Nov. 2, 2020
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
L. Michael Alberts
State Bar No. 194907, Wahiawa, Hawaii (October 31, 2020)
Alberts was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with one count of professional misconduct related to a previous probation order.
When contacted by the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel, Alberts explained that he did not intend to respond to the notice of disciplinary charges, nor to take any other action in the matter. A default was subsequently entered, which he did not move to have set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of failing to comply with the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order. Specifically, he failed to contact the Office of Probation to schedule an initial meeting with his assigned probation deputy, failed to timely submit three written quarterly reports, failed to submit one quarterly report and one final report, and failed to provide timely proof of attending the State Bar’s Ethics School and passing its final test or completing six hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education on the topic of ethics.
Alberts had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before he was disbarred.
Alejandro Alers, Jr.
State Bar No. 240532, Inglewood (October 31, 2020)
Alers was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel, and a default was entered.
The State Bar Court judge found that all procedural due process requirements had been satisfied — including a supporting declaration of reasonable diligence by the State Bar deputy trial counsel enumerating the additional steps taken to provide Alers with notice of the proceedings.
He was found culpable of one count of professional misconduct: violating conditions in a discipline order that had been imposed previously. Specifically, he failed to schedule and attend a meeting with a probation case specialist, failed to submit a quarterly written report, failed to provide proof of restitution payments, and failed to submit a declaration stating he had reviewed the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as specified provisions of the California Business and Professions Code as required.
Alers had one prior record of discipline, and there was one additional disciplinary matter pending against him at the time he was disbarred.
Amy Sommer Anderson
State Bar No. 282634, Oakland (October 16, 2020)
Anderson was disbarred by default after she failed to respond to the disciplinary charges filed against her or to appear in the subsequent disciplinary proceeding on those charges.
After a default motion was entered in the case, Anderson expressed her intent not to participate in the proceedings, and she did not move to have the default set aside or vacated.
She was found culpable of 15 counts of professional misconduct related to two separate client matters. Her wrongdoing included: failing to obey court orders, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s disciplinary investigation; as well as two counts each of failing to practice law with competence, failing to inform her clients of significant case developments, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to deposit client funds in a trust account. An additional two counts involved moral turpitude: intentionally misappropriating a total of $1,350 in client funds for her own use.
There were other investigations and a reciprocal disciplinary matter pending against Anderson when she was disbarred.
Dane Allen Besneatte
State Bar No. 87197, Dixon (October 31, 2020)
Besneatte was disbarred after he failed to file responses to two notices of disciplinary charges, consolidated in the instant matter, and the court entered his default. He did not move to have that default set aside or vacated.
The State Bar Court judge determined that the motion for default complied with all process requirements, finding that reasonable diligence was used to notify Besneatte of the pleadings and proceedings in the case.
Besneatte was found culpable of both counts charged. He violated probation conditions by failing to report his review of the Rules of Professional Conduct and portions of the State Bar Act, to schedule and participate in a meeting with the Office of Probation, and to submit quarterly written probation reports as required. In addition, he violated a court rule (Cal. Rule of Ct. 9.20(c)) by failing to file the declaration required of a lawyer suspended from practicing.
Besneatte had been disciplined for professional misconduct twice previously.
Richard Jay Blaskey
State Bar No. 89223, Huntington Beach (October 16, 2020)
Blaskey was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, despite receiving adequate legal notice of it. He did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of the single charge of professional misconduct with which he was charged: engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by filing pleadings and appearing in court on behalf of a client when he was not entitled to do so.
Blaskey had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct one time previously.
Jose Castillo Escano
State Bar No. 204718, Los Angeles (October 31, 2020)
Escano was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the State Bar proceeding in which he was charged with a single count of professional misconduct: failing to comply with conditions of a disciplinary proceeding imposed earlier.
The record reflects that two days before the notice of disciplinary charges were filed, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel communicated with Escano, informing him the charges would soon be filed. However, he did not file a response, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of the misconduct charged, based on his failure to timely submit five written quarterly reports and proof of completing the State Bar Ethics School to the Office of Probation.
Escano had two prior records of professional discipline when he was disbarred.
Stephen Rawliegh Golden
State Bar No. 163366, Pasadena (October 31, 2020)
Golden was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the proceeding in which he was charged with one count of professional misconduct related to an earlier disciplinary order.
The Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar filed and served a motion for default — which included a supporting declaration of reasonable diligence, detailing the additional steps taken to provide Golden with notice. He did not file a response to the motion, nor did he later seek to have the default set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of the misconduct charged: failing to comply with probation conditions. Specifically, he failed to timely contact the Office of Probation to schedule an initial meeting with his assigned probation deputy and also failed to file two written quarterly reports with that office.
Golden had two prior records of professional discipline, and there were additional disciplinary investigations pending against him at the time he was disbarred.
Erik J. Graeff
State Bar No. 265862, Portland, Oregon (October 31, 2020)
Graeff was summarily disbarred after his conviction in another jurisdiction, Washington, became final. He had earlier pled guilty there to attempted manufacture of a controlled substance — methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Rev. Code of Wash. Sections 69.50.401(1) and (2)(b)/69.50.407).
The California State Court judge found the offense is analogous to the crime in California of manufacturing methamphetamine (Cal. Health & Safety Code Section 11379.6(a)), and necessarily involves moral turpitude.
James Richard Heisey
State Bar No. 104526, Santa Rosa (October 16, 2020)
Heisey was disbarred by default. He failed to file a response to the initial notice charging him with violating several probation conditions imposed by the California Supreme Court in an earlier discipline case. The State Bar Court judge determined Heisey had actual knowledge of the proceeding.
He was found culpable of the misconduct charged. Specifically, he failed to report reviewing the Rules of Professional Conduct and portions of the State Bar Act, failed to report his compliance with criminal probation conditions imposed, failed to provide screening reports of alcohol and drug testing, failed to provide proof of attending an abstinence program, and failed to provide medical waivers as required.
Travis P. Guevara Kasper
State Bar No. 264553, Los Angeles (October 16, 2020)
Kasper was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the proceeding charging him with nine counts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. Although Kasper communicated with the State Bar about the possibility of an Early Neutral Evaluation Conference (ENEC) in the case, he stopped participating after being informed an ENEC is available only in the pre-filing stage of the process. He did not move to have the default subsequently entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of all counts charged. His wrongdoing included: failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, two counts of failing to maintain the required balance in his client trust account, and three counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged. Three additional counts involved misappropriating a total of nearly $141,700 in client funds — wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.
At the time he was disbarred, there was one additional disciplinary matter pending against Kasper, subsequently abated by court order.
John Bernard Marcin
State Bar No. 148715, Tarzana (October 16, 2020)
Marcin was disbarred by default in California. The Nevada Supreme Court had earlier found him culpable of committing 12 acts of professional misconduct in that jurisdiction — all related to mishandling of a single medical malpractice case.
The instant case was initiated to determine whether Marcin’s the Nevada proceeding determining culpability had been conducted with fundamental constitutional protection and also whether the misconduct involved warranted imposing professional discipline in California. The burden was on Marcin to refute these issues in the proceeding before the California State Bar. Though it was shown that reasonable diligence was used to notify him before the default order was issued, he did not participate in the proceeding, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
The notice of disciplinary charges in the present case alleged the Nevada misconduct also violated California rules, constituting a failure to perform legal services with competence and failure to maintain funds received for a client’s benefit.
The State Bar Court judge here found that discipline in California was warranted as a matter of law.
Lee R. Mathis
State Bar No. 55890, San Clemente (October 16, 2020)
Mathis was summarily disbarred following his conviction for mail fraud (18 U.S.C. Sections 1341, 1346 and 2), a felony involving moral turpitude.
Mathis was place on interim suspension, and the Office of the Chief Counsel of the State Bar subsequently submitted proof that the conviction was not appealed and therefore became final — fulfilling the requirements for summary disbarment.
Richard James Mendelsohn
State Bar No. 57788, Salinas (October 16, 2020)
Mendelsohn was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at the trial in which he was charged with six counts of professional misconduct. He had actual notice of the proceeding, and had earlier participated by filing a request to resign from the bar, which was rejected by the California Supreme Court. He also participated in the status and pretrial conferences in the matter, but did not respond to the petition for disbarment or move to have the default entered against hm set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of four of the six counts charged, all of which related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to comply with the law by breaching his fiduciary duty to a client, representing multiple clients with actual adverse interests without obtaining their prior written consents, entering into an aggregate settlement without the clients’ informed written consent, and making written and oral misrepresentations to a client about the handling of funds in his client trust account — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
Mendelsohn had one prior record of discipline at the time he was disbarred.
Larry Howard Miller
State Bar No. 46991, Woodland Hills (October 16, 2020)
Miller was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel. The State Bar Court judge determined that all the requirements for a default were satisfied after the Office of Chief Trial Counsel provided a declaration of reasonable diligence detailing the steps taken to provide Miler with notice of the proceedings
He did not move to have the default subsequently entered against him set aside or vacated, and was found culpable of one count of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.
Lon Earl Peek, III
State Bar No. 231303, Fountain Valley (October 16, 2020)
Peek was disbarred by default following an original disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with 16 counts of professional misconduct involving three separate client matters. He had actual notice of the trial date and participated in the initial status conference in the matter, but did not appear for trial, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
As a result, the factual allegations in the notice of disciplinary charges were deemed admitted and true. At trial, seven of the counts charged were dismissed with prejudice for want of proof. However, Peek was found culpable of the remaining nine counts: failing to update his address in State Bar records: two counts of failing to promptly respond to clients’ reasonable inquiries about the status of their cases: and three counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
Michael Albert Richmond
State Bar No. 211164, El Cajon (October 16, 2020)
Richmond was disbarred by default. He was earlier convicted of violating a protective order (Cal. Penal Code Section 273.6(a)), though through a plea agreement including promises to complete classes and refrain from similar incidents, he was subsequently allowed to withdraw the plea and plead guilty instead to the lesser offense of disturbing the peace (Cal. Penal Code Section 415(2)).
When that conviction became final, the matter was referred to the State Bar’s Hearing Department to determine whether professional discipline should be imposed for the offense, as well as a determination of whether the surrounding facts and circumstances involved moral turpitude. Though Richmond had actual notice of the proceeding, he did not file a timely answer to the notice of the hearing, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
In the underlying matter, a domestic violence restraining order in effect prohibited contact between Richmond and his ex-wife unless it was “peaceful” in regard to child exchanges. The order also specified that during such exchanges, “there shall not be any negative contact.” However, Richmond sent two texts to his ex-wife which had potentially threatening meanings. She called the police, who charged him with two violations of the protective order; one of the charges was dropped after he pled guilty.
The State Bar Court judge found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction did not involve moral turpitude, but did constitute other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
John Adam White
State Bar No. 217062, Layton, Utah (October 31, 2020)
White was summarily disbarred after his felony convictions in another jurisdiction became final: two counts of sexually exploiting a minor by knowingly producing, possessing, intending to distribute or view child pornography (Utah Code Ann. Section 76-5b-201).
White did not respond to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar’s brief on classification of the offenses. After review, the State Bar Court judge found the convictions involved moral turpitude per se, and recommended disbarment.
State Bar No. 60631, Beverly Hills (October 31, 2020)
Boyajian was suspended from practicing law for three years and placed on probation for five years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to three separate matters. He was culpable of commingling personal and client funds in a trust account, as well as two counts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating client funds for his own use and making material misrepresentations in his responses to the State Bar when it attempted to investigate the wrongdoing alleged.
The first matter concerned his involvement in a class action settlement. Boyajian has not practiced law for the last eight years, but had earlier assisted in administering the settlement of a class action filed on behalf of the heirs and descendants of life insurance policies sold to those killed in the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918. Because of the difficulties related to distributing some of the settlement funds, the agreement contained a cy pres provision allowing the money to be paid to Armenian charities that class counsel designated.
Though Boyajian had no official or court-approved role in administering the funds, he expressed a good faith belief that he would be able to designate appropriate charities as settlement recipients. Over several years, Boyajian had more than $194,000 in his client trust account — the total of the proceeds of six checks payable to others that he had personally endorsed and deposited, believing it would prevent the checks from becoming stale; none of the payees had authorized the endorsements or deposits. Boyajian ultimately returned the full amount to the class action settlement fund.
In the second matter, Boyajian wrote a check for $150,000 from his client trust accounts as a personal loan to a jeweler, which reduced the balance to an impermissible level, and used the funds that were to be paid to the settlement recipients. The jeweler eventually repaid the loan in two checks, which Boyajian deposited in a new client trust account, making it possible for him to repay the amount owed to the class action settlement fund.
In the third matter, Boyajian was charged with the crime of preparing false documentary evidence (Cal. Penal Code Section 134); a misdemeanor charge of deceit or collusion with the intent to deceive the court or any party was later added (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Section 6128(a)). Boyajian pled nolo contendere, but was sentenced only on the misdemeanor charge, which involves moral turpitude; the felony violation was dismissed. The gravamen of his offense was in filing a response with the State Bar Hearing Department that contained material misrepresentations.
In aggravation, Boyajian committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulations, had practiced law for 36 years without discipline prior to the instant misconduct, has engaged in no misconduct since the acts at issue, and had a good faith belief that he was safeguarding the settlement funds by endorsing and depositing the checks. In addition, he has engaged in substantial community service over a period of 45 years, presented letters attesting to his good moral character, and did no harm through his misconduct, as he repaid all mishandled funds.
The State Bar Court judge also noted that through no fault of Boyajian, there had been significant delays in prosecuting the present case, resulting in loss of evidence to his prejudice. The judge also noted that in addition to the State Bar discipline for his misrepresentations, Boyajian was criminally charged with both a misdemeanor and felony for the same acts, now a part of his record. And finally, the judge underscored that Boyajian is currently 82 years old, has not represented a client for many years, and will be suspended from practicing for at least three more years — circumstances that will satisfy “the purposes of attorney discipline.”
Jay Barry Zucker
State Bar No. 148000, New Rochelle, New York (October 31, 2020)
Zucker was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to being culpable of committing six acts of professional misconduct as determined by the Supreme Court of New York. The wrongdoing was equivalent to violating California rules prohibiting commingling of client funds (Rule of Prof. Cond. 4-100). And the California State Bar court judge determined the offense also warranted professional discipline in this state and that the New York proceeding provided fundamental constitutional protections.
In the underlying matter, Zucker and his law partner were in a firm that maintained two client trust accounts. The firm hired a non-lawyer as its fulltime bookkeeper, and after training and reviewing his work for a time, the lawyers began delegating responsibilities to the bookkeeper — including making deposits and maintaining bank records for the firm’s accounts. Zucker then ceased reviewing and supervising the deposits and withdrawals to the firm’s client trust accounts.
Over a four-year period, the bookkeeper misappropriated more than $2,761,000 from the accounts, involving funds belong to clients third parties, and the law partners.
The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) sent a notification to the partners that a check on one of their accounts had been dishonored due to insufficient funds, but the bookkeeper intercepted the letter. Unbeknownst to the partners, the bookkeeper responded to the OAE, which forwarded the letter to the New York Grievance Committee. When the partners learned of the theft, they notified the committee. The bookkeeper hired counsel and a forensic accountant to determine the full amounts missing, and he eventually made full restitution.
In mitigation, Zucker entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 19 years discipline-free, and immediately admitted his culpability and expressed remorse to the bar authorities involved. Mitigation credit was also allowed for the fact that seven years had passed since the misconduct and the State Bar’s consideration of the case — during which time Zucker instituted proper account management and oversight practices of the firm’s bank accounts.
— Barbara Kate Repa