This is the property of the Daily Journal Corporation and fully protected by copyright. It is made available only to Daily Journal subscribers for personal or collaborative purposes and may not be distributed, reproduced, modified, stored or transferred without written permission. Please click "Reprint" to order presentation-ready copies to distribute to clients or use in commercial marketing materials or for permission to post on a website. and copyright (showing year of publication) at the bottom.

July 2020

| Jul. 17, 2020

Discipline Report

Jul. 17, 2020

July 2020

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

DISBARMENT

Jeffrey David Bohn

State Bar No. 243870, Fresno (June 12, 2020)

Bohn was disbarred after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was initially charged with 90 counts of professional misconduct related to 20 consolidated matters. The Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar moved to dismiss eight of the original 90 charges after a trial in the matter spanning a year.

In the present case, Bohn was found culpable of 56 of the counts charged related to 18 separate cases. In its voluminous opinion, the State Bar Court detailed all of the charges, as well as documenting the reasons for dismissing several of them.

Most cases involved clients with personal injury claims in which a settlement was reached and paid to Bohn — though he often failed to inform the clients he had received their funds or to pay them or the lienholders the money due. Most cases also involved an overarching finding of culpability for failure to perform legal services with competence; several also involved findings of improperly withdrawing from employment. There were also numerous proven charges involving moral turpitude — most based on making material misrepresentation or misappropriating client funds.

Though the case decision and analyses were lengthy, the State Bar Court judge’s discussion of a discipline recommendation was remarkably brief, underscoring that the extent and duration of misconduct gave little assurance it would cease. The opinion simply noted: “Reviewing the case law, the court has not found any modern cases involving such extensive and serious misconduct that have not resulted in disbarment.”

In aggravation, Bohn committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients, both financially and emotionally, and also was found to have engaged in a “habitual disregard of his clients’ interests — a substantial factor in aggravation.

In mitigation, he was allotted limited weight for having practicing law discipline-free for seven years before the onset of the misconduct, and for entering into a stipulation acknowledging a minimal number of facts, as well as modest weight for good character testimony from four individuals who did not constitute a wide range of members of the community. He was also afforded substantial mitigating weight for experiencing extreme emotional difficulties due to his daughter’s health struggles and his own physical ailments, which required multiple back surgeries over a two-year period.

Barbara McDaniel Harris

State Bar No. 182652, Bakersfield (June 26, 2020)

Harris was disbarred after she was found culpable of nine of the 16 counts of professional misconduct with which she had been originally charged. All counts related to a single client.

Her wrongdoing included: failing to render the client with an appropriate accounting of the client’s funds, as well as two counts each of failing to obey court orders, failing to maintain the client’s funds in trust, acquiring interests adverse to the client, and misappropriating client funds — misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In the underlying matter, Harris substituted in to represent the wife in a pending marital dissolution. Prior to that, the parties had sold a community property asset; as stipulated, the proceeds of more than $888,500 were deposited into Harris’ client trust account until trial. Also pursuant to a stipulation, court-ordered disbursements of the community property funds held eventually reduced the total to about $513,000.

The court then ordered additional payments to each of the parties of $50,000, as well as monthly payments to opposing counsel. However, Harris did not make those payments — and the amount in her client trust account was insufficient to cover the payments ordered.

At a subsequent settlement conference, the court ordered Harris to prepare an accounting of the client funds; opposing counsel questioned several of the transactions included. Harris tendered a second accounting, acknowledging that several disbursements paid to her client were not included, purportedly at the client’s request. The court ordered Harris to transfer the remaining community property funds into an interest-bearing account, but she failed to do so.

A third accounting was also tendered — revealing that the trust account balance had fallen well under the permissible balance.

In addition, Harris and her client entered into an agreement in which the client agreed to loan her $30,000. There was no written documentation informing the client she had the right to seek the advice of an independent attorney about the propriety of the transaction as required. Harris made initial loan repayments not from her own funds, but from the funds generated by the couple’s community property proceeds.

In a later transaction, Harris obtained a second loan from the client for $10,000, which she characterized as an investment in a project she headed. Again, there was no writing signifying the client’s understanding that she could seek the advice of independent counsel.

After the client terminated Harris’ employment, she failed to provide an accounting of either the legal services performed or the remaining community property sales proceeds held in the trust account.

The State Bar Court judge determined that Harris had misappropriated more than $368,000 of the client funds entrusted to her.

In aggravation, Harris committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her client and client’s estranged husband by depriving them of their community property funds, demonstrated a lack of candor by falsely testifying that the funds she received from her client were not loans, and also failed to make restitution to the parties.

In mitigation, she was allotted nominal credit for having practiced law discipline-free for approximately 15 years before engaging in the misconduct at issue.

Christopher James Hudelson

State Bar No. 242362, Modesto (July 10, 2020)

Hudelson was disbarred by default after he failed to respond to the charges against him or to appear in the disciplinary proceeding related to them. The State Bar Court judge concluded that the procedural notice requirements were satisfied, and that Hudelson did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.

As a result, the factual allegations set forth in the notice of disciplinary charges were deemed admitted, and he was found culpable of all seven counts charged.

His wrongdoing, which related to a single client case, included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable case status inquiries, improperly withdrawing from representation, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds held, failing to cooperate in the investigation of the State Bar’s investigation of the charges against him, and making a false statement to his client in writing — an act involving moral turpitude.

Stephen Joseph Liosi

State Bar No. 181959, Whittier (June 12, 2020)

Liosi was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding. Though he exchanged some initial communications with the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel concerning the charges against him and sought two continuances of the initial status conference, he did not appear, nor did he move to set aside or vacate the default order entered against him in the matter.

He was found culpable of 12 of the 13 counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged. The wrongdoing, which occurred in a single client matter, included: failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to render an accounting of client funds, failing to pay the client funds promptly; three counts related to improperly withdrawing from employment; and four counts of failing to perform legal services with competence. He was also found culpable of two counts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating client funds and making a misrepresentation to his client about the status of his case.

There were additional disciplinary actions pending against Liosi at the time he was disbarred.

Richard Medina

State Bar No. 228010, San Diego (July 10, 2020)

Medina was disbarred after he stipulated to pleading guilty to two felonies: conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and causing a financial institution to file a report containing a misstatement of fact (18 U.S.C. Section 371) and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business (18 U.S.C. Section 1960(a)). He was sentenced to a prison term of 60 months for each offense — the time to run concurrently.

After his release, the State Bar’s Review Department referred the matter to the Hearing Department for a determination of whether the facts and circumstances surrounding commission of the crimes involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting professional discipline.

The facts behind the conviction: Medina and three other individuals agreed to conduct a money transmitting business and file an erroneous report in an attempt to circumvent registration and reporting requirements.

For his part, Medina agreed to use his client trust accounts for receiving, holding, and transferring the money involved. At the time, he was aware of the law requiring financial institutions engaging in currency transactions involving more than $10,000 to file a report with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and to comply with federal licensing provisions. The scheme operated in violation of these requirements.

In the course of a year, 47 deposits totaling nearly $11,987,000 were made into Medina’s client trust accounts. The currency transaction reports listed Medina and his law practice. In fact, the deposits came from individuals he knew or had reason to know were attempting to conceal their identities, as the funds were intended to promote criminal activity or were the proceeds of some type of criminal conduct, then transported to destinations overseas.

The State Bar Court judge found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violations at issue involved moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Medina committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law nearly nine years without a record of discipline.

In recommending disbarment, the judge acknowledged that the crimes committed in the instant case did not involve legal clients or the practice of law, but noted: “Respondent’s criminal conduct involved a serious breach of duty owed to society and evidences such a flagrant disrespect for the law and societal norms that knowledge of respondent’s conduct will undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession.”

Nabil R. Salem

State Bar No. 264355, Torrance (June 12, 2020)

Salem was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, at the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with eight counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.

He was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to act with reasonable diligence, failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, commingling personal and client funds, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries, misappropriating $15,000 of the client’s funds — an act involving moral turpitude, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged, and two counts of failing to promptly pay funds owed the client.

There were three other disciplinary matters pending against Salem with the State Bar when he was disbarred in the present action.

Robert Michael Salomon

State Bar No. 194660, Chula Vista (June 12, 2020)

Salomon was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding, and did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.

As a result, he was found culpable of the professional misconduct with which he had been charged: failure to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier probation order. Specifically, he failed to schedule and attend an initial meeting with the Office of Probation, failed to submit proof of making restitution payments, failed to timely submit two quarterly written reports, and failed to submit a declaration signifying he had reviewed the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Business and Professions Code as required.

Salomon had a prior record of discipline before being disbarred in the instant case.

Qin Zhang

State Bar No. 225324, Los Angeles (June 12, 2020)

Zhang was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in her disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate legal notice and opportunity to do so. She did not move to have the default ordered against her set aside or vacated.

She was found culpable of failing to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order. The charges included failing to timely submit two written quarterly reports to the Office of Probation and also failing to submit proof of attending the State Bar Ethics School and of passing its final test.

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

SUSPENSION

Aran Herschl Dokovna

State Bar No. 65665, Valencia (July 10, 2020)

Dokovna was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to one count of filing a false tax return (Cal. Rev. & Tax Code Section 19706), a misdemeanor.

The State Bar Court’s Review Department earlier issued an order finding the offense should be classified as having probable cause to believe it involved moral turpitude. The case was then referred for a hearing to determine whether the facts and circumstances in the instant case indicated moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting professional discipline — and if so, what discipline should be imposed.

Dokovna, in his capacity as a certified public accountant, filed an amended return for a client that reflected a claim for refunds based on an anticipated settlement with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Franchise Tax Board (FTB) advised that any action on a refund would be deferred until the IRS made a final determination.

The IRS subsequently released an audit report on the client that included adjustments increasing the taxes the client owed. Dokovna, however, submitted an altered version of the IRS report to FTB, making adjustments that reduced the tax liability; the FTB issued a refund totaling more than $32,300 based on that documentation. After paying the refund, it received a copy of the original report directly from the IRS, and indicated the client had an additional tax liability totaling nearly $19,300.

Dokovna initially protested the assessment, but withdrew that protest after he was informed the FTB had received an original copy of the tax assessment from the IRS. The FTB recommended criminal proceedings against Dokovna.

The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the instant violations indicated moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Dokovna significantly harmed both his client and the administration of justice through his actions, and failed to report his conviction to the State Bar, which indicated an attempt at concealment.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 16 years without a record of discipline and had maintained an unblemished practice for nearly 25 years since the misconduct occurred, believed he was serving has client’s best interests when acting in the capacity of an accountant, and submitted declarations from seven individuals taken from the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to his good character.

Steven David Harowitz

State Bar No. 128496, Torrance (June 12, 2020)

Harowitz was suspended for 30 days and place on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case: failing to keep the client informed of several significant case developments and misrepresenting to a court that a document had been properly witnesses — an act involving moral turpitude.

In the matter at issue, Harowitz represented a client in a workers’ compensation case. Her initial deposition was rescheduled a number of times, though Harowitz did not explain the reasoning behind the rescheduling, nor did he explain that an amended application was required because the original contained an erroneous date of injury.

Harowitz and defense counsel ultimately stipulated that the client, who was living in Scotland, would need to return to California at her own expense to be deposed. While out of the country, the client signed a compromise and release, which Harowitz directed his employees to backdate and sign as witnesses and also modified without informing the client. He then submitted the document to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board without the client’s knowledge.

After the State Bar began its investigation of the claimed misconduct, Harowitz reopened the case to resolve some extenuating issues, and secured a stipulation resulting in an additional payment to the client of $3,000.

In aggravation, Harowitz committed multiple acts of misconduct that harmed his client by significantly delaying resolution of her case.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 28 years, provided evidence substantiating family problems with his son and daughter, and was also allotted limited mitigating weight for five character letters from individuals who did not demonstrate that they knew the full extent of the misconduct alleged.

Nathan V. Hoffman

State Bar No. 135155, Los Angeles (June 12, 2020)

Hoffman was suspended from the practice of law for three years and placed on probation for four years. The discipline was imposed after a contested matter consolidating two cases: a conviction referral matter and an original disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with failing to obey a court order.

The State Bar Court found there was a lack of clear and convincing evidence to establish the charge of violating a court order, and it was dismissed.

The remaining charge derived from his conviction of manufacturing at least 50 marijuana plants (21 U.S.C. Section 841(a)(1)) — a felony. That matter was referred to the Hearing Department to determine whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting professional discipline.

In the underlying matter, Hoffman conspired with two other individuals to develop two large-scale marijuana cultivation sites, with the intent to profit from distributing it illegally. Hoffman took an active role in the scheme — including incorporating the business, making short-term loans to cover immediate operating expenses, and introducing potential investors to the business.

Executing a federal search warrant, law enforcement agents seized 2,168 marijuana plants being grown, and Hoffman and four others were indicted. In his plea agreement, Hoffman admitted to manufacturing at least 50 of the plants — which included producing, preparing, and cultivating them — and to knowing they were marijuana or some other prohibited drug. He also agreed to give up his California law license, to cease practicing law, and to refrain from contesting any disbarment proceedings that might ensue.

He was ultimately sentenced to serve 48 months in federal prison. After an appeal, his conviction became final.

In the present matter, Hoffman argues that his crime did not involve moral turpitude, as he was merely acting as a legal advisor to assist his client in complying with state laws related to marijuana collectives. The State Bar Court rejected this contention, finding no evidence that Hoffman was acting in accord with California law and noting the enterprise was also involved in transporting and distributing marijuana out of state.

In recommending disbarment, the judge noted: “As an attorney, Respondent assumed a responsibility to the law itself, and his serious disregard of federal law negatively reflects on his moral fitness to practice.”

In aggravation, Hoffman had two prior records of discipline.

In mitigation, he presented declarations from five individuals — four attorneys and one former client — attesting to his good character. However, the court afforded only minimal weight to the evidence as it was not derived from a sufficiently wide range and failed to establish that the individuals knew the full extent of the misconduct involved.

Michele Lynn Jackson

State Bar No. 209841, Irvine (July 10, 2020)

Jackson was suspended for 10 months and placed on probation for two years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). She was given credit for her period of inactive enrollment from February 5, 2018 through April 5, 2019.

Jackson had earlier stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct — all of them involving moral turpitude. In three separate client matters, she had created and used falsified settlement agreements with forged signatures; in one of the cases, she also knowingly made false statements to a State Bar investigator in a written document related to the probe of the wrongdoing.

In aggravation Jackson committed multiple acts of misconduct that caused significant harm to others.

In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 13 years before engaging in the misconduct, and overcame extreme personal pressures and financial difficulties also suffered during that time.

Brian David McGinity

State Bar No. 212891, Cameron Park (July 10, 2020)

McGinity 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 maintain the requisite balance in his client trust account, failing to promptly distribute client funds held in trust, and misappropriating client funds due to gross negligence — an act involving moral turpitude.

McGinity represented the wife in a divorce. The estranged parties executed a court-approved stipulation stating they would divide the proceeds from the sale of their marital home and place their shares in their attorneys’ trust accounts until they mutually agreed on how to distribute them. Pursuant to that agreement, half the proceeds — amounting to nearly $10,700 — were deposited into McGinity’s account. He claimed he believed that he and the opposing counsel had orally agreed they both were entitled to bill attorney’s fees against the proceeds held in trust, though opposing counsel denied that arrangement.

For approximately 10 months, McGinity withdrew funds from the account to pay his fees, causing the balance to dip below the permissible level. Opposing counsel objected. When judgment was entered in the divorce case, the husband was awarded the full proceeds of the home sale, including the half McGinity was to hold in trust.

When McGinity did not respond to the request for payment, the husband complained to the State Bar. Within a few months, McGinity began restoring the money to the trust account and paid the amount, including interest in restitution.

In aggravation, McGinity committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for more than 15 years without a record of discipline, submitted letters from seven individuals attesting to his good character, and suffered emotional difficulties during the time of the misconduct due to caring for his ailing father during his final stages of life. He was also allotted mitigating credit for taking corrective measures by hiring a bookkeeper to improve his accounting practices.

Erik Harald Moje

State Bar No. 230639, Turlock (July 10, 2020)

Moje was suspended from practicing law for four years and placed on probation for five years. He had earlier pled guilty to one count of importing a Schedule III substance: anabolic steroids (21 U.S.C. Sections 952 and 960). The Review Department had classified the offense as a felony that may or may not involve moral turpitude, and the matter was referred to the State Bar Court for a determination of whether the surrounding facts and circumstances indicated moral turpitude.

The facts in the case, derived from the parties’ partial oral stipulation, were that Moje, through encrypted emails and a scheme involving re-shippers in the U.S., arranged to purchase anabolic steroid powder from an individual in China. Schooled in molecular biology and pharmacology, he converted the imported raw steroid powder into pill and injectable liquid forms. At first, he used the drug solely for his own use, but later sold it to acquaintances and then to a number of other individuals to distribute.

Though Moje never actively engaged in the practice of law, he deposited proceeds from the steroid sales into a business checking account, which was identified as belonging to his “law office.”

The drug purchase, manufacture, and distribution scheme — which spanned five to six years — was uncovered when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operatives, working with the United Parcel Service, intercepted a shipment of steroids. The DEA then secured a warrant to search Moje’s home-seizing nearly 28,500 dosages of the steroid in liquid and capsule form behind a false wall in his garage, as well as a number of registered firearms and nearly $30,000 in cash. Based on Moje’s admissions to DEA agents, the steroid operation was estimated to garner about $18,000 in monthly sales.

By way of explanation, Moje testified he suffered from a number of conditions including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, and low testosterone — all of which were eventually treated with weekly injections through testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). After relocating within the state from Pleasanton to Turlock, he had difficulty securing a TRT prescription, and turned to the black market.

A forensic psychologist who interviewed and tested Moje concluded he had “predisposed psychological factors” contributing to his criminal acts of importing and distributing the steroids — causing him to be aware that what he was doing was illegal, but feeling it was “morally right” to help himself and others in need of the drugs.

As an additional legal issue, Moje did not report the proceeds from the steroid operation as income on tax returns.

The State Bare Court judge found the facts and circumstances surrounding Moje’s conviction for importing the steroids involved moral turpitude — bolstering that finding by noting his role as principal in the operation, motive of financial gain, and awareness of its illegality, as well as his actions aimed at avoiding discovery by using encrypted emails, third-party re-shippers and .attempting to destroy and hide evidence during the DEA’s search of his home.

In aggravation, Moje committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he demonstrated candor by cooperating with federal authorities and entering into a partial stipulation in the case, expressed deep remorse for his actions, and was also allotted some mitigating weight for the physical and mental difficulties he suffered during the time of the misconduct.

In recommending actual suspension rather than disbarment, the State Bar Court judge emphasized that the mitigating circumstances in the case greatly outweighed the single aggravating factor.

Charles Edward Mullis

State Bar No. 130376, Nuevo (June 26, 2020)

Mullis was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to comply with a number of conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order: a private reproval.

Specifically, he failed to submit evidence of completing six hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education courses, failed to submit both a quarterly and final written report to the Office of Probation, and failed to submit proof of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School and of passing its final test. He also failed to submit proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam within one year of the discipline’s effective date.

In aggravation, Mullis committed numerous acts of wrongdoing, had a prior record of discipline, and showed indifference toward rectifying his misconduct by failing to comply with the reproval conditions imposed — even after being notified of the fact and consequences of non-compliance.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.

Peter R. Nasmyth

State Bar No. 195067, Claremont (June 12, 2020)

Nasmyth was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.

His wrongdoing included failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep his client reasonably informed of significant case developments, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries about the case, and improperly terminating his legal representation.

Nasmyth was hired to represent a client with a worker’s compensation claim. Their fee agreement provided that the representation would continue until wither the matter was settled, or an arbitration panel rendered an award.

In initial negotiations, they were informed by the claims examiner that the matter was under the jurisdiction of the tribal owner of the site of the injury, and would be handled in accordance with tribal claim administration procedures.

Over the next five months, Nasmyth failed to respond to several of the client’s email messages about the progress and tactics to be followed in the case. Eventually, they had a phone call about consulting a medical specialist for a treatment plan. However, Nasmyth failed to respond to several more calls and messages concerning a possible settlement — essentially failing to take any additional steps to monitor the case or ensure that the matter was still pending.

In aggravation, Nasmyth committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed his client.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 20 years without a record of discipline, submitted evidence of suffering physical difficulties due to a congenital back disorder during the time of the misconduct, and offered testimonials by six individuals — all of whom attested to his good character.

PROBATION

Carolyn Rose Chan

State Bar No. 147978, Chico (June 12, 2020)

Chan was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to comply with a court order.

In the underlying matter, Chan substituted in as an attorney in a dissolution action. However, she failed to appear at either the scheduled court or a subsequent Order to Show Cause hearing, nor did she file responsive papers in advance as requested. Opposing counsel explained she was unable to appear due to being displaced by the Camp Fire in the area in which she lived and worked, but the court imposed $250 in sanctions.

However, Chan did appear at a later hearing, requesting a continuance, which the court granted. When she appeared at the rescheduled hearing without having filed the responsive papers as requested, the court sanctioned her an additional $1,000 — which she failed to pay within the 60-day time period imposed.

In aggravation, Chan committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation and suffered extreme physical and emotional difficulties occasioned by the catastrophic fire, which also caused her to miss oncology and radiology treatments, causing her ongoing health condition to deteriorate.

Erika Vejar

State Bar No. 255755, San Dimas (June 12, 2020)

Vejar was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to two separate client matters.

Her wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to her client, failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant case developments, and accepting advance legal fees from a third party without the clients’ prior written consent, as well as two counts of disobeying court orders.

In one case, Vejar was retained to obtain an emergency stay of removal for an immigration client while he requested further relief from removal. After the stay was approved and the client was released, he hired her to perform additional legal work — including attempting to reopen the prior removal order.

While Vejar filed several motions and petitions on the client’s behalf; however, she eventually failed to comply with a court order and effectively withdrew from representing the client. The court then dismissed the client’s order for review and directed Vejar to notify him in writing, which she also failed to do. As a result, while waiting for a subsequent meeting with an immigration officer, the client was placed on a bus set to remove undocumented immigrants to Mexico that same day.

In the second matter at issue in the instant case, Vejar accepted $5,500 in advanced fees from an individual related to an immigration matter who asked her to visit her two brothers and assess their immigration status while they were being held in a detention facility. After meeting with the two men, Vejar informed the sister that their issues were complex, and she would require more in fees to represent them. The sister responded that they no longer wished to pursue their cases. Vejar then provided the sister with an accounting and refund of unearned fees of $1,507.60. However, in a later certified letter, she disputed the accounting and refund.

In aggravation, Vejar committed multiple acts of wrongdoing significantly harming her client, especially the vulnerable individual subject to deportation.

In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately eight years, expressed candor and cooperation in dealing with new counsel her former client hired, and provided character eight letters from individuals familiar with both her and the alleged wrongdoing, as well as evidence of her volunteer work in the community.

— Barbara Kate Repa

#358636

For reprint rights or to order a copy of your photo:

Email jeremy@reprintpros.com for prices.
Direct dial: 949-702-5390

Send a letter to the editor:

Email: letters@dailyjournal.com