Oct. 1, 2020
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Albert Douglas Mastroianni
State Bar No. 150438, Palos Verdes Peninsula (September 18, 2020)
Mastroianni was disbarred after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of 19 of the 21 counts of professional misconduct in the original charges against him. Two of the counts were not considered for purposes of discipline, as they were based on facts supporting other charges.
The wrongdoing, which related to three separate client matters, included: failing to notify a client of receipt of funds and improperly withdrawing from employment; as well as two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, commingling personal funds in his client trust account, failing to notify clients of significant developments in their cases, failing to promptly pay clients funds they were owed, failing to render accountings of client funds, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigations of the wrongdoing alleged. He was also culpable of several acts involved moral turpitude — including two counts of intentionally misappropriating client funds and three counts of making material representations to clients.
In one client matter, Mastroianni represented a client in a multi-district litigation case against a birth control manufacturer. The matter eventually settled. About 15 months later, the client asked when settlement funds would be available, stating that she was facing eviction and badly in need of funds. Mastroianni advised her to take out a lawsuit loan, acknowledging that they included high interest rates. She did so, and he executed an attorney agreement with the lender, acknowledging the lien against the settlement proceeds.
Shortly thereafter, Mastroianni received the settlement funds, but did not inform the client. Instead, he agreed to “advance” her $3,000, which he did by cashier’s check. He then ignored several email messages from the client, requesting her settlement amount, as well as cutting off communications with the loan manager. Mastroianni subsequently filed an interpleader action against the client and loan company, but failed to serve either party — depositing personal funds with the court because he had not maintained the settlement funds in his client trust account, which had dipped to an impermissibly low level.
In another disciplinary matter, Mastroianni represented a client injured in a car accident with a state-owned vehicle. He did not meet with the client in person, but ordered and scheduled medical appointments to diagnose and treat the client’s injuries. After informing the client that the state had rejected his claim, Mastroianni sued the state, but did not respond to subsequent discovery requests, nor did he appear at scheduled hearings in the case. He then requested and was granted a dismissal of the case and all causes of action — without seeking the client’s authority to do so. He performed no further work on the case.
And in the final client matter, Mastroianni represented a client injured in a car accident, obtaining a policy limit settlement of $25,000 with the other motorist’s insurer. He obtained the settlement check, deposited it into his client trust account, and informed the client he would hold the money in trust pending resolution of related liens. Instead, he used a portion of the funds to pay his personal expenses. He then proceeded with an uninsured motorist arbitration in the case, but did no work on the matter for more than 18 months — ignoring requests for discovery and prompting opposing counsel to hire a private investigator to locate him. The client eventually hired new counsel to recover her settlement funds from Mastroianni; approximately nine months later, counsel received a cashier’s check for the remaining funds due the client.
In aggravation, Mastroianni committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed both one of his clients and the administration of justice, demonstrated indifference toward atoning for the consequences of his misconduct, and showed a lack of candor in his responses to State Bar investigators.
In mitigation, he had practiced law discipline-free for nearly 24 years, entered into an extensive stipulation regarding facts and culpability, and received limited weight for trial testimony of seven character witnesses — three of whom stated they might change their opinions of Mastroianni’s good character if he were found culpable of misappropriation.
Jennifer Leigh Rocco
State Bar No. 178342, Los Angeles (September 18, 2020)
Rocco was disbarred by default after failing to participate in her State Bar discipline proceeding, despite having received adequate legal notice. She did not move to have the default entered against her set aside or vacated.
The proceeding was premised on Rocco’s earlier conviction for resisting a peace officer (Cal. Penal Code Section 148(a)(1)). The State Bar court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the criminal offense did not involve moral turpitude, but did constitute misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In the underlying matter, police officers stopped Rocco after observing her speed through an intersection with a burning smell emanating from her emergency brake, which was engaged. When stopped, she initially refused to turn off her vehicle or provide proof of insurance and registration as requested. When she eventually got out of the car, she attempted to kick the officer who was struggling to restrain her.
Richard Gregory Rumery
State Bar No. 138101, Visalia (September 18, 2020)
Rumery was disbarred by default after failing to appear at trial in a disciplinary proceeding alleging he committed six ethical violations related to a single client matter. He initially made multiple requests for continuances, eventually writing a letter to the State Bar signaling his intention to resign rather than attend the scheduled trial.
He was found culpable of five of the six counts charged: failing to maintain the requisite balance in his client trust account and failing to promptly pay a client funds when due, as well as three counts involving moral turpitude — one count of misappropriating client funds and two counts of making false and misleading statements related to the client’s settlement funds.
Ivan Perez Medina
State Bar No. 323360, Chula Vista (September 18, 2020)
Medina was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to earlier pleading guilty to one count of causing corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition to a person in a dating relationship (Cal. Penal Code Section 273.5(a)) and false imprisonment (Cal. Penal Code Section 236).
The Review Department of the State Bar Court referred the matter to the Hearing Department for a hearing and determination of possible discipline, as well as an assessment of whether the offenses involved moral turpitude.
In the underlying incident, Medina arrived home late at night after consuming alcohol. He was upset with his girlfriend, who was living there, due to a breakdown in their relationship. He woke her and made unwelcome physical and sexual advances, causing her to sustain a bruise and abrasion. The two fell asleep, but the next morning, Medina again made unwelcome physical advances to the woman. That evening, he summoned the police, seeking help in having her evicted. During questioning, he lied that he had not touched the woman or aggressively sexually assaulted her. However, the police arrested and charged him.
Medina had no prior history of sexual violence, and a subsequent psychological exam determined he was at a low risk to repeat it. He complied with his probation and enrolled in a domestic violence program, where he acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his conduct..
While acknowledging that domestic violence does not involve moral turpitude per se, the State Bar Court judge found that it existed in the facts and circumstances in the instant case. That reasoning was based on two facts: that social mores have evolved to view the offense as “flagrant disrespect for the law or for societal norms” and that Medina lied to investigating police officers about the misconduct he had committed.
In aggravation, Medina committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided references letters from 13 individuals taken from a wide range in the community — all of whom attested to his good character.
Karen Lee Winters
State Bar No. 148015, Minden, Nevada (September 18, 2020)
Winters was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing professional misconduct warranting discipline in another jurisdiction.
Winters, who was admitted to practice law in both California and Nevada, represented an elderly Nevada widow attempting to amend her husband’s trust. The trust designated a married couple as beneficiaries; the couple were also named her agents in a financial power of attorney. After her husband died, the client’s health had declined, she was diagnosed with dementia, and became a resident in an assisted living facility; she was subsequently deemed unable to give informed legal consent.
Shortly after being hired, Winters received a letter from the client’s former counsel stating that the client had been financially exploited by other caregivers in the past, expressing concerns that it might happen again with the named couple.
The couple sold the widow’s yacht, mobile home park, and primary residence — transferring $525,000 out of her account and depositing it in a Canadian bank account. After a bank declined to honor two checks made out to the couple, a bank employee became suspicious and insisted on speaking with the widow privately; she affirmed that she did not want the money to go to the couple, and was distressed about the sale of her home.
The couple then contacted Winters, informing her they could not pay the widow’s bills without account access. Without speaking with the bank employee but in the belief it would simplify financial management, Winters proceeded to have the couple appointed as guardians of the widow’s estate; she was not aware they had transferred $525,000 of the widow’s money to the Canadian account. She also informed the couple to retain their own counsel, but they refused to do so.
A court issued an order giving the couple temporary guardianship pending a permanent guardianship hearing. Winters then learned that the Elder Protection Services was investigating the couple for possible financial exploitation. At the permanent guardianship hearing, Winters did not inform the court of the $525,000 transfer, which the couple had categorized as “a gift.” After the widow’s niece petitioned, the court removed the couple as guardians. It found that Winters had violated her duty of candor to the court and had acted with mixed loyalties to the couple and her client — noting, however, that she did not work with the intent to defraud the client. The State Bar of Nevada discipline Winters with a public reprimand.
The California State Bar Court judge found that as a matter of law, the Nevada State Bar’s findings also warranted professional discipline in California.
In mitigation, Winters significantly harmed the administration of justice by failing to fully advise the court about relevant financial matters — and also harmed her vulnerable elderly client.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law for 27 years in California and 30 years in Nevada without any record of discipline. She was also allotted mitigating credit for nine good character letters from individuals taken from both the legal and general communities, as well as evidence of providing community service.
Albert William Marchetti
State Bar No. 151777, Redlands (September 18, 2020)
Marchetti was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters.
His wrongdoing included failing to provide legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.
In one matter, Marchetti was assigned as the lead attorney in a family trust matter. He received discovery requests from opposing counsel, but did not transmit them to his client for nearly three months. He ignored the client’s request for assistance in responding to the discovery requests, submitted a draft of the discovery responses to his client the day before it was due to be filed, and served the discovery responses only after opposing counsel filed a motion to compel them.
In the second client matter, Marchetti was hired to secure title to a piece of property, accepting $2,500 as an initial payment. He secured a default judgment against the defendant, then informed the client that fees and costs had exceeded the initial payment and requested an additional $2,500. He filed the judgment, but then took no further action to finalize the title in the case. After the client complained to the State Bar, Marchetti ignored several messages from investigators there, eventually refunding the $5,000 collected from her.
In aggravation, Marchetti committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for nearly 25 years discipline-free, submitted good character evidence from eight witnesses taken from a range in the legal and general communities, as well as evidence of performing community service, and suffered emotional difficulties due to his father-in-law’s death — which occurred during the time of the misconduct.