May 28, 2021
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Moises Alcides Aviles
State Bar No. 226569, Riverside (April 21, 2021)
Aviles was disbarred by default after he failed to file a timely response to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against him. His initial attempt to file a response was rejected by the court due to a number of deficiencies in the pleadings, which he failed to correct.
The State Bar Court judge determined that all requirements for a mandatory disbarment recommendation had been met: a lack of contact with the respondent since the default was entered in the case, additional disciplinary charges pending against him, proof of a prior discipline order, and a verification that the Client Security Fund had not made any payments due to the misconduct at issue.
Aviles was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to obey a court order to pay sanctions and failing to report the judicial sanctions to the State Bar as required.
Grace Charlotte Budka
State Bar No. 244102, Indio (April 21, 2021)
Budka was disbarred by default after she failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceedings charging her with two counts of professional misconduct in a single client mater: failing to maintain the requisite balance in her client trust account and intentionally misappropriating $175, 478 of the funds the client was entitled to receive — an act involving moral turpitude.
She did not move to have the default order entered against her set aside or vacated, and was deemed culpable of both counts charged.
Amy Louise Butters
State Bar No. 212072, Ogden, Utah (March 26, 2021)
Butters was disbarred by default after she failed to file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against her. The State Bar Court judge verified that Butters had actual notice of the charges and proceedings involving them, but did not respond, nor did she move to have the default order entered against her set aside or vacated.
She was found culpable of failing to comply with the conditions attached to a one-year disciplinary probation that the California Supreme Court had imposed upon her earlier: failing to arrange an initial meeting with the Office of Probation and failing to submit proof of reading the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as specified sections of the California Business and Professions Code.
Butters had two prior records of discipline, and there were two additional disciplinary matters pending against her at the time she was disbarred.
Byron Grant Cornelius
State Bar No. 108248, Palm Springs (April 21, 2021)
Cornelius was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate legal notice and reasonable opportunity to do so. He did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation order. Specifically, he failed to submit quarterly written reports to the Office of Probation when due, failed to submit a final written report before the last day of his probation, failed to provide timely proof of making restitution, and failed to attend the State Bar Ethics School and pass its final test as ordered.
Cornelius had a prior record of discipline, and there was one additional disciplinary investigation pending against him when he was disbarred.
Richard Joseph DeAguero
State Bar No. 81253, Dallas, Texas (March 31, 2021)
DeAguero was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at trial in his California disciplinary proceeding. He had been disciplined in three separate matters in Texas upon facts establishing his culpability for acts of professional misconduct there.
The California proceeding was limited to deciding whether the culpability in the Texas matter also warranted professional discipline in California as a matter of law, the degree of discipline to be imposed upon him in this state, and whether the Texas proceeding lacked fundamental constitutional protection.
Shortly after the default order was entered against him in the instant case, DeAguero filed a motion seeking to have it set aside. He alleged that he could not afford to travel to California from his current home in Texas, and that nine tornadoes had hit the Dallas airport, causing it to close the day his trial was held. The State Bar Court judge noted, however, that DeAguero had failed to file a pretrial statement, that he had asserted he was unable to afford traveling, and he did not provide proof of purchasing a ticket or any other evidence of his intent to travel that day. The motion to set aside the default was denied — and the allegations from the notice of disciplinary charges were deemed admitted.
The State Bar Court judge found that DeAguero’s culpability in the Texas matters also warranted imposing discipline in California. The misconduct mirrored violations of California’s strictures against performing legal services without competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees, improperly sharing fees with nonlawyers, and improperly withdrawing from representing a client.
Prior to the final order of disbarment in California, a voluminous record accumulated of the events and hearings in the case — including DeAguero’s motion to recuse the State Bar Court judge as biased against him and allegations that the State Bar was complicit in acting against him illegally.
Lloyd Douglas Dix
State Bar No. 110489, Calabasas (April 28, 2021)
Dix was disbarred after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional conduct related to a single client case.
His wrongdoing included failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to render an accounting of the client’s funds, failing to promptly pay his client funds to which she was entitled, failing to promptly release the client’s paper and property after being requested to do so, and two counts of commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account, as well as one additional count intentionally misappropriating the client’s funds — an act involving moral turpitude. He was also culpable of failing to report the judgment against him for breach of fiduciary duty to the State Bar within 30 days of having knowledge of it as required.
In the underlying matter, Dix represented a married couple in negotiating their debts with creditors and paying out the agreed settlements on their behalf. Because the female client was the sister of a good friend, he agreed to handle the case pro bono.
In the course of representation, he deposited more than $264,000 in his trust account earmarked to satisfy the couple’s judgment debts: inheritance money and checks issued by a law firm and an investment firm. He then made numerous improper withdrawals from the account for his personal use, causing the balance to dip to impermissibly low levels. At some point, he closed that account and transferred the balance to a new client trust account, from which he also made improper withdrawals for his personal use. In all, he misappropriated more than $157,000 of the clients’ funds. He also improperly deposited personal funds into the account numerous times.
Though several settlements were negotiated with judgment creditors, Dix did not pay them.
The clients eventually terminated his services, requesting an accounting, as well as their client file and return of the balance of their funds. After Dix did not respond to that request, the clients sued him — alleging conversion, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. They obtained a default judgment against Dix for $156, 448, which he did not report to the State Bar as required.
In aggravation, Dix committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for more than 31 years without a record of discipline. He was also allotted limited mitigating weight for entering into a prefiling stipulation — the weight lessened because he ceased cooperating in the State Bar’s investigation, failing to provide answers to written and verbal inquiries.
B. Harlan Field
State Bar No. 180352, Malibu (March 31, 2021)
Field was summarily disbarred after the State Bar received evidence that his felony conviction had become final.
A jury found him guilty of possessing child pornography involving individuals younger than 18 engaging in or simulating sexual conduct, with 10 or more of the 600 images he possessed involving children under 12 years of age (Cal. Penal Code Sections 311.11 (a) and (c)).
The offense is a felony that the State Bar Court judge noted “necessarily involves moral turpitude.”
Anthony James Palik
State Bar No. 190971, San Francisco (April 21, 2021)
Palik was disbarred by default. He failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding or to file to have the default order ultimately entered against him set aside or vacated.
The State Bar Court found that all procedural requirements had been met in the case, and that there was adequate factual basis to support the two charges of professional misconduct he was alleged to have committed.
He was found culpable of both counts: failing to file a declaration of compliance as required for disciplined attorneys (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and failing to comply with several conditions of his disciplinary probation, Specifically, he failed to schedule and participate in an initial meeting with the Office of Probation, and also failed to file two written quarterly reports when due.
Palik had two prior records of discipline and there were additional disciplinary matters pending against him at the time he was disbarred.
Michael Bernard Potere
State Bar No. 302569, West Newton, Massachusetts (April 29, 2021)
Potere was disbarred after pleading guilty to a superseding information charging him with using unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information (18 U.S.C. Sections 1030(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2)(A)) — a misdemeanor. He was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney, sentenced to five months in custody, and placed on one year of supervised release.
The hearing judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction involved moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Potere began working as an associate attorney at a large international law firm, assigned to a case with one of the firm’s senior partners and managing director. In preparing discovery responses in the case, Potere was given access to the partner’s work email account, and the firm did not act to remove or restrict his access after the casework ended.
In March of 2017, Potere announced his intention to leave the firm to pursue a graduate degree in political science, but asked to remain working there until the fall, when the graduate program began. His advisor at the firm, however, refused that request, citing his substandard work performance and poor performance review. He was asked to leave by June 1.
Before that time, and without authorization, Potere downloaded various documents from the partner’s email account — initially seeking out information about his own work performance, then expanding to other confidential and sensitive information. He synced his work computer to his personal laptop and stored it on a cloud storage platform in addition to giving printed copies of several documents to a friend for safekeeping.
He then arranged a meeting with two of the firm’s partners, informing them he had uncovered evidence for a potential gender discrimination lawsuit and could damage the firm by releasing the supporting documents publicly. He then made demands: “compensatory damages” of $210,000, life insurance for six years, and health insurance coverage until he started school, as well as “punitive damages” in the form of a piece of the firm’s artwork depicting a fire on a hillside, which he claimed represented his legal career.
The firm then contacted the FBI, and agents recorded a meeting with the partners and Potere in which he them he had accessed the documents, had drafted complaints for a defamation lawsuit, and reiterated his financial demands.
In another meeting that was also recorded by the FBI, the partners told Potere that the firm would agree to pay him to return the documents, and delivered the artwork to him. One of the partners placed a check payable to Potere in the amount of $213,650.49 on the table in front of him and asked him to sign a release and certification that he had not retained copies of the documents — just before FBI agents entered the room and arrested him. Potere was initially charged with extortion and transmitting threatening communication with the intent to extort (18 U.S.C. Sections 1951(a) and 875(d)). As part of a plea agreement, those charges were reduced to the unauthorized access count.
After the conviction became final, the case was transferred to the State Bar’s hearing department for a hearing, determination of whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction involved moral turpitude and a recommendation for potential professional discipline.
Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found the conviction involved moral turpitude, as the facts and circumstances fit within the California Supreme Court’s definition and “clearly demonstrate deficiencies in his character, including a lack of trustworthiness, honesty, and fidelity to fiduciary duties.”
In aggravation, Potere caused significant harm to his former firm, and demonstrated a lack of insight into the wrongfulness of his misconduct.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation, was allotted limited weight for letters from 13 declaratory witnesses submitted before Potere was sentenced in the criminal matter, as well as limited weight for evidence of performing pro bono and community service work that was uncorroborated and lacked specificity as to dates and length of service.
State Bar No. 255420, Azusa (April 7, 2021)
Wen was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the trial of his disciplinary charges, despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He had earlier been convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more and causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23153) — a felony.
Wen had attended status conferences in the case, represented by counsel at one of them, but failed to appear at trial. No motion was filed to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
In the underlying matter Wen was driving with a passenger in his car when he crossed over the center line, hitting an oncoming car and colliding head-on with another vehicle. He told police at the scene that he had been drinking “quite a lot” — and alcohol screening tests administered in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and later at the hospital indicated a blood alcohol concentration of .22 — far over the legal limit.
The State Bar Court judge found that while the facts and circumstances in the matter did not involve moral turpitude, the conviction did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
The judge noted that Wen’s decision to drive “was not a close call” and underscored that his criminal conduct “calls into question his judgment and fitness to practice law.”
Mace Abdullah, Pasadena
State Bar No. 146027 (April 21, 2021)
Abdullah was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single case involving two clients.
His wrongdoing included: failing to deposit funds received on the clients’ behalf into a trust account, failing to promptly pay the clients funds they were entitled to receive, and failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds. He was also culpable of two additional counts involving moral turpitude: negligently misappropriating the clients’ settlement funds and making false and misleading statements to the State Bar during the investigation of his alleged misconduct.
In the underlying matter, Abdullah was retained to represent two clients in a civil case in which they were defendants and cross-complainants. The parties agreed to settle the case, and as one of the conditions, the clients were to receive $5,000 from the plaintiff. The settlement check, payable to Abdullah, arrived at his office when he was out of the country — and a co-worker deposited it into Abdullah’s general account rather than his client trust account. Unaware of the error, Abdullah subsequently depleted the funds, using them to pay personal expenses.
The clients eventually requested their share of the settlement funds. Abdullah stated there were costs to be deducted from the total amount received, though he did not provide an accounting or itemized distribution sheet. After the clients made seven more requests for the fund by email, Abdullah paid out $1,000, promising to get them the remainder, but did not do so over the next 10 months — during which time the clients made 10 more requests to be paid in full.
One of the clients then requested Abdullah’s help with an unrelated default matter, and Abdullah promised to provide the services and to offset the amount he owed them as a set-off, limiting his fees to the $4,000 he still owed them. He performed work on the default, but was unsuccessful in getting it set aside.
He then informed the clients he had spent about 45 hours on the default matter — valued at $9,000 for his time. He stated he was not asking for additional payment, but would offset the $4,000 he owed the clients.
They filed a complaint with the State Bar. Abdullah told investigators that he “categorically denied each and every allegation” they made, and eventually provided documentation of the cases he handled for the clients, neglecting to mention the $5,000 in settlement funds he had received on their behalf.
In aggravation, Abdullah committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients, and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying or atoning for his misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 22 years without a record of discipline, provided references from a range of nine individuals who attested to his good character, made restitution to the clients by making a partial payment and performing legal services for them, and voluntarily completed three continuing legal education courses addressing legal ethics.
Gregory Duane Blevins
State Bar No. 199104, Hanford (April 28, 2021)
Blevins was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years.
He stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to obey court orders to appear and pay monetary sanctions and failing to report those judicial sanctions to the State Bar as required, as well as two acts of failing to perform legal services with competence.
In the underlying matter, Blevins filed a complaint for personal injury on behalf of a client who was a minor, though he did not serve the defendants in the case. He did not appear at the initial case management conference, nor did he appear at seven subsequent order to show cause hearings — failures for which he was sanctioned six times, in increasing amounts. (One of the hearings was continued, based on evidence Blevins did not receive notice of it.)
He appeared in the case for the first time more than a year and one-half after his initial filing. He did not pay sanctions that had been imposed at that appearance, but requested that one of the sanctions be reduced from $2,000 to $999; the court eventually reduced that amount to $150 on its own motion. The order was silent as to the other five court-ordered sanctions.
The case was dismissed with prejudice.
In aggravation, Blevins committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulations and suffered emotional difficulties during the time of the misconduct due to his daughter’s significant mental health condition, which has since improved.
Frank Thomas Buck
State Bar No. 68417, Suisun City (April 7, 2021)
Buck was suspended from the practice of law for six months, with credit given for time during the involuntary inactive enrollment that began on May 15, 2020.
The Office of Probation filed a motion to revoke Buck’s probation after noting his non-compliance with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order. Although there was ample evidence that he was properly served, he did not respond or participate in the proceeding concerning the revocation.
The conditions violated included: failing to schedule an initial meeting with his assigned probation case specialist, failing to file his first written quarterly report, and failing to file a declaration that he had read the California Rules of Professional Conduct and sections of the Business and Professions Code as required.
In aggravation, Buck had a prior record of discipline, demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct, and was accorded modest aggravating weight for committing multiple acts of wrongdoing that arose from failing to comply with a single court order.
Donald John Calabria
State Bar No. 44935, Encino (April 28, 2021)
Calabria was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct occurring in six separate client matters.
His wrongdoing included: two counts each of failing to keep his clients reasonably informed of significant case developments and failing to provide appropriate accountings of client funds, as well as four counts of failing to refund unearned fees after terminating employment.
Calabria maintained two law offices. He ran an office in Encino to personally handle serious cases, such as capital offenses. The other office, originally based in Pasadena, was staffed by salaried and contract appearance attorneys, intended to provide legal assistance in less serious smatters, such as DUI violations; the group practice grew from southern to northern California.
All six client cases in the instant disciplinary proceeding involved criminal matters handled by the group practice, and while the facts underlying the alleged wrongdoing differed, the State Bar Court judge noted a similar causal connection: “rapid expansion” of the law practice leading to “administrative and supervisory problems.” These problems — including lack of communication by non-attorneys, missed court appearances, calendaring errors, accounting lapses, and cases protracted by numerous continuances — were the root causes of the misconduct charges.
In aggravation, Calabria committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for more than 46 years without a record of discipline, offered letters from seven individuals attesting to his good character, and presented evidence of performing substantial community service and pro bono work. In addition, once contacted by the State Bar regarding the complaints against him, Calabria took numerous steps to rectify the underlying problems — including hiring additional attorneys and other staff, terminating the employment of those involved in the misconduct charges, and formalizing policies regarding client contact, calendar tracking, and file management.
Nicholas James Caplin
State Bar No. 312343, Irvine (April 7, 2021)
Caplin was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year. He earlier pled guilty to the misdemeanor of driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(a)) with an enhancement based on a high blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23578).
After the conviction became final, the State Bar’s hearing judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the offense did not involve moral turpitude — and recommended a stayed suspension of two years and two years of probation. The Office of Chief Trial Counsel appealed, contending the offense involved moral turpitude, and recommending a 60-day actual suspension.
In the underlying incident, officers were summoned to the scene of a collision: an Audi had crashed into another vehicle parked on the street. Lights, a wall, an irrigation system, and a nearby mailbox were also extensively damaged — with repairs estimated at $12,000. Caplin was seen circling the Audi and claiming that a “friend” had been driving it, but fled on foot. He gave a description of the alleged friend, and told police he had called the friend to pick him up, but also told police he did not have a phone number for him. Police searched the area, but were unable to locate the man who allegedly crashed and fled.
Caplin failed four field sobriety tests at the scene, and two breathalyzer tests indicated a blood alcohol concentration of .171 and .165 percent. Officers concluded Caplin had been the driver and placed him under arrest.
The pivotal issue on appeal was whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the criminal conviction demonstrated moral turpitude. The panel on appeal sought guidance from California Supreme Court precedent defining it as: “a deficiency in any character trait necessary for the practice of law (such as trustworthiness, fairness, candor, and fidelity to fiduciary duties)” or behavior involving “such a serious breach of a duty owed to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law or for societal norms, that knowledge of the attorney’s conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession” (In re Lesansky, 25 Cal. 4th 11, 16 (2001)).
It found moral turpitude existed, underscoring that Caplin drove while “significantly impaired” and “consciously and persistently fabricated a complex narrative involving a phony driver to thwart arrest and place himself above the law.”
In aggravation, Caplin caused property damages and harm to the municipality, which was forced to expend emergency response resources — though the panel reduced the weight to less than “significant,” as found by the hearing judge.
In mitigation, he was afforded moderate weight for presenting letters from six individuals who attested to his good character but did not know the full extent of his misconduct, entered into a pretrial stipulation concerning facts and documents, demonstrated remorse and recognition of his wrongdoing, and made restitution to the city and owner of the damaged mailbox prior to his criminal restitution hearing.
Stephen John Coghlan
State Bar No. 203376, San Francisco (April 21, 2021)
Coghlan was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct in two client matters.
His wrongdoing included failing to promptly release the clients’ papers and property after being requested to do so, and two counts of failing to perform legal services with competence.
In one case, Coghlan was retained to represent a woman and her minor son seeking to become lawful permanent U.S. residents. Both petitions were approved, but the minor’s petition was sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) to be processed. The NVC then sent a letter to Coghlan, informing him that fees for processing the minor’s application were due, and that as attorney of record in the case, he was responsible for coordinating the payment. However, Coghlan failed to file the visa application or act to have the fees paid for more than 17 months.
After he did file, 10 days before the minor turned 18, the NVC informed him he had failed to include a form that was essential before it could process the case. Upon review, it found several other documents were incomplete or missing from the filing — deficiencies that Coghlan was unable to correct in three attempts.
The clients eventually hired new counsel, and Coghlan released their files only after multiple requests to do so.
The other client matter also involved an immigration case — an application for lawful residency based on marriage. However, Coghlan erroneously filed a form required for individuals who had accrued unlawful presence in the U.S.; that was irrelevant, since the client had previously been granted protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA policy. The filing unnecessarily delayed the client’s residency application for more than a year.
In aggravation, Coghlan had two prior records of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed clients who were highly vulnerable due to their uncertain immigration status.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided letters from seven individuals — all of whom attested to his good moral character.
State Bar No. 189102, Los Angeles (April 28, 2021)
Duran was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
He was culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from representation, failing to respond to his client’s reasonable inquiries, failing to keep his client apprised of significant case developments, accepting compensation to represent a client from a third party without the client’s prior written consent, and filing a false verification of a filed document — an act that also involved moral turpitude.
In the matter at issue. Duran was hired to represent a client bringing a quiet title action to remove four defendants from the title on her property. She paid the agreed advanced fee deposit of $2,000 — with some of that amount paid by a friend, as the client was short on funds.
Duran initially appeared at the case management conference and various order to show cause hearings in the case, but did not file for an entry of default, despite the fact that none of the defendants had filed responses to the complaint. Then, upon learning that he did not have good service of process on two of the defendants, and without the client’s knowledge or authorization, Duran requested a dismissal — reasoning that it would be more convenient to file the case anew. He did not inform the client of any of these actions taken in the case.
Duran then filed a second quiet title action on behalf of his client; at that point, he had good addresses for three of the four defendants to be served. However, the client did not sign the verification of the second complaint; Duran falsely represented she was out of the county. He failed to appear at the case management conference as initially scheduled or on the continued date, assuming that the case would be dismissed without serving the fourth defendant. Again, he did not inform the client of the reality or the strategy. He then ceased working on the case — failing to communicate with the client that she should seek new counsel, and subsequently failing to respond to her requests for information about the case.
Eventually, the client filed a complaint with the State Bar and questioned Duran about why he had not sent documents he promised and had not informed her about actions he took in the case. He responded that day — attaching all documents in the case and refunding the full amount she had paid him.
In aggravation, Duran committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law approximately 20 years before the instant misconduct arose, and presented evidence of his extensive community service and pro bono work.
Wendy Marie Harris
State Bar No. 17063, Pasadena (April 21, 2021)
Harris was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from representation, and violating a court order by failing to pay court-ordered sanctions.
In the matter at issue, Harris was hired to defend a client in a quiet title action. Opposing counsel served Harris with discovery requests, but she did not respond — nor did she respond to counsel’s request to meet and confer or appear at a trial setting conference that had been properly noticed.
The client eventually engaged another attorney, though Harris failed to timely file a substitution, so she remained attorney of record in the case. However, she failed to appear at a subsequent settlement conference and hearing, or respond to motions to compel responses. The court ultimately sanctioned Harris and her client $2,280; Harris paid the client half that amount and obtained a satisfaction of judgment from the plaintiff.
In aggravation, Harris committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted declarations from 13 individuals taken from both the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to her good character.
Shannon Marie Henderson
State Bar No. 216104, Roseville (April 7, 2021)
Henderson was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to violating several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Specifically, she was culpable of: failing to schedule a meeting with her assigned probation officer and participate in an initial meeting, failing to report complying with the obligation to review the Rules of Professional Conduct, failing to submit quarterly written reports, and failing to submit a declaration of compliance for disciplined attorneys as required (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
In aggravation, Henderson had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, provided letters from eight individuals taken from the legal and general communities attesting to her good moral, character, and was experiencing emotional and family relationship challenges during the time of the misconduct due to complications with an abusive domestic partner.
Joseph Wallace Howington
State Bar No. 87429, Rancho Cucamonga (April 21, 2021)
Howington was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing 10 acts of professional misconduct related to a single client in a marriage dissolution case.
His wrongdoing included improperly seeking an interest adverse to his client, commingling personal funds in his client trust account, and failing to promptly return client funds after being requested to do so, as well as two counts of failing to prepare and maintain client trust account records. He was also culpable of five counts involving moral turpitude: two counts of misappropriating client funds and three of misrepresenting material facts to his client, to opposing counsel, and in a court filing.
As background, Howington, a family law specialist, left a firm and began working as a sole practitioner. His wife, a paralegal, worked as his office manager and was responsible for overseeing the general and client trust accounts associated with the business. Untrained in client trust account management until attending the State Bar’s Client Trust Accounting School in 2019, she used a flawed method of depositing advanced fees into the account and withdrawing funds from it.
In 2015, Howington was hired to represent the wife in a divorce — seeking to secure payment for his fees through a charging lien without fully disclosing its operation, and without advising the client of her right to seek advice from an independent lawyer or obtaining her consent in writing.
As part of the marital dissolution, the court ordered that the net sale proceeds of the couple’s condominium should be held in Howington’s client trust account; $75,520, representing the sale, was wired into the account, though no accounting or records were kept of the transaction. Over the next two years, withdrawals, transfers, and deposits were made to and from the client trust account — causing the balance to dip to an impermissibly low level.
Ultimately, the court ordered Howington to pay his client $50,000 from the account as a “uncharacterized prejudgment distribution.” He demurred, paying her $5,000 from his personal funds which had been commingled with the trust money. At that point, Howington sent a letter to the client that contained several false and misleading statements about the status and balance of the funds held for her, and claiming entitlement to outstanding attorney fees, when in fact he had misappropriated nearly all of those funds through accounting mismanagement. He also filed an order with the court requesting a shortened hearing time, repeating falsehoods about the available funds.
When the instant discipline case was decided, the State Bar Court judge determined that Howington owed the client just over $46,000.
In aggravation, Howington committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his client, and was also was accorded aggravating weight for the uncharged misconduct based on an additional misappropriation of client funds due to his negligent supervision of his client trust account.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, practiced law discipline-free for nearly 32 years before the misconduct at issue began, and presented reference letters from a range of 13 individuals who attested to his good character.
Alexander H. Lubarsky
State Bar No. 182691, Redwood City (April 21, 2021)
Lubarsky was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on suspension for two years after he stipulated to committing nine acts of professional misconduct related to four separate client matters.
He was culpable of: presenting an unwarranted legal claim, failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant case developments, failing to return unearned advanced fees to a client, failing to provide a written accounting of client funds when asked, and failing to release a client’s papers and property after terminating employment, as well as four counts of failing to perform legal services with competence.
All four client cases involved charges of failing to perform legal services competently, and followed roughly similar fact patterns: Lubarsky represented individuals in three immigration matters and one disability retirement case, but submitted deficient filings and pleadings that failed to comply with fundamental rules of procedure or that sought legal relief to which the clients were not entitled.
In recommending discipline of an actual suspension of 90 days, the State Bar Court judge homed in on the competence factor, noting: “Respondent’s failures to perform competently in these cases were not failures to perform diligently, but failures to ascertain and apply the correct law and legal procedures and handling matters that respondent was not competent to perform without associating with competent counsel.”
In aggravation, Lubarsky committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients — three of whom were highly vulnerable due to their uncertain immigration status.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 20 years, submitted letters from seven members of the legal and general communities attesting to his good moral character, provided evidence of substantial pro bono and community service work, and suffered emotional difficulties due to the illnesses and deaths of several family members that occurred around the time of the misconduct at issue.
Stephen Bryan Morris
State Bar No. 126192, San Diego (April 7, 2021)
Morris was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to mismanagement of his client trust account.
Specifically, he was culpable of improperly maintaining his personal funds in the trust account, commingling his personal funds with trust account funds, and failing to maintain proper records of the client funds held in trust.
In a two-month period, Morris issued a total of 21 checks, debits, and wire transfers from his client trust account to pay personal and business expenses. In response to a State Bar inquiry, he admitted paying out business expenses from his client trust account as a matter of convenience after his office manager quit. He then changed that practice and voluntarily enrolled in the State Bar’s Client Trust Account School.
In aggravation, Morris committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, demonstrated remorse and recognition of his wrongdoing, and had practiced law for 32 years without a record of discipline.
Edward Stephen Orchon
State Bar No. 67039, Winnetka (April 21, 2021)
Orchon was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after his appeal of the hearing judge’s recommendation of one year of actual suspension. He was found culpable of six counts of professional misconduct: two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to maintain appropriate accounts of client funds, and misappropriating client funds — acts involving moral turpitude.
On appeal, he did not contest the findings of culpability, but argued the law and records warranted an actual suspension of not more than 30 days; the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel did not appeal, and requested that the judge’s recommendation be upheld.
Orchon handled personal injury cases for a couple years right after being admitted to practice, but then shifted to representing corporate clients for the next 40 years, billing at an hourly rate rather than on a contingency fee basis.
However, he then represented a couple, both of whom were injured in a car accident, after the attorney they had hired died. They entered a contingency fee agreement entitling Orchon to 33 1/3 percent of any gross recovery obtained. He settled their claims before filing a lawsuit.
The insurer issued two settlement checks — each for $11,500 — which Orchon deposited into his client trust account. He paid each of the clients 1/3 of their share of the settlement and was paid 1/3 for his fees. He then agreed to attempt to negotiate with the medical providers for a lower payment to satisfy the clients’ medical debts, but was ultimately unable to get the providers to agree to a reduction.
Over the next several months, the balance in Orchon’s client trust account dipped to an impermissibly low level. In the course of the State Bar’s investigation of the matter, Orchon admitted he had made accounting mistakes in handling the trust, and that he did not keep financial records beyond his bank statement.
In aggravation, Orchon committed multiple acts of misconduct — though the panel on review gave it less weight than the hearing judge, reasoning that Orchon’s impermissible withdrawals occurred during a few months, while “case law usually finds full aggravating weight where multiple acts of misconduct occur over a period much longer.”
In mitigation, Orchon had practiced law for 41 years without a record of discipline, and cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation. However, the panel assigned more weight than the hearing judge to Orchon’s character witnesses — six of whom submitted declarations and one who also testified at trial. While none of the witnesses was from the legal community — barring full weight accorded witnesses taken from a range of both the legal and general populations — the panel allotted moderate mitigating weight, reasoning that the character witnesses Orchon presented “included a wide range of references from people who had known him for a long time.”
Gary Scott Saunders
State Bar No. 144385, Corona (April 28, 2021)
Saunders was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year. He was originally charged with 10 counts of professional misconduct in a consolidated case and stipulated to eight violations; the court dismissed the remaining two counts. The wrongdoing occurred in three separate client matters, though the two dismissed counts related to one of the clients.
Saunders was culpable of improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to provide legal services with competence, and six counts of failing to obey court orders.
In one case, he was hired to reopen a bankruptcy to add a creditor, but did not move to do so — and did not communicate with the client for three years, until the client hired another attorney to handle the matter.
In the other relevant case, Saunders was hired to represent defendants in an unlawful detainer action. He failed to appear at trial after one of the parties informed him of the intent to settle. However, based on the non-appearance, the court set an order to show cause hearing regarding monetary sanctions. Saunders did not appear at the hearing, nor did he appear at two subsequent hearings; he was sanctioned a total of $6,500. He appealed $6,000 of the sanctions total, claiming he did not receive notice of the hearings, but did not prevail. He eventually paid the total $6,500 — and reported the sanctions to the State Bar as required.
In aggravation, Saunders committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline: a private reproval.
In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation admitting culpability, offered testimony from nine individuals and provided 25 letters — all emphasizing his good character, and demonstrated a recognition of his wrongdoing and remorse for its effects.
David Rey Silva
State Bar No. 152690, Petaluma (April 28, 2021)
Silva was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct: failing to obey and court order and failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
He violated a court order by failing to provide the Office of Probation with proof of taking and passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as directed by the California Supreme Court.
In addition, he violated specific provisions of his disciplinary probation requiring him to schedule and participate in a meeting with the Office of Probation, and provide the Office of Probation with three quarterly and one final written report, as well as four reports regarding proper handling of entrusted client funds, and failed to provide proof of completing the State Bar’s Ethics School and Client Trust Accounting School as directed.
In aggravation, Silva had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
David Robert Steinman
State Bar No. 194070, Leawood, Kansas (April 28, 2021)
Steinman was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to being found culpable of professional misconduct in Colorado. He was suspended from practicing law there for six months, with an actual suspension of three months and the remainder stayed upon successfully completing conditions in a one-year probation.
The State Bar Court judge found that the misconduct determination also warranted imposing discipline on him in California.
Steinman, licensed to practice in both Colorado and California, was offered work on a contractual basis with a Colorado liability defense firm. Later that year, he accepted a fulltime position as a deputy district attorney, subject to a Colorado statute that specifies fulltime DAs “shall not engage in the private practice of law nor receive any income from any private law firm” (Colo. Rev. Stat. Section 20-1-201).
Steinman was made aware of the statutory prohibition several times: in the office policy manual he received, at a workplace orientation meeting, by the DA, a senior chief deputy DA, and by the DA’s HR director. He confirmed to the D.A.’s office he was no longer working on outside cases. In fact, he was continuing to work on a case with the liability defense firm, and also filed a separate civil case for an acquaintance.
However, he expressly disclaimed he was a fulltime DA several times to opposing counsel in one of the outside cases, then falsely stating he would extricate himself when he began working as a fulltime DA, when in fact he had held that position for six months. When Steinman’s deception about his outside work came to light, he was terminated from the DA’s office with no possibility of rehiring. The liability defense firm also terminated the independent contractor relationship with him.
In aggravation, Steinman committed multiple acts of misconduct through his repeated misrepresentations.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation. The State Bar Court judge also took note that Steinman had practiced law discipline-free in California for 6 ½ years and in Colorado for nine years before the instant misconduct, but underscored that those facts were “only minimally relevant for mitigation, as respondent’s deceit during disciplinary proceedings indicate he has not truly recognized the wrongfulness of his actions and, as such, his misconduct is not unlikely to recur.”
Paul D. Stockler
State Bar No. 171401, Anchorage, Alaska (April 7, 2021)
Stockler was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading guilty to three counts of willfully failing to file income tax returns (26 U.S.C. Section 7203) — all misdemeanors. In a plea agreement, he agreed to make restitution to the IRS for the three years of tax loss.
The State Bar Court judge found the facts and circumstances surrounding the violations did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Stockler committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 13 years discipline-free before the misconduct at issue began.
State Bar No. 192047, Encino (April 28, 2021)
Resnik was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.
Her wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to provide a proper accounting to the client, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and failing to cooperate and participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the alleged misconduct.
Resnik was hired to process a settlement reached by a divorcing couple into a finalized judgment — accepting $3,000 for attorney fees and $870 for filing fees. She prepared and filed the petition and additional pleadings, and sent the documents related to the final judgment for the client to review.
The judgment documents were never filed, and Resnik did not respond to numerous email messages and 14 phone calls from the client and the attorney he hired to follow up with her seeking an update in the case.
The client then hired an additional attorney to take over the case — informing Resnik by email and requesting return of his client files, a refund of all money paid, and an additional $750 to be applied to the payment made to the new counsel. Though Resnik promised to review and respond to his email, she did not — nor did she or her counsel respond to the State Bar investigator’s numerous queries.
She eventually paid the client $2,276 as a refund amount determines in a binding fee arbitration.
In aggravation, Resnik committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed her client by delaying resolution of his case and forcing him to hire a new attorney to handle the matter.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 20 years without a record of discipline, provided 10 letters from individuals from a range in the legal and general communities who attested to her good character and volunteer and pro bono work, and demonstrated a recognition of her wrongdoing by expressing remorse, paying the client the refund due him, and adjusting her practice to be more selective in the cases she accepts in the future.
Nina M. Riley
State Bar No. 297534, Los Angeles (April 7, 2021)
Riley was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to being found culpable of professional misconduct in another jurisdiction.
Riley, who was representing a client in entertainment matters, was admitted for a special appearance as out of state counsel in Maryland to assist counsel in the sentencing phase in a criminal case involving the client. The client subsequently terminated the Maryland counsel and he filed a motion to withdraw from the case.
Despite that, Riley continued to represent the client in the criminal matter in Maryland — a state in which she was not licensed to practice — filing a motion for a continuance and appearing at his restitution hearing, where the court advised her she would not be permitted to participate as she was not licensed in that jurisdiction. Despite that admonition, she drafted a motion for reconsideration, which the client subsequently filed in pro per.
The California State Bar judge found the culpability of professional misconduct as determined in Maryland also warranted imposing professional discipline in California.
In mitigation, Riley entered into a prefiling stipulation.
In aggravation, she showed a lack of remorse and insight into the reality and consequences of her misconduct.
Julie Anne Ringquist
State Bar No. 203982, Irvine (March 31, 2021)
Ringquist was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
She was culpable of improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries, and failing to provide an accounting of client funds after being requested to do so.
Ringquist was hired to represent the wife in a dissolution case, who paid her $2,000 in fees. She worked on the case for several months, until the client notified her the divorce was “on hold.” Then, about seven years after initially hiring Ringquist, the client informed her she intended to move forward with the divorce, asking whether she would continue the representation or substitute out of the case. The client sent several email messages and a letter, and Ringquist eventually responded, indicating she would keep working on the case.
The next day, however, the client requested her file, an accounting of services performed, and a substitution of attorney — repeating that request eight times over the next several months. Ringquist did not respond. The client eventually requested an in-person meeting, and while Ringquist agreed to meet, she did not confirm the meeting time and place — and the two never met.
Eventually, Ringquist provided the client with a signed substitution of attorney form and returned her file; she never provided the requested accounting.
In aggravation, Ringquist committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation.
State Bar No. 188833, San Marino (April 28, 2021)
Wang was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to being convicted of one count of theft (Cal. Penal Code Section 484(a)). The offense is a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude as a matter of law. Wang was also culpable of failing to report the conviction to the State Bar within 30 days as required.
In the underlying incident, Wang entered a department store and proceeded to select items valued at $290 and conceal them in an empty purse. A loss prevention agent detained her outside the store and made a private person arrest before summoning police, who arrested her and booked her for the theft.
In mitigation, Wang entered into a prefiling and pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 16 years before the instant misconduct, and presented references from six individuals taken from inside and outside the legal community — all of whom were familiar with the extent of Wang’s misconduct, but vouched for her good character.
Linnea Nicole Willis
State Bar No. 221352, Elk Grove (April 28, 2021)
Willis was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to maintain due respect for the courts, failing to maintain only legal or just proceedings, and two counts of failing to comply with court orders.
In the underlying case, Willis substituted in as counsel in a case, eventually filing a fifth amended complaint. For four years, she propounded no discovery in defending the matter. She and her client were sanctioned twice for abuse of the discovery process and the court eventually granted summary judgment for the defense, based in part on Willis’ failure to respond. A notice of appeal was filed in the case, and despite having actual notice that the superior court no longer had jurisdiction, as well as repeated advisements by defense counsel of that fact, Willis made several filings deemed frivolous as a matter of law — and continued to pursue frivolous filings even after being personally sanctioned for them.
She eventually paid nearly $7,325 to defense counsel to resolve the sanctions imposed.
In aggravation, Willis committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, provided letters from an array of 14 individuals who attested to her good character, and presented evidence of performing substantial civic and volunteer services.
— Barbara Kate Repa