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APRIL 2022

| Apr. 29, 2022

Discipline Report

Apr. 29, 2022

APRIL 2022

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


Cary David Abramowitz

State Bar #159906, Los Angeles (March 24, 2022)

Abramowitz was summarily disbarred after the State Bar Court received evidence that he did not timely appeal his earlier convictions. He pled guilty and was found culpable of conspiring to commit a felony (Cal. Penal Code § 182(a)(1)), as well as three counts of making a false claim for payment of healthcare benefits or causing such a claim to be made (Cal. Penal Code § 550(a)(6)).

All of the felony convictions involved moral turpitude.

Stephen Jacob Dougan

State Bar #137656, Saint George, Utah (March 5, 2022)

Dougan was summarily disbarred after his criminal conviction for corruptly endeavoring to impede the due administration of the Internal Revenue laws (26 U.S.C. §7212(a)).

The offense is a felony that involves moral turpitude as a matter of law.

Anton Bru Dragan

State Bar #269405, Glendora (March 24, 2022)

Dragan was disbarred by default after he failed to file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges with which he had been properly served and noticed. As a result, a default order was entered against him, and he did not move to have that order set aside or vacated.

He was found culpable of the professional misconduct charged: failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary probation order. Specifically, he failed to timely schedule and participate in an initial meeting with the State Bar's Office of Probation, failed to review the Rules of Professional Conduct as directed and submit a declaration verifying his review, failed to submit three written quarterly reports to the Office of Probation, failed to attend State Bar Ethics School and submit proof of passing its final test, failed to take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and failed to submit a final written probation report.

Dragan had one prior record of discipline at the time he was disbarred.

Donald Arthur Hilland

State Bar #240436, Sylmar (March 24, 2022)

Hilland was disbarred.

Initially, he been charged with seven counts of professional misconduct, but two were dismissed at trial, and the State Bar Court judge found that the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar had satisfied its burden of proving four of the remaining charges by clear and convincing evidence as required.

Hilland was found culpable of failing to obey a court order, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, practicing law when he knew he was ineligible to do so--misconduct involving moral turpitude, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.

While representing a client in a paternity case, both Hilland and his client were sanctioned--ordered to pay $7,231.25; Hilland did not make any of the required payments.

In addition, in an earlier disciplinary matter related to same case, Hilland was accepted into the State Bar Court's Alternative Discipline Program and enrolled as an inactive attorney for at least two years. However, two weeks later, he filed an opening brief on behalf of himself and the client--though he had difficulties doing so, and made at least five attempts to file it. The brief eventually filed listed him as the attorney and contained several confusing statements. Hilland later alleged he had submitted the brief in error; however, he did not submit a corrected version.

In another client matter, Hilland represented a client in a personal injury case until he became ineligible to practice, as noted above. Hilland informed the client of his ineligible status and had his files delivered personally--then noticed on the court website that a hearing was approaching, and attempted to meet with the client to reinforce the need to hire substitute counsel. The client, however, refused to meet with him; the State Bar Court judge at the outset of the opinion expressly noted that the client's trial testimony disparaging Hilland "lacked credibility." Hilland failed to respond to provide a response to State Bar investigators' letters requesting information and alerting him about the consequences of failing to cooperate.

In aggravation, Hilland committed multiple acts of misconduct, had two prior records of discipline and displayed indifference to the consequences of his misconduct by blaming others.

Christian W. Liedtke

State Bar #297523, Costa Mesa (March 24, 2022)

Liedtke was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with five counts of professional misconduct related to a single client case. The State Bar Court judge determined that all procedural requirements had been met, including actual notice, and that there was an adequate factual basis for the disciplinary misconduct order.

Liedtke did not move to have the default order eventually entered against him set aside or vacated. He was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond promptly to a client's reasonable inquiries about case status, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to release the clients' papers and property after being requested to do so, and failing to provide a substantive response to State Bar investigators assigned to review the misconduct allegations.

James Robert Miller

State Bar #60351, Redondo Beach (March 16, 2022)

Miller was summarily disbarred. He had earlier been convicted of five felonies--all involving moral turpitude: one count of wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343), as well as four counts of filing false tax returns (26 U.S.C. § 7206(1)).

The Ninth Circuit affirmed his convictions, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied his writ of certiorari, rendering the convictions final before discipline was imposed.

Caesar Santos Natividad

State Bar #207801, Los Angeles (March 24, 2022)

Natividad was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. After he did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar motioned to enter the default and petitioned to have him disbarred.

Natividad was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct: failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the alleged wrongdoing and failing to maintain current contact information by not notifying the State Bar of his change of address and telephone number within 30 days of moving.


Michael Sean Devereux

State Bar #225240, Beverly Hills (March 16, 2022)

Devereux was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he was found culpable of three counts of professional misconduct: repeatedly depositing his personal funds into his client trust account, repeatedly paying personal expenses from the account, and failing to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.

Devereux maintained four accounts at a bank, all of which began with the same six numbers; one of the accounts was a client trust account (CTA). Over a 4 1/2-month period, he made or authorized 18 deposits of his personal funds into the CTA. Over a shorter but overlapping period, he also authorized seven separate electronic withdrawals from the account to pay personal expenses. There were no client or other trust funds in the account when the deposits and withdrawals were made.

Also during that time, in anticipation of a large settlement payment, Devereux borrowed money from payday lenders, mistakenly providing them with the account number for his CTA rather than a personal account. He became aware of the error when the lender attempted to access the account for an automatic debit. He contacted the bank to close the original CTA and opened a new one. Despite numerous attempts to work with the bank to close the original CTA, however, it remained open.

After that, Devereux treated it as a personal account--reasoning that it could be converted to a personal account since there were no client funds in it. The State Bar Court judge rejected that argument at trial, noting that Devereux pointed to no supportive authority, and that caselaw clearly conflicts with this interpretation.

The other count of misconduct involved violating probation conditions. Specifically, Devereux submitted a written quarterly report to the Office of Probation with an electronic rather than written signature as required, and failed to attend the State Bar Ethics School by the deadline imposed.

In aggravation, Devereux had a prior record of misconduct and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case.

In mitigation, his wrongdoing did not harm any client, the public, or the administration of justice. In addition, he suffered physical and mental difficulties related to a heart attack and stroke, entered into a stipulation of facts and admission of documents in the case, and proffered six character witnesses as well as three letters from individuals attesting to his good character. Mitigating weight was also allotted due to the absence of bad faith related to the misconduct at issue.

Phillip Barry Greer

State Bar #96438, Newport Beach (March 24, 2022)

Greer was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct.

His wrongdoing included one count of failing to maintain adequate records of client funds and three counts of commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account.

In the underlying matter, Greer stipulated that he made several withdrawals totaling more than $17,000 from his client trust account to pay personal expenses. When State Bar investigators inquiring into the account irregularities requested the journal, client ledgers, and monthly client trust account reconciliations he was required to maintain, Greer responded that he did not have them; he tracked the account funds instead through bank statements.

On appeal, Greer maintained that imposing any period of actual suspension for the account mismanagement is "manifestly unjust." The State Bar Court judge countered by quoting for the State Bar's Handbook on Client Trust Accounting, which states: "You can't make payments out of your client trust bank account to cover your own expenses, personal or business, or for any other purpose that isn't directly related to carrying out your duties to an individual client."

In aggravation, Greer had two prior records of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case.

In mitigation, his misconduct caused no harm to clients, the public, or the administration of justice and he cooperated with the State Bar by stipulating to central facts. He was also allotted limited mitigating weight for letters from three character witnesses who did not represent a wide range in the legal and general communities--none of whom represented they were "aware of the full extent of the misconduct involved" and for evidence he provided pro bono and community service work that was offered only through his own testimony.

Douglas Franklin Kobayashi

State Bar #205886, Crestview, Florida (March 24, 2022)

Kobayashi was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing an act of professional misconduct in another jurisdiction that involved moral turpitude. After a bench trial, Kobayashi had been found guilty of the misdemeanor of witness intimidation (W. Va. Code § 61-05-27(b)(3)) while practicing law in West Virginia.

In the underlying matter, Kobayashi was appointed to represent a defendant charged with several criminal offenses, including felony armed robbery. Without identifying himself as the defendant's attorney, Kobayashi telephoned the woman who had been robbed, who believed the defendant was one of the individuals who had robbed her, arranging to meet at her workplace.

When they met, Kobayashi told her that the defendant would be less likely to "come after her" if she did not testify against him, emphasizing that "snitches get stitches." He also presented her with what appeared to be an official court document that indicated she was seeking to have the case against the defendant dropped, instructing her to write "misidentification" as the reason for dismissal, and then sign it. After she had signed and tendered the document, Kobayashi then identified himself as the defendant's attorney.

Based on the executed document, he was able to get the defendant's bond reduced from $100,000 to $30,000. He also used the document as the impetus to file a motion to dismiss the charges against the defendant and to appeal the denial of the bond reduction.

A police officer charged with investigating the incident eventually filed a criminal complaint against Kobayashi; the circuit court issued an order disqualifying him and appointing new counsel for the defendant.

In aggravation, Kobayashi committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed the administration of justice.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 16 years without a record of discipline, acknowledged his remorse and accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing, participated in community service, and submitted reference letters from nine individuals--all of whom attested to his good character. In addition, he was afforded some weight in mitigation for a two-year period without a disciplinary action during which he was appointed to handle more than 170 criminal matters.

Sidney Alex Luscutoff

State Bar #96943, San Francisco (March 16, 2022)

Luscutoff was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single matter. He was culpable of failing to maintain the respect due a court, engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and concealing material facts from a court--misconduct involving moral turpitude.

In the underlying matter, Luscutoff, on behalf of his law partner, sued two former clients for unpaid fees; one of the clients cross-claimed for malpractice, that claim was subsequently dismissed.

A court confirmed an arbitrator's award of damages against the two former clients--including $84,801 against one of them, which became the focus of the instant proceeding. Luscutoff served a client's cost bill against that individual for $21,857. Shortly after that, the former client secured a court order directing the bank and sheriff's department not to liquidate his assets until further court order. However, the assets had already been liquidated, and Luscutoff then received a check from the county for $20,719--though it was not identified as being related to any specific person or account. Luscutoff deposited the check, "aware of a substantial likelihood" that it was sourced from the former client's accounts, though he took no steps to determine the source. He then entered a stipulation with the former client requiring payment of $84,801 from his bank account that also provided that $21,857 in costs and interest was "disputed."

Luscutoff then received another check, this one for $72,222; the total he had received well exceeded the stipulated judgment amount. He did not disclose the fact that he had received the initial check. Litigation ensued once the overpayment was discovered. Under the terms of a mediated settlement, Luscutoff's client was required to repay the $8,140 he had received in excess of the stipulated amount due in addition to $7,742 in attorney fees the opposing party had incurred.

In aggravation, Luscutoff committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law more than 40 years without a record of discipline.

Isileli Tupou Manaia Mataele

State Bar #266863, San Diego (March 24, 2022)

Mataele was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to comply with a condition imposed in an earlier disciplinary order: the need to provide timely proof of attending the State Bar's Ethics School and passing its final exam, as required.

Eight months after the proof was due, and after the Office of Chief Trial Counsel contacted Mataele about his failure to attend Ethics School, he applied to, attended, and passed the mandatory test at the end of the sessions.

Douglas Ellis Miles

State Bar #118995, Newport Beach (March 16, 2022)

Miles was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in another jurisdiction, where he was also disciplined.

Miles, who practiced law in California, was also licensed in Nevada, where he maintained a client trust account. Over a period of 21 months, Miles used the Nevada account numerous times for deposits of his personal funds and withdrawals to pay for his personal expenses--in addition to safekeeping funds belonging to his California clients.

While Miles did not provide substantive responses to either the Nevada or California State Bars seeking verification of the account traffic, he did eventually inform the California Bar that he had deposited funds into the Nevada account so that several creditors, as well as federal and tax lienholders, could not seize them.

The California State Bar judge determined that, as a matter of law, the culpability determined by the Southern Nevada Disciplinary Board also warranted professional discipline in this state.

In aggravation, Miles committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that involved intentional deception.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law for nearly 33 years without a record of discipline.

--Barbara Kate Repa


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