Scott L. Adkins
State Bar No. 194809, Grayson, Kentucky (June 2, 2021)
Adkins was disbarred by default after he failed to file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against him.
The State Bar Court judge determined that Adkins had been provided with adequate notice of all proceedings in the case, and that he had not moved to have the default subsequently entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of failing to comply with an earlier court order setting out his obligation to give notice to clients, counsel, and the courts that he had been suspended due to professional misconduct (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
Adkins had two prior records of discipline when he was disbarred in the instant case.
Jacques Alden Bloxham
State Bar No. 123694, Walnut Creek (June 2, 2021)
Bloxham was summarily disbarred.
He earlier pled no contest to one count of possessing child pornography, where the production of the pornography involved a person under 18 years of age engaging in or simulating sexual conduct (Cal. Penal Code Section 311.11(a)). The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel submitted evidence that the conviction had not been appealed and had become final.
The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.
Alexander H. Escandari
State Bar No. 183781, Beverly Hills (June 2, 2021)
Escandari was disbarred by default. He had been charged with 11 counts of professional misconduct arising from three separate investigations.
He and his counsel appeared for a pretrial conference and a status conference, and later requested a continuance based on an emergent medical condition. However, Escandari failed to appear at the trial in the matter, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
The State Bar Court judge found that all procedural requirements had been met, and there was also an adequate factual basis for disciplinary misconduct.
Escandari was found culpable of 10 of the 11 counts charged — including failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, commingling trust funds by paying personal expenses from the account, failing to render an accounting of client funds held, failing to promptly pay the client funds to which he was entitled, failing to maintain the requisite balance in his client trust account, and seeking an agreement from a client to withdraw the complaint he had filed with State Bar authorities. In addition, four counts involved moral turpitude: two counts of misappropriating client funds, and two counts of misrepresenting facts to State Bar investigators.
At the time the disbarment recommendation was issued, there were 16 separate investigations pending against Escandari.
Byron M. Johnson
State Bar No. 304897, Long Beach (June 23, 2021)
Johnson was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding. The court granted the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel petition recommending disbarment after finding that all procedural requirements, including proper notice, had been fulfilled in the case and that Johnson had not moved to have the underlying default order set aside or vacated.
At the entry of default, Johnson was deemed culpable of all counts of professional misconduct charged: failing to obey court orders to pay sanctions, failing to report the sanctions imposed to the State Bar, and failing to perform legal services with competence. All counts related to a single client matter.
At the time Johnson was disbarred, there were 17 additional confidential disciplinary matters pending against him, and he had a prior record of being disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct.
Eric Douglas Leach
State Bar No. 212175, Lowell, Arkansas (June 16, 2021)
Leach was disbarred by default.
After he was convicted of the misdemeanor of resisting arrest in Arkansas (Ark. Code Ann. Section 5-54-103), the matter was referred to the California State Bar Hearing Department for a determination of whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the offense involved moral turpitude and whether professional discipline was warranted.
Leach initially attended a status conference, filed an answer to the notice of hearing, and appeared via Zoom at a status conference after the case was abated and rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he failed to appear at trial, and a default was entered against him. He did not seek to have it set aside or vacated.
In the underlying matter, Leach’s 11-year-old daughter summoned police to their Arkansas home, reporting that her parents were fighting violently, and that her 9-year-old brother was also present. Upon their arrival, Leach’s wife told investigating officers that she and Leach had been fighting, and he had smashed the windshield of her car that was parked in the driveway. She also said he was highly intoxicated that morning — and when he attempted to drive away, she had taken his wallet and keys, which escalated the argument. He continued to yell and curse at his wife as she packed suitcases to leave the house with the children, banging on the hood of her car and cursing.
At one point, he pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks and genitals to the officers, his wife, children, and the neighbors who had gathered to observe the ruckus. As officers attempted to arrest him, he resisted, punching one of them in the face. He continued to be verbally and physically combative with deputies at the jail once he was confined to a cell there.
The State Bar Court judge concluded the misconduct did not involve moral turpitude, but did warrant discipline.
Daniel Alexander Nicholson
State Bar No. 187755, Sacramento (June 2, 2021)
Nicholson was disbarred by default. He had failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel. The State Bar Court judge determined that all procedural requirements had been met, including reasonable diligence in giving him notice in the case, and that there was an adequate factual basis for disciplinary misconduct. He did not move to have the default order ultimately entered against him set aside or vacated.
As a result, the factual allegations set out in the notice of disciplinary charges were deemed admitted, and culpability was determined for eight of the nine counts charged.
Nicholson’s wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, failing to render an accounting of client fees, failing to produce a written accounting of client fees held, accepting fees from a non-client, failing to notify the State Bar about employing an attorney on involuntary inactive status, failing to update his official State Bar record within 30 days of changing his office address as required, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.
Derik Justin Roy, III
State Bar No. 264052, Huntington Beach (June 23, 2021)
Roy 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 11 counts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.
The State Bar Court judge determined that all procedural requirements had been satisfied and that Roy did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
Roy was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to promptly release a client’s file after terminating employment, failing to return unearned advanced fees to the client, failing to obey a court order, and failing to comply with several probation conditions imposed in an earlier discipline order, as well as two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, charging unconscionable fees, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged. An additional count involved moral turpitude: issuing checks and payments from his client trust account when it contained an insufficient balance.
Janis Louise Turner
State Bar No. 79217, San Diego (June 16, 2021)
Turner was disbarred after a contested original disciplinary proceeding.
She initially stipulated to being culpable of 12 counts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. Her wrongdoing included: one count each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to render an accounting of client funds, failing to return unearned advanced fees to a client, failing to act with reasonable diligence, failing to abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objective of representation, failing to communicate significant case developments to a client, and appearing for a party without the authority to do so; two counts of seeking to mislead a judge; and three counts of moral turpitude.
The case was abated for approximately two months, then continued for an additional month before a one-day trial was held. Following that, both parties filed closing briefs. Turner’s brief contended that the entire State Bar disciplinary system is “riddled with inconsistency and vagueness,” lacks fundamental fairness, and violated her substantive and procedural due process rights. The State Bar’s Hearing Department judge noted those arguments were “surprising in that Turner had previously entered into a comprehensive stipulation as to all facts and culpability in the matter.”
Turner had represented one client in three legal cases: two related to an unlawful detainer and another civil case for the failed eviction; she was paid a total of $5,150 in advanced fees to handle the cases. Initially, she substituted in as counsel in one unlawful detainer action. She erroneously informed the client that the previous attorney for the property managers had served the tenants with a deficient three-day notice to quit and advised him to withdraw it, dismiss the action, and file a 60-day notice in its stead.
The property managers also sued the client in small claims for fees for their earlier legal representation, as well as costs for a furnace installed on the property. Turner informed the client that filing a civil lawsuit for the failed eviction would effectively move the small claims matter to superior court. She filed the lawsuit, but told the client she did not have a confirmed copy to serve on the opposing parties. The small claims court subsequently ruled the client owed the property management company $2,815.
Finally, Turner served the tenants with a 60-day notice to quit, which was deficient in failing to include language required by city ordinance and the statutorily-required notice to tenants regarding the right to reclaim abandoned personal property. She also filed three requests for trial in the case — all of which were rejected because they contained errors. After the client terminated her services, Turner failed to provide the accounting for her services that he requested or to return the unearned advanced fees the client had paid.
In the second client matter, Turner was hired to represent a client in unlawful detainer and breach of contract actions against her tenants. The client informed Turner she had performed asset searches on the tenants and determined that they owned property and that she would only settle the breach of contract case for an amount of money. Turner twice offered to perform an asset search, but the client refused twice, responding she had already performed the search on her own. Despite that, Turner entered into settlement discussions with opposing counsel that involved the tenants signing a quitclaim deed and paying no money in consideration for the client dropping the case against them. She did not discuss the settlement with the client, and erroneously informed the court at a trial readiness conference that the case had been settled; the case was placed on the dismissal calendar, and future court dates were vacated. The court ultimately dismissed the case, but Turner did not inform the client.
Turner filed a motion to vacate the dismissal, which erroneously included a declaration that the client requested and Turner knew information about the tenants that made it unwise to sign the settlement. While she sought and was granted an ex parte motion to set aside the dismissal that returned the case to active status, she did not inform the client or the client’s new counsel of that status — and appeared at a subsequent case management conference in the matter without the client’s knowledge or consent.
In the instant disciplinary case, the State Bar Court judge did not assign additional weight in culpability to four of the twelve counts at issue, finding the misconduct alleged was duplicative of other counts.
In aggravation, Turner had three prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed her clients and the administration of justice, and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying or atoning for her wrongdoing.
In mitigation, she entered into a stipulation as to facts and conclusions of law.
Dennis Lynn Watson
State Bar No. 101481, Coto de Caza (June 16, 2021)
Watson was disbarred by default after he failed to file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges the State Bar sent to him, or to participate in the proceedings related to it. The State Bar Court judge determined that he had adequate notice and opportunity to respond.
After a default judgment was entered against Watson, which he did not move to challenge, the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel filed a petition requesting the court to recommend disbarment.
That petition was granted, and Watson was found culpable of the singular count of professional misconduct with which he had been charged: failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged. He had failed to provide a substantive response to either of the two investigation letters sent seeking information about the allegations against him.
Leroy Bishop Austin
State Bar No. 175497, Los Angeles (June 2, 2021)
Austin was suspended from practicing law for six months and place on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing nine acts of professional misconduct related to three separate client matters.
He was culpable of: failing to render a timely accounting of client funds, failing to pay out undisputed settlement funds to a client, failing to respond to numerous reasonable client inquiries, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged. In addition, he was culpable of four counts of commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account.
In one client matter, Austin settled a personal injury claim for $120,000 — with the client signing a release of all claims. Shortly after, he met with the client, who endorsed the settlement check and received $50,000 as a preliminary disbursement before medical liens were negotiated. Over the next couple months, the client made several requests for an accounting and disbursement of additional settlement funds, but Austin did not respond. He later paid the client about $4,000 which was not in dispute. An arbitrator subsequently found the fee agreement entered was voidable, and awarded the client an additional $5,779.85, which Austin paid him.
In the second client case, Austin was terminated before completing work on a divorce. The invoice he sent informed the client she was entitled to $477.50 in unearned fees from the original $3,000 she had advanced. He issued that check nearly 2 ½ years later.
The third matter, initiated by the State Bar, related to Austin’s mismanagement of his client trust account: commingling by making seven deposits of his personal funds into the account and issuing 62 checks from the account to pay personal expenses.
In aggravation, Austin had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients — who were deprived of the funds to which they were entitled.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and presented letters from a range of five individuals who attested to his good character, as well as a declaration describing his civic activities.
State Bar No. 236791, Irvine (June 16, 2021)
Bayrooti was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after successfully completing the State Bar’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).
Bayrooti had earlier pled guilty to one count of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence (Cal. Penal Code Section 191.5(b)) — a felony, after she struck and killed a bicyclist. Among other conditions, she was sentenced to four years in prison. About three months later, she pled guilty to a felony violation of possessing a controlled substance while a prisoner (Cal. Penal Code Section 4573.6), and was sentenced to three years in custody.
The two conviction matters were consolidated in the present State Bar disciplinary proceeding.
The State Bar Court judge found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the criminal conviction for vehicular manslaughter did not involve moral turpitude, but the possession of a controlled substance did.
In aggravation, Bayrooti committed multiple acts of misconduct that unquestionably caused significant harm.
In mitigation, she had no prior record of discipline in nearly eight years of practice and had successfully completed the ADP.
Weighing all relevant factors, the court ordered the lower level of discipline — 18 months of actual suspension — with credit given for the period of interim suspension already accumulated.
State Bar No. 271134, Calabasas (June 23, 2021)
Drake 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, both related to a single client and both involving moral turpitude: making false and misleading statements to a client verbally and in writing, and providing a release to the client that contained statements he knew to be false.
In the underlying matter, Drake was retained to perform escrow and paymaster services related to pending transactions on behalf of a corporation. Their agreement provided Drake would establish a trust account to hold the funds and disburse them in accord with contracts that the client entered with third parties. At one point, the client entered a verbal agreement with a Venezuelan company that the company would transfer 25 billion in Venezuelan currency in exchange for $3,333,333 in U.S. dollars. In furtherance of that agreement, Drake sent the Venezuelan company two computer screen shots falsely representing that the client had transferred $7 million to the trust account, along with a letter detailing the specific of the conversion arrangement. The company representative then sent an email to Drake requesting that he “confirm and authenticate” the letter and availability of funds.
After additional assurances, the client and company entered a written agreement memorializing the arrangement, and specifying the transfers into and out of the accounts would be made in two installments. However, the agreement failed to specify an account from which the funds would be transferred into the trust account. After the company paid the first installment, disputes arose among the parties relating to transferring the funds, prompting Drake to prepare and sign a mutual release in which the client would deposit 20 billion in Venezuelan funds in an account in Spain if the company did not receive the specified funds by the end of the day. The release contained the false statement that the client’s corporation was organized under California law, with its head offices in this state.
The Venezuelan funds that had been transferred were never refunded to the company, and no U.S. funds were received pursuant to the agreement or release.
In aggravation, Drake committed multiple acts of misconduct that caused significant financial harm.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, and was allotted minimal mitigating credit for having practiced law for six years without a record of discipline.
Sharon Arlene Healey
State Bar No. 138002, Seattle, Washington (June 2, 2021)
Healey was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
She was culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to obtain a client’s written consent before accepting compensation for services from a third party, and failing to inform a client of significant case developments, as well as two counts of failing to obey court orders.
In the matter at issue, Healey was retained to represent a client in an immigration matter — accepting compensation from the client’s domestic partner without first obtaining the client’s written consent.
She had represented the client earlier, in an appeal of an immigration judge’s order denying the client’s case. In the instant matter, Healey filed a petition for review and motion for stay of removal on the client’s behalf. She requested and was granted two extensions to file an opening brief, but failed to do so by the last date set by the court and the appeal was dismissed. The court order included a provision that Healey immediately notify the client in writing of the dismissal, but she failed to do so.
Healey then filed a motion to reinstate the case, which was granted; she again failed to file an opening brief when due or to notify the client that the appeal had been dismissed as again ordered.
The court denied Healey’s second request to reinstate the case, and indicated that no further filing would be entertained.
In aggravation, Healey committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed a client who was highly vulnerable due to her uncertain immigration status, and also had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, submitted letters from four individuals taken from the legal and general communities who vouched for her good character, and suffered extreme emotional and physical difficulties related to her own health and to the death and illnesses of family members during the time of the misconduct in the instant case.
Philip Eberhard Koebel
State Bar No. 249899, Los Angeles (June 16, 2021)
Koebel was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after a consolidated matter consisting of one reciprocal and three original disciplinary proceedings related to several clients. He was found culpable of a total of 12 counts of professional misconduct; an additional five counts were dismissed as duplicative.
His wrongdoing included failing to perform legal services with competence; two counts of failing to obey court orders; and three counts each of failing to timely report court-imposed sanctions, maintaining unjust legal actions, and making material misrepresentations to a court — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
All the professional misconduct alleged and adjudicated involved Koebel’s handling of bankruptcy cases — including as action seeking to enjoin foreclosure of his own residence in which he submitted a declaration falsely claiming the lenders had failed to mail and post a notice of a trustee’s sale of the property.
In considering the reciprocal matter, the State Bar Court judge noted that the bankruptcy discipline panel had considered other cases Koebel had handled as “relevant to and probative of” his “frivolous and vexatious conduct before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and other courts.” The opinion underscored that the panel had found he had improperly removed eight unlawful detainer actions to the bankruptcy courts to delay state proceedings — “and this pattern of litigation was clearly frivolous, vexatious, and designed to frustrated creditors.”
In aggravation, Koebel committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients and the administration of justice, and showed indifference by refusing to accept responsibility for his wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he was allotted moderate weight for presenting testimony and letters from a cross-section of witnesses who were not aware of the full extent of the misconduct at issue, as well as limited credit for entering into a partial stipulation of facts and admission of documents.
Van My Nghiem
State Bar No. 175689, Irvine (June 2, 2021)
Nghiem was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
Her wrongdoing included: accepting an illegal advanced fee, failing to provide an accounting of client funds, allowing her assistant to engage in the unauthorized practice of law, and making a misrepresentation to State Bar investigators — an act involving moral turpitude.
Relevant facts in the matter: An individual whose home was in foreclosure called Nghiem’s office, and after being advised by a non-attorney assistant that her home could be saved through loan modification, paid Nghiem a total of $3,000 in three installments.
Some time later, Nghiem determined that the client was ineligible for a loan modification and recommended a Chapter 7 bankruptcy instead; the client agreed. Nghiem then paid an attorney $500 to file the bankruptcy petition, though the client then changed her mind about pursuing the bankruptcy, and the court dismissed the case. The client’s lender ultimately foreclosed on the home.
When the client filed a complaint and the State Bar investigated, Nghiem claimed the client had only paid her $2,000. About 18 months later, Nghiem sent the client a check for $1,500 — and shortly after that, provided an accounting, more than four years after originally being hired.
In aggravation, Nghiem committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her client and the administration of justice.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately seven years, and presented credible evidence from 12 witnesses familiar with the full extent of her misconduct who vouched for her good character.
Deepak Sadashiv Parwatikar
State Bar No. 187683, Los Angeles (June 2, 2021)
Parwatikar was suspended for three years and placed on probation for four years after he stipulated to assisting third parties to violate the law.
Parwatikar incorporated a law practice, serving as its sole shareholder, president, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer. Relevant to his disciplinary matter, he provided business consulting services rather than legal advice to another business. He also subleased an office space to that business, which focused on providing mortgage assistance relief services. Parwatikar assisted the owners in advancing and marketing their services, including litigation services. The business owners, California attorneys who were not licensed in New Mexico, collected more than $82,000 in advanced fees from 14 New Mexico residents for mortgage assistance relief services. The fees were illegal, in violation of the New Mexico Mortgage Foreclosure Consultant Fraud Prevention Act (N.M. Stat. Ann. Section 47-15-1) and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule (Reg. O, 12 C.F.R. Part 1015 (2011)).
The New Mexico Attorney General sued the California attorneys, their company, Parwatikar, and his company — seeking restitution, disgorgement of unlawful revenues, civil penalties, exemplary damages, and injunctions barring similar services there in the future. Under the terms of a stipulated consent judgment, Parwatikar agreed to pay the New Mexico AG $125,000.
In aggravation, Parwatikar had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case that significantly harmed the clients during a recession when they could not afford their mortgage payments, and showed indifference to the reality and consequences of his misconduct by failing to research the legality of the fee arrangements.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and provided evidence of performing community and volunteer services.
Michael Andrew Piazza
State Bar No. 235881, Spicewood, Texas (June 2, 2021)
Piazza was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to earlier pleading guilty to the misdemeanor of willfully failing to file tax returns with the intent to evade tax (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code Section 19706) for three years.
The evidence showed that in addition to the failures to file encompassed by the conviction, he had failed to file state income tax returns for a total of six consecutive years.
The matter was referred to the State Bar Hearing Department for a determination of whether moral turpitude was involved, and whether discipline should be imposed for the misconduct. The State Bar Court judge found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation did not involve moral turpitude, but did warrant discipline.
In aggravation, Piazza committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided reference letters from nine individuals aware of the underlying misconduct — all of whom attested to his good character. He also received mitigating credit for the remoteness in time of the offense, as he had practiced law for more than eight years since the misconduct occurred, with no other criminal conduct warranting discipline.
John Edward Rosenbaum
State Bar No. 176955, Novato (June 16, 2021)
Rosenbaum was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to mishandling the administration of an estate.
His wrongdoing included: one count of violating a court order, as well as two counts each of failing to act in compliance with controlling law and breaching his duty to act as fiduciary and to preserve and distribute estate assets — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
The State Bar Court’s voluminous opinion detailed a scheme, originating when a Pennsylvania resident who was French died intestate, leaving an estate worth nearly $2 million. The Pennsylvania attorney originally charged as the estate administrator initially contracted companies to locate the heirs. The first company she contracted charged a percentage of the inheritance, a practice forbidden in Pennsylvania. Another company found five individuals — four cousins and an aunt — who were entitled to inherit under Pennsylvania law. A grandson of one of the inheritors recommended a U.S. lawyer to be hired as special counsel — an individual who professed to be an expert in international tax law. That lawyer, a college friend of Rosenbaum’s, in turn asked Rosenbaum to be fiduciary of the estate — promising to pay him $400 per hour, to be paid from the estate’s administrative reserve, though the two did not enter a written agreement.
Rosenbaum agreed to serve as fiduciary for a $450,000 reserve, also agreeing to act at the sole discretion of his friend, the alleged international tax expert. In short, the expert, who should have entrusted Rosenbaum with $450,000 in a reserve fund earmarked and court-directed to pay outstanding claims and related estate and litigation expenses, eventually misappropriated the entire reserve fund balance; he wired $858,000 to Rosenbaum to cover fees and be disbursed to the inheritors.
Rosenbaum did not receive or seek documentation of the court’s directive or request invoices, but simply paid his friend for fees he claimed he had earned; payments were made from the funds slated to be paid to the heirs. During the course of the case, some of the charges he covered included a trip to France for the two involving a lunch costing more than $1,000 and a hotel stay of more than $900 per night, as well as clothing and an initialed briefcase for his friend’s son that cost more than $11,000.
A court eventually issued a preliminary injunction freezing the accounts Rosenbaum had established for the heirs, which is what ultimately stopped the spending bleed. In the end, Rosenbaum had paid the heirs — described by the court as “unsophisticated, elderly, and living in France thereby making it difficult, if not impossible for them to compel respondent to release the funds due them from the estate — only $123,500 of the $858,000 to which they were entitled.
The court identified a number of ways in which Rosenbaum had failed to handle and account for funds entrusted him, breaching his fiduciary duties as the appointed representative of the intended beneficiary of those funds.
In aggravation, Rosenbaum committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, engaged in acts of concealment and overreaching, refused to provide an appropriate accounting of the inheritors’ funds, and caused significant harm to the highly vulnerable heirs.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for more than 16 years before the instant misconduct began, and submitted eight declarations from individuals who attested to his good character, as well as proof of his volunteer and civic service.
Barry Lawrence Slotnick
State Bar No. 183717, Desert Hot Springs (June 16, 2021)
Slotnick was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to being convicted of one count of stealing personal property (Cal. Penal Code Section 484(A)). The offense is a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.
The matter was referred to the State Bar’s Hearing Department for a decision recommending the appropriate discipline to be imposed.
In the underlying matter, Slotnick went into a department store and placed items in his shopping cart valuing a total of $277. He then walked past staffed registers without attempting to pay for the items in his cart, and was detained by a security officer, who summoned police.
In aggravation, Slotnick had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Jeffrey Bryan Smith
State Bar No. 150095, Long Beach (June 23, 2021)
Smith was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).
In a consolidated disciplinary matter, Smith had earlier stipulated to failing to failing to obey court orders, failing to promptly release a client file, failing to report judicial sanctions, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, and failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, as well as two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
In aggravation, Smith had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to one of his clients, and demonstrated indifference toward atoning for the consequences of his wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, demonstrated good character, and successfully completed the ADP.
After considering the parties’ briefs on discipline, controlling standards, and case law, the State Bar Court recommended that the lower level of discipline be imposed in the instant case.
State Bar No. 43872, San Juan Capistrano (June 23, 2021)
Stocker was suspended for two years after a hearing in which his previously-imposed probation was revoked upon finding he had violated several conditions imposed in an earlier order. That order had imposed a 60-day actual suspension and two years of probation,
The Office of Probation uploaded a letter on the attorney profile portion of its website, reminding Stocker of the terms and conditions of his probation, along with deadlines for complying, as well as an email reminder to review the site, followed by a letter reiterating the conditions.
Stocker did not comply. Specifically, he failed to contact and meet with his assigned probation specialist, failed to submit two written quarterly reports, and failed to submit a declaration that he had read the Rules of Professional Conduct and portions of the Business and Professions Code as directed.
The Office of Probation then filed and served a motion to revoke Stocker’s probation, but he did not file a response.
In aggravation, Stocker had a prior record of discipline, showed indifference toward atoning for his misconduct, and failed to participate in the present disciplinary proceeding.
Catherine Ann Allen
State Bar No. 211574, Encino (June 16, 2021)
Allen was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly terminating her representation, and failing to respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries about the case.
Allen, along with a law firm, represented an individual who had sustained serious injuries in an accident while driving for work. She informed the client she would first need to obtain a judgment against his employer who had been operating without a required license — a process that could take from 12 to 16 months. For approximately the next three years, she was responsive to the client, even giving him her personal cell phone number, and attempting to find a local medical doctor to evaluate his accident injuries for the next three years.
She informed him that the law firm had filed a workers’ compensation case, and that if she filed a civil suit on his behalf, he would need to execute a new retainer, and that her fees would increase significantly. The client found a consulting physician on his own, and forwarded his MRI results to Allen. A few months after that, Allen ceased to respond to the client’s additional requests for information: 18 email messages, texts, and phone calls sent during a six-month period.
The client eventually hired a new attorney to take over the case.
In aggravation, Allen committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed her client.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for 18 years discipline-free until the misconduct in the instant case.
Amid Timothy Bahadori
State Bar No. 242351, Newport Beach (June 2, 2021)
Bahadori was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single case: two counts of disobeying court orders and one count of failing to inform the State Bar of court-imposed sanctions.
In the course of representing a client in a trust matter, Bahadori was ordered to personally appear at a show cause hearing. Opposing counsel appeared by telephone, but after neither Bahadori nor his client made an appearance, the court sanctioned Bahadori $10,000.
Though the law requires attorneys to report sanctions to the State Bar within 30 days of receiving notice of them, Bahadori failed to do so for more than a year. He also delayed in paying any portion of the sanctions award for 18 months, which the State Bar Court judge deemed “unreasonable.”
In aggravation, Bahadori committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 12 years, and was allotted minimal mitigating weight for two witnesses who vouched for his good character, as the court found the references did not represent “a broad range of references from the legal and general communities” as required.
State Bar No. 292303, Ontario (June 2, 2021)
Benitez was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
He was culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return the client’s file after being requested to do so, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and making false and misleading statements to the client and to the State Bar investigators — conduct involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Benitez was hired to represent a client seeking to adjust her residency status. She paid him $4,000 — the bulk of his flat fee — and had her fingerprint taken at a designated vendor as he directed. During the next couple months, the client telephoned Benitez’s office several times, but was informed that no documentation was required from her.
About seven months after their initial meeting, Benitez wrote to the client — explaining that he had not yet received the required responses from immigration authorities. Shortly after that, she requested a refund of fees paid and her client file — a request she repeated two months later, as well as four more times during the next several months.
Benitez did not respond to her, and she filed a complaint with the State Bar. He later told State Bar investigators falsehoods, including that he had requested documents from immigration authorities in furtherance of the case and that certain paperwork could not be completed due to the client’s refusal to cooperate.
In aggravation, Benitez committed multiple acts of misconduct that harmed a client who was vulnerable due to her undocumented immigration status.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, introduced evidence of performing volunteer and community service, and offered letters from 11 individuals taken from a varied range in the legal and general communities — all of whom were aware of the misconduct alleged, and all of whom vouched for his good character.
Steve Sungsoo Chang
State Bar No. 205082, Los Angeles (June 23, 2021)
Chang was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to promptly respond to a client’s repeated reasonable inquiries and failing to participate meaningfully n the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
Chang represented a client in an immigration matter, agreeing to seek a stay of deportation or removal and gain legal status based on asylum. The client paid a total of $9,755 in advanced fees and costs. Chang stated he would review the case and respond, but did not communicate with the client until 10 months later, when the client’s wife informed him that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had placed him in custody. The client was subsequently deported.
After a State Bar investigator contacted him seeking information, Chang requested and received five extensions to respond, but did not do so. The State Bar eventually notified him the investigation had concluded, and requested any additional information he wished to provide.
In aggravation, Chang committed multiple acts of misconduct that harmed a highly vulnerable client.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 21 years, and was allotted some mitigating credit for producing four references from the legal community who attested to his good character and dedication to the legal profession.
Richard G. Hyppa
State Bar No. 104547, Tracy (June 16, 2021)
Hyppa was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct related to mishandling his client trust account: two counts of commingling personal and client funds, three counts of failing to withdraw funds from the trust account after his interest in them became fixed, and one count of issuing a check from the account when there were insufficient funds to cover it — an act involving moral turpitude.
Hyppa received three separate settlement checks on behalf of clients, which he deposited into his client trust account. In three instances, he failed to withdraw his portion of his fee from the account once it had become fixed, thereby commingling his personal funds in the account. On one occasion, he wrote a check from the account, causing a negative balance in it. And he was issued three checks to cover personal expenses and made eight deposits as transfers from his operating account into the trust account.
In aggravation, Hyppa committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, did not harm any clients with his misconduct, and submitted letters from 10 individuals — all of whom were aware of Hyppa’s wrongdoing, but attested to his good character.
State Bar No. 268243, San Francisco (June 2, 2021)
Kung was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to culpability in two conviction proceedings. In one, she pled nolo contendere to one misdemeanor count of trespass (Cal. Penal Code Section 602) — amended from an original complaint charging petty theft (Cal. Penal Code Section 484), with an enhancement for theft of merchandise from a merchant (Cal. Penal Code Section 490.5). In the second matter, Kung pled nolo contendere to a misdemeanor charge of petty theft (Cal. Penal Code Section 484).
In the first incident, Kung and her boyfriend were shopping for ski jackets. While in the store, they tried on several pieces of clothing while in the same dressing room — placing one ski jacket inside Kung’s purse. The jacket was valued at $700, but on sale for $525. When the couple left the store, the anti-theft merchandise alarm sounded — and Kung and her boyfriend ran toward their car in the store parking lot. They were stopped by the store manager, who called police.
In the second matter, Kung was shopping at a grocery store, placing several items in a reusable shopping bag. She then realized she had left her wallet in her car, and left the store to retrieve it — still carrying the bag containing the unpaid-for items. The merchant detained her, and she was cited by police.
The matters were referred to the State Bar’s Hearing Department to determine whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the offenses involved moral turpitude and whether they warranted professional discipline. The court determined both violations involved moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Kung committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, presented letters from a wide range of references in the legal and general communities attesting to her good character, and submitted evidence of participating in a substantial number of charitable works, evidencing her rehabilitation.
Ai Nhan Mina Tran
State Bar No. 193528, Anaheim (June 2, 2021)
Tran was placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to mishandling her client trust account. She had left more than $37,400 in earned fees in her account — making 18 withdrawals from it to pay two members of her staff.
In aggravation, Tran committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 22 years, and provided evidence from 13 individuals taken from the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to her honesty and integrity.
Kevin Anthony Wells
State Bar No. 219285, San Diego (June 16, 2021)
Wells was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to earlier pleading guilty to three driving-related misdemeanors: driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury to others (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23153(a)), driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more and causing injury to others (Cal Veh. Code Section 23153(b)), and being involved in a hit-and-run causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code Section 20001(a)).
In the underlying incident, Wells was driving on the freeway at a speed witnesses estimated to be about 100 miles per hour, when he crashed into the back of the car in front of him — causing that car to spin out of control and strike the center divider. Both the driver and his passenger were injured and treated at a nearby hospital emergency room.
Wells then took an exit ramp off the freeway, still driving at a high speed, where he collided with a light pole. Highway patrol officers responding to the scene noted “objective symptoms of intoxication,” and administered field sobriety tests, which Wells was unable to perform satisfactorily. He was transported to jail, where a blood test was administered, revealing a blood alcohol concentration of .26%.
The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In mitigation, Wells entered into a pretrial stipulation, submitted declarations from 10 individuals in a variety of professions that vouched for his good character, as well as evidence of performing substantial community service, and was allotted a little weight for having practiced law for approximately five years without a record of discipline before engaging in the misconduct at issue. In addition, Wells received mitigating credit due to “remoteness in time,” since approximately 12 ½ years passed between the time of his conviction and the State Bar proceedings — and during that time, he voluntarily enrolled in a rehabilitation program and did not have any additional convictions or State Bar complaints.
— Barbara Kate Repa