handle the dissolution.
In aggravation, Stern committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his client and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and presented letters from 10 individuals taken from a range in the community -- all of whom attested to his good character.
State Bar No. 43872, San Juan Capistrano (May 8, 2020)
Stocker was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
Specifically, he was culpable of: failing to obey a court order, failing to report a judicial sanction to the State Bar, failing to maintain only legal and just actions, and making a false statement to State Bar investigators.
Stocker represented a company in a bankruptcy case, which was dismissed due to his failure to comply with local rules for pleading. The company had earlier been joined in a marriage dissolution case, with the claim that it was wrongfully encumbered as community property.
One of the litigants, the husband in the in the family law case, sought to remove the action to federal court, alleging racial bias and civil rights violations by the presiding family law judges -- though that case was dismissed based on the failure to establish federal removal jurisdiction. Stocker had filed a similar motion to remove on behalf of the company he represented.
When the husband appealed the dismissal, the court notified him the appeal might be frivolous -- and urged either that the appeal be dismissed or a statement filed explaining why it should go forward. Stocker filed a declaration supporting the appeal, but the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal as frivolous.
Stocker subsequently filed a separate notice to remove the family law case to federal court, based on the reasoning that because the company had filed for bankruptcy, only federal courts had jurisdiction to hear creditor claims against it. At the time he filed, he knew, however, that the bankruptcy case had been dismissed and ordered closed.
The district court eventually sanctioned Stocker just over $4,000, but he did not seek to stay the sanctions order, nor did he report the order to the State Bar as required. He eventually paid the sanctions -- 22 months after they were issued, more than four months after they were affirmed on appeal, and nearly two months after the State Bar informed him of its intent to file disciplinary charges against him.
Also of note: When State bar investigators initially questioned whether he had paid the sanctions, Stocker responded that he was waiting for a court's ruling on the opposing party's motion to recover the sanctions as costs; no such motion had been filed.
In aggravation, Stocker committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that harmed the administration of justice.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 48 years without a record of discipline.
Frank Thomas Buck
State Bar No. 68417, Suisan City (May 15, 2020)
Buck was placed on probation for one year after being found culpable of committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client.
Specifically, his wrongdoing included: failing to return client papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to render an appropriate accounting to the client, and failing to keep all agreements made in lieu of disciplinary prosecution with the State Bar.
In the underlying matter, Buck was hired to defend a client in a criminal case and also to defend him against a civil restraining order. After the client was found guilty at the criminal trial, he hired another lawyer to represent him during his sentencing and appeal. The client, new hire, and Buck all subsequently appeared at the restraining order hearing. The newly hired attorney testified that he requested the client's file from Buck that day, but did not receive it; Buck maintains he provided part of the file.
The other attorney also testified he called Buck several times to obtain the file, but Buck refused to tender it or discuss the substance of the case until he was substituted out as counsel -- though he later refused to execute a substitution of counsel form or to withdraw from the case. The client also wrote to Buck requesting that he return phone calls and provide an accounting of the money received, but got no response. He then filed a complaint with the State Bar.
After the State Bar began its investigation, Buck confirmed he had sent most of the file to the client, along with a check for $600 and an accounting of time spent on the case. The amount the client had originally paid was in dispute: either $6,000 or $6,600. Buck also signed an Agreement in Lieu of Discipline (ALD) containing only one provision: that he attend the State bar Ethics School within one year of executing it. He believed, erroneously, that taking Minimum Continuing Legal Education courses would satisfy this requirement.
In aggravation, Buck committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, showed indifference to the consequences of his failure to return the client's file, and displayed a lack of candor by offering testimony that contradicted the facts in the ALD he had signed.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for more than 38 years without a record of discipline.
Yoon Oh Ham
State Bar No. 244121, Upland (May 8, 2020)
Ham was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading no contest to one count of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b) -- a criminal misdemeanor. Though that complaint did not allege a prior DUI offense, the same date Ham entered the plea, he also pled no contest to the same offense stemming from a prior arrest, and was sentenced as a multi-offender.
In the underlying incident, highway patrol officers began following Ham's car on the highway after receiving a report of a possible drunk driver. After observing Ham driving recklessly, they instructed him to exit the highway and pull over. While cooperative, Ham was unable to perform the field sobriety tests satisfactorily, and a subsequent blood test revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .136%.
This arrest occurred 20 days after he had been arrested for the same DUI offense, with blood samples taken in that incident revealing an alcohol concentration of .186%.
The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In mitigation, Ham entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 13 years without a record of discipline.
-- Barbara Kate Repa