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Discipline Report,
Discipline

Jun. 13, 2022

June Discipline

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

DISBARMENT

Dana Christy Benson

State Bar #226064, Temecula (May 7, 2022)

Benson was disbarred by default. She was originally charged with 14 counts of professional misconduct related to three client matters. The wrongdoing was charged in two separate notices, consolidated in the present case.

Benson initially participated in the proceedings—appearing for a status conference and requesting a continuance of the trial, which was rescheduled for a later date. However, she did not appear at trial, nor did she move to have the default eventually entered against her set aside or vacated.

The State Bar Court judge determined that the factual allegations in the notice of disciplinary charges supported the conclusion that Benson was culpable of 12 of the 14 counts of misconduct. Her wrongdoing included: one count of misappropriating client funds—an act involving moral turpitude; two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to inform her clients of significant case developments, failing to obey court orders, and improperly withdrawing from employment; and three counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigations of the misconduct alleged.

When Benson was disbarred, there was one additional disciplinary investigation pending against her.

Sharon Marie Drew

State Bar #182936, Westbrook, Minnesota (May 25, 2022)

Drew was disbarred by default after she failed to respond to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against her, or otherwise participate in the proceedings.

The State Bar Court judge determined that all procedural requirements, including proper notice, had been satisfied in the case. Drew had earlier informed the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) that she was interested in resigning from the State Bar, and a year later, when the OCTC mailed a notice of intent to issue a notice of charges against her, she responded that she had just mailed in her letter of resignation.

A default was eventually entered against Drew, which she did not move to have set aside or vacated. She was found culpable of eight of the nine counts of professional misconduct with which she was charged. Her wrongdoing, which occurred in a single client matter, included failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client, failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries, improperly withdrawing from representation, two counts of commingling personal funds in her client trust account, and two counts involving moral turpitude: misappropriating client funds and repeatedly issuing payments from her client trust account when it contained insufficient funds to cover those payments. She also failed to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct charges filed against her.

Drew had one prior record of discipline at the time she was disbarred.

John Arthur Hudson

State Bar #85799, Sacramento (May 20, 2022)

Hudson was summarily disbarred after the State Bar Court received evidence of the finality of his conviction of two counts of wire fraud (18 U.S.C. §1343).

The offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.

Robert Lee Kornswiet

State Bar #77058, Encino (May 7, 2022)

Kornswiet was disbarred after he stipulated to committing a total of 64 counts of professional misconduct related to 12 separate matters involving seven different clients.

An enumeration of his misconduct includes four counts of violating court orders as well as nine counts involving moral turpitude: one count of making false and misleading statements regarding legal relief he had obtained, and eight counts of misappropriating client funds.

Wrongdoing in client matters included: improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to perform legal services with competence, and failing to promptly release a client’s papers and property after being requested to do so; three counts of failing to provide clients with accountings; four counts of failing to communicate settlement offers to clients; five counts each of failing to inform clients of significant developments in their cases and failing to promptly notify clients of settlement proceeds received; and seven counts of failing to promptly distribute settlement funds to clients and lienholders.

Charges related to mishandling his client trust account included failing to deposit entrusted funds in the account, two counts of commingling personal and client funds, and eight counts of failing to maintain the requisite balance in the account.

In addition, he was culpable of failing to report judicial sanctions imposed to State Bar authorities as required and 12 counts of failing to cooperate in State Bar investigations of the wrongdoing he was alleged to have committed.

In aggravation, Kornswiet committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed numerous clients and failed to make restitution by paying out settlement funds to numerous clients and medical lienholders.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 40 years without a record of discipline, and suffered from the effects of family problems during the time of the misconduct.

The State Bar Court judge underscored several reasons for recommending the most severe sanction of disbarment. In particular, the judge noted that Kornswiet’s actions had resulted in an unnecessary waste of judicial resources when he made numerous false representations regarding a pending litigation claim—causing those involved to expend time attempting to verify its veracity, as well as failing to comply with four direct court orders.

The judge also found reason to impose an upward departure from the applicable discipline standards due to Kornswiet’s misappropriation of nearly $66,850 in client funds, deeming it “a significant amount of money.” And finally, the opinion noted that the “aggravating factors heavily outweigh those in mitigation”—making disbarment “the only sanction that will adequately protect the public, the courts, and the profession; maintain the highest professional standards; and preserve public confidence in the profession.”

Alina Sorkin

State Bar #228360, Irvine (May 20, 2022)

Sorkin was disbarred by default after she failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the proceeding in which she was charged with 22 disciplinary violations related to four client matters.

The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel was unable to contact Sorkin after making numerous attempts, but included a supporting declaration of reasonable diligence of the notification attempts made with the filing of a motion to enter Sorkin’s default. The motion was granted, and she did not move to have it set aside or vacated.

As a result, the factual allegations set out in the disciplinary charge were deemed admitted—and the State Bar Court judge found they supported the conclusion she was culpable of all 22 counts charged.

The charges included one count each of failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client, failing to promptly release a client’s file after being requested to do so, failing to notify the State Bar of her address change for official records as required, failing to deposit client funds in her client trust account, failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, and failing to pay out client funds promptly. In addition, she was culpable of two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, and failing to notify a client of settlement funds received, as well as four counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the alleged wrongdoing. And finally, an additional six counts involved moral turpitude—all of them related to misappropriating client funds.

At the time she was disbarred, the State Bar was investigating five additional complaints against Sorkin, and there was one additional matter in prefiling status that had been abated.

SUSPENSION

Frank Patrick Duncan

State Bar #25865, Los Angeles (May 11, 2022)

Duncan was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.

His wrongdoing included accepting payment for legal fees from a third party without first obtaining his client’s written consent, failing to perform legal services with competence, and failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees after being requested to do so.

In the underlying matter, Duncan met with the mother of an individual who had been sentenced to 19 years in prison, accepting $2,500 as a fee for helping to obtain resentencing as recommended by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He did not obtain informed written consent from the son, his client.

Approximately eight months later, the mother contacted the court and discovered that Duncan had taken no action in the matter. When she confronted him, Duncan promised to file required paperwork in the case within a week, but failed to do so. He eventually filed a petition for resentencing on behalf of the client, but identified the client incorrectly and failed to include the statement of facts or memorandum of points and authorities it referenced as attached.

The court denied the relief, noting the deficient petition as well as the fact that well over 120 days had passed since the client had been committed—making the matter ineligible for the court to recall the sentence on its own motion in accord with statutorily-defined deadlines.

In aggravation, Duncan committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his client—who was incarcerated and vulnerable, and had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, produced letters from a range of individuals in the legal and general communities as well as testimony from five judges attesting to his legal abilities and good character, demonstrated remorse and recognition of his wrongdoing, and suffered extreme emotional and medical difficulties during the time of the misconduct, which are now abated.

Mykhal N. Ofili

State Bar #310723, Los Angeles (May 25, 2022)

Ofili was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing 10 acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters.

He was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to support the laws and constitution, failing to maintain only legal and just actions, failing to preserve the secrets and confidences of his client, failing to promptly provide an accounting of client funds when asked to do so, failing to refund unearned advanced fess, failing to withdraw from representing a client after being discharged, failing to inform a client of the right to require that a flat fee be deposited in trust until earned, and failing to return a client’s papers and property after being requested to do so. He was also culpable of two counts of failing to maintain complete records of client funds.

In one case, Ofili was retained to help rectify a company’s suspended corporate status. For two years, he represented the company in a civil lawsuit and its appeal—then filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, noting that in doing some later research for a brief in the case, he discovered the corporation was under suspended status. The State Bar Court judge found that in doing so, he disclosed confidential client communications. In addition, while inquiring into the matter, State Bar investigators discovered Ofili had not maintained a written client trust account journal, ledgers, or a monthly reconciliation while representing the client.

In another matter, Ofili was retained to represent a client in a family law matter. Approximately 15 months later, the client terminated the representation and asked Ofili to file a substitution of attorney so the client could proceed in pro per. The client repeated the request four times; Ofili filed the substitution form 19 months after the initial request, after State Bar investigators began an inquiry.

And in the third case, Ofili was paid a flat fee of $2,500 to represent a client in a family law matter. The retainer agreement disclosed that the fee would not be deposited into a trust account, and that the client would be entitled to a refund of any unearned fees. However, Ofili failed to disclose in writing that the client had a right to require that the fee be held in trust until earned.

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

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and was suffering from emotional distress due to family problems during the time of the misconduct.

Matin Rajabov

State Bar #265885, Los Angeles (May 25, 2022)

Rajabov was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing 19 acts of professional misconduct related to 11 separate client matters.

He was culpable of: failing to ensure his law office complied with ethical requirements, failing to perform with competence in using confusing office addresses, and making material misrepresentations to State Bar investigators—misconduct involving moral turpitude; two counts each of accepting payments for legal services from a third party without first obtaining the clients’ written consents and failing to report discipline imposed against him in other jurisdictions to the California State Bar as required; and 12 counts related to his failure to supervise non-attorney employees charged with handling legal matters.

Rajabov is the sole owner and principal attorney of three law firms. The disciplinary charges relate to one of those firms—a nationwide residential credit counseling and loan modification business focusing on clients in default or foreclosure on their home mortgages. When the misconduct occurred, the firm had approximately 25 employees and independent contractors. The usual practice was for intake staff to refer clients to of counsel attorneys licensed in their states, though the firm represented some California clients in lawsuits for predatory lending practices.

In several states—including Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Kentucky—six of the firm’s non-attorney employees advised clients to fraudulently seek protection in bankruptcy to halt foreclosures, or to file paperwork in contravention of court instructions, or to circumvent bankruptcy court procedures. The employees, who were allegedly under Rajabov’s supervision, were deemed to have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. In one case, Rajabov was sanctioned, but was unaware of the sanctions order because it was sent to an incorrect address; in another, he paid the sanctions due but failed to report them to the State Bar as required. And in three separate communications with State Bar investigators, Rajabov stated that he was unaware that his employee was processing clients through a document preparation company that employee had established—statements the State Bar Court judge determined he should have known were false or misleading.

In aggravation, Rajabov committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed numerous clients as well as the administration of justice.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for eight years, suffered family problems related to a divorce and custody issues, and submitted letters from 10 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities—all of whom were aware of the extent of his misconduct and all of whom attested to his good character.

Jason Edward Rheinstein

State Bar #243806, Serverna Park, Maryland (May 20, 2022)

Rheinstein was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to being culpable of several counts of professional misconduct as adjudicated in another jurisdiction.

Rheinstein, admitted to practice law in Maryland as well as California, represented a couple there who had obtained a construction loan from a private lender but subsequently defaulted on it; confessed judgments were then issued against them. Nearly 2 ½ years later, Rheinstein entered his first appearance in the case—filing a motion to vacate the judgments and alleging they were obtained through an elaborate fraud scheme. The court ultimately vacated the judgments.

After that, Rheinstein filed a number of motions, including a petition for writ of certiorari in one appellate court, in addition to a motion to dismiss the lender’s appeal in Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals. The appeal was stayed pending resolution of the cert petition. As noted in the present opinion: “These filings contained information not within the record, were unsupported by the facts of the case, failed to analyze the relevant factual and legal elements in arguments and pleadings, and failed to comply with the local procedural rules.” Rheinstein followed the denial of the filings with a number of claims and actions—including two qui tam actions in federal court, an additional writ of certiorari, and a 68-page motion to disqualify the lender’s counsel as co-conspirators in fraud which was stricken as violating local rules based on its excessive length.

Ultimately, the clients declared bankruptcy, which stayed the matter in the Court of Special Appeals, though Rheinstein did not advise the lender of the stay and continued seeking discovery. Both qui tam actions were eventually dismissed.

The Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that Rheinstein had violated five of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct related to competence, fairness, and pursuing non-meritorious claims; he was then disbarred in that jurisdiction.

The California State Bar Court judge determined that, as a matter of law, Rheinstein’s culpability of professional misconduct determined by the Maryland court also warranted imposing discipline under California laws and rules.

In aggravation, Rheinstein committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he was allotted diminished weight for entering into a prefiling stipulation that did not admit any underlying facts.

Kai Zhu

State Bar #261637, Los Altos (May 20, 2022)

Zhu was suspended from practicing law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing one count of professional misconduct: failing to timely file a declaration of compliance as required for a suspended attorney (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). The condition was imposed in a disciplinary order imposed earlier.

In aggravation, Zhu had two prior records of discipline for professional misconduct.

In mitigation, he suffered from extreme emotional difficulties during the time of the misconduct, which were subsequently treated effectively. In addition, he submitted evidence of performing pro bono work and community service, verified in letters written by seven individuals—all of whom vouched for his good character.

PROBATION

Steven Wayne Burt

State Bar #214750, Los Angeles (May 25, 2022)

Burt was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct. The wrongdoing occurred in seven separate matters, consolidated in the instant disciplinary case.

He was culpable of two counts of practicing law while suspended from doing so and four counts of commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account.

The unauthorized practice misconduct occurred when Burt represented two corporate clients while on suspended status for nonpayment of child support. The other matters were uncovered after the State Bar received insufficient funds notices from the bank related to Burt’s client trust account. He admitted to depositing personal funds into the account, and making numerous withdrawals and payments for personal expenses from it.

In aggravation, Burt committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for more than 20 years discipline-free, and expressed candor and cooperation during the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.

— Barbara Kate Repa

#367885

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