Sep. 12, 2022
September Discipline 2022
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Derek James Jones
State Bar #219803, San Marino (August 19, 2022)
Jones was disbarred after appealing a decision finding him culpable of 11 counts of professional misconduct; the culpability findings were affirmed in the instant case.
His wrongdoing included one count of breaching his fiduciary duty as an escrow holder and three counts of failing to deposit client funds in a trust account, as well as seven additional counts involving moral turpitude: issuing checks from an account containing insufficient funds and three counts each of misappropriating client funds and making material and intentional misrepresentations--to a client, in a filed declaration, and to the State Bar.
In the underlying matter, Jones negotiated the lease of commercial property for a family-owned business in which he served as in-house counsel, chief operating officer and employee. The sublessee paid $50,000 as a security deposit, which Jones deposited in his business account rather than client trust account as agreed. It then paid an additional $50,000 to own the furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FFE) on the property; the evidence did not indicate into what account Jones posted that check. He deposited an additional $75,000 cashier's check, intended as payment for a liquor license, into his business checking account.
The business subsequently terminated Jones' employment, requesting return of $125,000 ($50,000 for the FFE + $75,000 for the liquor license), eventually suing him for misappropriation of the funds. Jones then opened a personal checking account as well as a client trust account, issuing three checks from them for which there were insufficient funds.
In aggravation, Jones committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct.
In mitigation, he was allotted nominal weight for nine years of discipline-free practice, as the panel on appeal viewed his misconduct as "likely to recur." He was also given limited weight for character testimony from four witnesses who were not taken from "a wide range" in the legal and general communities, and for his own testimony regarding pro bono and volunteer activities, which lacked detail and confirmation.
In recommending disbarment as the appropriate discipline to be imposed, the appellate panel underscored: "The prevalent aspect of this proceeding is Jones's dishonesty"--noting his attempts to mislead the State Bar about the legal nature of his work, misrepresentations to the court, opposing counsel and others, misappropriation of funds, and failures to maintain account funds.
Nancy Theresa Lord
State Bar #202372, Pahrump, Nevada (August 14, 2022)
Lord was disbarred by default after she failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in her disciplinary proceeding before the California State Bar. The court determined that she had receive adequate notice and did not move to have the default order entered against her set aside or vacated.
Upon entry of the default, the factual allegations in the notice of charges were deemed true and admitted.
The Nevada Supreme Court had previously found Lord culpable of a number of ethical violations--including: failing to competently represent clients, failing to act with reasonable diligence during representation, failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, disobeying a court rule, engaging in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal, making a false statement concerning the integrity of a judge, engaging in deceitful conduct, and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The California State Bar judge found the misconduct adjudicated in Nevada also constituted misconduct warranting professional discipline in this state.
David Gillespie Malveaux
State Bar #224220, Las Vegas, Nevada (August 14, 2022)
Malveaux was disbarred after failing to comply with a court order requiring him to timely file a compliance declaration as required in a disciplinary order imposed earlier (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
The State Bar's courtesy reminder was sent nearly a year after the declaration was due, and he ultimately filed it nearly a year and a-half after its due date.
In aggravation, Malveaux had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct three times previously and demonstrated indifference to his ethical responsibilities by ignoring the filing requirements imposed upon him for several months.
In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation admitting facts though not culpability and suffered prejudice due to the State Bar's excessive delay in prosecuting the case against him.
Glenn Todd Rosen
State Bar #156151, Los Angeles (August 14, 2022)
Rosen was disbarred. He had originally been charged with 41 counts of professional misconduct and stipulated to committing 34 of them. The State Bar Court, issuing a modified decision in a consolidated contested proceeding, found him culpable of a total of 33 counts related to seven separate client matters.
His wrongdoing included: failing to disclose the lack of professional liability insurance to a client in writing, failing to promptly pay funds due to a client, and misappropriating client funds--an act involving moral turpitude; two counts of failing to deposit and maintain client funds in trust; three counts of failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries; four counts each of failing to refund unearned advanced fees and making intentional misrepresentations to clients and to the State Bar--acts involving moral turpitude; five counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to provide proper accountings of client funds; and seven counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigations of the wrongdoing alleged.
The case had a unique procedural history--with the court initially issuing a default against Rosen, which was later set aside for good cause. The Office of Chief Trial Counsel requested dismissal of seven of the counts originally charged. And about 15 months ago, the State Bar Court issued a decision in the case--finding Rosen culpable of 33 counts of professional misconduct, and recommending disbarment after striking exhibits and some arguments based on them because Rosen had improperly submitted new evidence with his closing trial brief.
Also, in the instant case, Rosen presented three character reference letters in support of his contention that discipline less severe than disbarment was warranted. One of them, purportedly from a partner in a law firm, described Rosen as "a highly intelligent, very open-minded and very likable person" who is "very concerned with his clients' well-being." In fact, Rosen had written and signed each of the letters himself--a revelation that prompted the discipline case to be remanded.
In summarizing the misconduct reported, the court homed in on the misappropriation and repeated instances of dishonesty in the client cases.
In one, for example, Rosen was retained by a property buyer who claimed the sellers and broker had failed to disclose material issues in the sale. After ignoring several inquiries from the client requesting an update on the case, Rosen assured him he had filed suit against the broker. In fact, he had not. As a result, the statute of limitations expired for the claims--and the buyer/client had no recourse to recover the $103,000 in out-of-pocket repairs made to the property while the matter was pending.
In another case, a client hired Rosen to represent her in two matters: a fee dispute and an alleged breach of a lease agreement. After she conveyed the urgency in handling the matters, Rosen requested an advanced fee of $10,000--accepting and depositing the check in his client trust account immediately. After ignoring many phone, email, and text messages from the client, Rosen responded that he had negotiated with the relevant parties and was finalizing letters to them. In fact, he had not contacted them, performed no services of value in the cases, and earned no portion of the $10,000 advanced fee--which he failed to return despite repeated requests to do so.
In aggravation, Rosen committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed several clients, demonstrated indifference toward atoning for his wrongdoing, and showed a lack of candor by making several intentional and dishonest misrepresentations to the State Bar and the court.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for more than 24 years before committing the misconduct in the instant case, and cooperated with the State Bar by entering into stipulations with regard to facts and conclusions of law at issue.
In recommending disbarment as appropriate discipline, the court underscored: "In particular, Respondent's fabrication of evidence and repeated dishonesty in these proceedings reflect a troubling lack of regard for his professional and ethical obligations."
Anthony Guy Salvador
State Bar #310681, Phoenix, Arizona (August 14, 2022)
Salvador was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his California disciplinary proceeding. The State Bar Court judge determined that all procedural requirements had been satisfied in the matter, and that Salvador had not moved to have the default ultimately entered against him set aside or vacated. The present case was convened to determine whether Salvador's culpability, as determined in another jurisdiction, would also warrant imposing professional discipline in California. After determining that the prior proceedings provided fundamental constitutional protection, the California State Bar Court judge found that discipline was warranted as a matter of law.
The underlying matter involved two disciplinary proceedings in Arizona. In one, the Arizona Supreme Court determined Salvador was culpable of failing to competently represent his client, failing to represent the client diligently, failing to adequately communicate with his clients, failing to move the litigation forward expeditiously, and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
In a second proceeding, Salvador was disbarred by the Arizona Supreme Court after it found him culpable of committing numerous ethical violations related to four separate client matters. The California State Bar Court judge determined that misconduct mirrored violations of 18 counts of misconduct as encompassed by this state's rules.
After considering the record as a whole, the judge recommended disbarment in California as the appropriate discipline.
Mark Alan Brifman
State Bar #75923, Mission Hills (August 14, 2022)
Brifman was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years following a proceeding consolidating two matters: an original disciplinary matter and a conviction referral.
The conviction count, a misdemeanor municipal code violation for failing to register and pay taxes on his business, was dismissed, as scant evidence was presented about the 20-year-old transgression, and the State Bar Court did not find by clear and convincing evidence that the facts and circumstances surrounding it involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting discipline.
In the original matter, Brifman was found culpable of a total of three counts of professional misconduct: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to inform his client of significant case developments, and improperly withdrawing from employment.
He had been hired to represent a client engaged in a construction defect case involving several defendants. The client had terminated his previous two attorneys, and Brifman also handled malpractice against both of them. Brifman appeared in an initial status conference in one of those cases, at which the court issued a continuance. Brifman did not inform the client about the conference or the continued date, nor did he inform him of subsequent conference dates or appear at the conferences or at a subsequently-scheduled order to show cause hearing. The case was eventually dismissed due to the delay in prosecution, but Brifman did not inform the client of this fact, either. Meanwhile, the court had retained jurisdiction over a related cross-complaint in the case; Brifman failed to appear at the status conference and subsequent order to show cause regarding failure to prosecute.
In aggravation, Brifman had two prior records of discipline, and his inaction significantly harmed his client, who had to hire replacement counsel to pursue the case.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, and around the time of the misconduct, suffered from extreme emotional difficulties due to his wife's diagnosis of a terminal illness, his caregiving duties, and grief related to her death.
Jonathan G. Jimenez Castaneda
State Bar #324825, Brea (August 26, 2022)
Castaneda was suspended from practicing law for three years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to earlier pleading nolo contendere to one count of domestic battery (Cal. Penal Code § 242/243e(1))--a misdemeanor. The same day he was convicted, the court also served a criminal protective order on him (Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2(i)(1)) and 273.5(j)).
Shortly before being admitted to practice law, Castaneda married, and for the next 2 1/2 years, assaulted his wife at least 11 times. In the final incident, at issue in this case, he threatened to kill her, then attempted to smother her with a pillow while squeezing her neck. When he noticed that she had been filming part of the assault on her cellphone, he smashed the phone with a hammer. When he attempted to stop her from leaving their home, a neighbor heard her cries and suggested that Castaneda take a walk with him after handing the wife his own cellphone so she could summon police. Responding officers took reports of the present and past attacks. The wife had several medical appointments related to the injuries she suffered, then left the country and moved back to her home country. The couple subsequently divorced.
The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding Castaneda's conviction involved moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Castaneda committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his former wife as well as harming the public and the administration of justice.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, submitted evidence of performing community service and pro bono work, and was allotted diminished mitigating credit for evidence from 16 character references--most of whom were unaware of the full extent of his misconduct.
Pamela R. Elliott
State Bar #277567, Sacramento (August 26, 2022)
Elliott 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.
Her wrongdoing included: accepting legal fees from a non-client without first obtaining the client's consent, failing to notify the State Bar of her change of address, and two counts of commingling personal funds in her client trust account.
In the underlying client matter, Elliott was hired to help a client in an administrative proceeding--appealing the denial of a dental assistant application--accepting $3,500 as a flat fee for her services. After the initial appeal was denied, the client's mother paid an additional $1,500 for help in seeking to overturn the denial. Elliott accepted the funds without first securing the client's informed written consent.
In addition, over an eight-month period, she issued three checks to her daughter from personal funds commingled in her client trust account, and also made one deposit of personal funds into that account.
She failed to update the address on her State Bar records until nine months after she was required to do so.
In aggravation, Elliott committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, presented nine letters from a range of individuals--all of whom attested to her good character, and submitted evidence of performing substantial community service.
Kenny Norman Giffard
State Bar #101727, Rancho Cordova (August 14, 2022)
Giffard was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five counts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.
His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly terminating his representation, failing to take steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to his client upon terminating representation, failing to keep his client reasonable informed of case developments, and disobeying a court order.
Giffard was an associate at a firm that represented a client who had been convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to a prison term of 15 years to life. Giffard was assigned to work on the client's state and federal petitions for habeas corpus. However, he failed to file the federal writ before the statute of limitations expired.
About a year later, the client's mother, who handled legal affairs on his behalf, was informed that the lawyer originally hired for the conviction appeal had been suspended, and that Giffard would then take over representation. He did not proffer a fee agreement or collect any fees. Over the next couple years, Gifford filed three petitions for habeas corpus in state courts; all three were denied. During that time, Giffard moved offices, though he did not inform the client or the client's mother. He subsequently filed a habeas petition in federal court--more than three years and seven months after its deadline. After that, he constructively ended his representation--without informing the client or seeking the requisite court permission.
The case was ultimately dismissed.
In aggravation, Giffard had two prior records of discipline, and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed both the administration of justice and his highly vulnerable incarcerated client.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and presented letters from five individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities who vouched for his good character.
Peter Dillon Kelly, III
State Bar #74623, Manhattan Beach (August 26, 2022)
Kelly was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to violating several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Specifically, he failed to timely schedule and attend an initial meeting with his assigned probation officer, failed to timely file quarterly written reports as well as a final report, failed to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, and failed to provide proof of attending the State Bar's Ethics School and passing its final exam as ordered.
In mitigation, Kelly entered into a prefiling stipulation.
In aggravation, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing ands had a prior record of discipline.
State Bar #241024, Playa del Rey (August 14, 2022)
Mack was suspended from the practice of law for three years and placed on probation for five years. She stipulated that she had earlier entered a nolo contendere plea to one count of knowingly presenting false or misleading information in support of an insurance policy payment (Cal. Penal Code § 550(b)(1)).
The offense is a misdemeanor, and in referring the matter to the State Bar's Hearing Department for a hearing and discipline recommendation, the Review Department had determined it involved moral turpitude as a matter of law.
In describing the underlying misconduct, the State Bar Court opinion summarized four claims for personal and property damages allegedly sustained in traffic accidents. However, all the accidents were staged. In each case, Mack had her assistant fax letters of representation to insurers, knowing that she did not have executed retainer agreements for most of them, nor had she obtained signed conflict waivers when representing more than one claimant in an action. Mack secured settlements for bodily injuries and medical payments from the insurers, and signed all settlement releases as having witnesses each claimant sign--though the reality was she had not actually witnessed the signing. She then endorsed the settlement checks received, simulated the claimants' names as endorsements without authority, deposited them into her client trust account, and paid each claimant/client a portion.
In aggravation, Mack committed multiple acts of misconduct--in addition to the uncharged conduct of involving moral turpitude that the State Bar Court judge found in her handling of the claims, and significantly harmed the insurers who paid out the fraudulent claims and spent time and resources handling them.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted 13 character letters written by individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities. She was also awarded mitigative credit for having practiced law for approximately eight years without a record of discipline--though the judge noted "the mitigation should be tempered due to the serious nature of the misconduct and where the misconduct occurred on at least three occasions over an extended period of time."
Gino Joseph Molinari
State Bar #86467, San Francisco (August 26, 2022)
Molinari was suspended for one year and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to mishandling his Interest on Lawyer's Trust Account (IOLTA).
He was culpable of failing to maintain a ledger for each client, as well as two counts of commingling funds in the account.
Over a period of several months, Molinari issued seven payments for personal expenses from his IOLTA and made three deposits of personal funds into it. He also received eight settlement checks on behalf of clients, but failed to maintain a record--either a journal or ledger--of the funds received.
In aggravation, Molinari committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 41 years without a record of discipline, and presented letters from a range of 11 individuals--all of whom vouched for his good character.
Patrick Francis O'Connor
State Bar #57923, El Cajon (August 14, 2022)
O'Connor was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
He was found culpable of failing to maintain the required balance in his client trust account and commingling personal funds in that account, as well as three counts of misappropriating funds from it--an act involving moral turpitude.
O'Connor negotiated a settlement for a client that involved monthly installment payments. He issued four separate checks to the client, who negotiated each of them months later--requiring O'Connor to maintain an adequate balance to cover them in the interim. He then was hospitalized for spinal cord surgery, but on that same day, had written another check from his client trust account, which was returned for insufficient funds. O'Connor then replenished the account, and issued a check from it to pay his secretary--then another check to the client as a settlement payment installment.
When the client negotiated three of the outstanding checks she held, the trust account contained insufficient funds to cover them--though the bank honored all three checks. O'Connor promptly replenished the account with a deposit from his personal checking account.
In aggravation, O'Connor committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for nearly 45 years, provided some evidence of performing pro bono and community service, and submitted letters from seven individuals--including the client in the instant case--who were taken from a range in the legal and general communities, all of whom attested to his good character. He was also afforded mitigating weight for his good faith belief that his client had negotiated the checks after acknowledging receiving them and was suffering from emotional and physical disabilities causally related to the misconduct which no longer exist.
Larry Jim Sidiropoulos
State Bar #183393, San Diego (August 14, 2022)
Sidiropoulos was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years. He stipulated to committing two counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to maintain client funds in a trust account and withdrawing entrusted funds that were partially in dispute. He was also found culpable of misappropriating third party lienholder funds--an act involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Sidiropoulos was hired to represent a client in a claim related to injuries sustained during a slip-and-fall. Acting on a recommendation from Sidiropoulos, the client entered into two purchase agreements with a loan company specializing in providing pre-settlement funding in exchange for a financial portion of the claim recovered; the loans included high interest rates slated to increase rapidly over time. Sidiropoulos signed acknowledgment forms for both agreements that included a specification that all proceed disbursements would be made through a client trust account after the loan amounts had been paid. After the loan company denied the client a third request for funding, Sidiropoulos advanced her $300, and later, an additional $200.
A settlement of $8,000 was reached--$500 paid in the form of a gift card, and a portion paid directly to a medical lienholder; Sidiropoulos deposited the remaining settlement amount of $5,640 into his client trust account. When the final settlement statement indicated he owed the client only $65.34 after deductions were taken, she became angry and refused to sign off on the settlement.
Less than two weeks later, Sidiropoulos transferred $3,000 of the settlement funds from his client trust to his general business account--ultimately paid to an expert hired in an unrelated matter, then collected his fees and costs from the account despite the fact the client had not authorized it. After the client learned that Sidiropoulos had not paid the loan, she filed a complaint with the State Bar.
After extensive negotiations, the loan company agreed to settle the loan for $3,000, which Sidiropoulos paid.
In aggravation, Sidiropoulos committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for more than 23 years without a record of discipline, cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation as to facts and documents, and offered evidence of performing pro bono and community service work as well as evidence of his good character as substantiated by six individuals.
Ana Luisa Avendano
State Bar #160676, District of Columbia (August 14, 2022)
Avendano was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to actions in another jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland had previously disciplined Avendano, imposing 90 days of actual suspension.
In the Maryland case, Avendano accepted a total of $1,330 to cover legal and filing fees from a client seeking help with an immigration matter. The client entered into the representation agreement through a nonlawyer agent--a person Avendano entrusted to handling the case without providing appropriate supervision. Avendano then closed her office, without informing the client or returning her files or the advanced fees paid, and ignored requests for information about the status of the case for the next three years. Though required to report the Maryland disciplinary order to the California State Bar within 30 days, Avendano failed to do so for approximately 14 years.
The California State Bar Court judge determined that the Maryland misconduct also warranted imposing discipline in this state--for both the mishandling in the client case and failure to report the discipline imposed.
In aggravation, Avendano committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for 10 years in California before committing the wrongdoing at issue, and submitted letters from eight individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities--all of whom attested to her good character.
Christopher M. Ridgeway/
State Bar #270673, San Diego (August 26, 2022)
Ridgeway was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters.
His wrongdoing included: improperly withdrawing from employment, two counts of failing to perform legal services with competence, and four counts of failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries and to keep clients informed of significant case developments.
In one case, Ridgeway was hired to defend several family members in a civil case related to a real estate transaction--accepting a total of $6,020 in advanced fees. The court rejected two attempted filings in the case due to a failure to pay the filing fee. Ridgeway then performed no other work in the case, nor did he respond to the clients' requests for information. They subsequently hired new counsel, who was able to get the default entered in the matter set aside. Ridgeway did not respond to counsel's requests to return the fees advanced to him, but did issue a refund of nearly $2,000 more than he had been paid after the State Bar began an investigation into the matter.
In the second case, Ridgeway was hired to pursue a tenant eviction for a flat fee of $2,500. He initially assured the client that he would file an unlawful detainer, but failed to do so--nor did he respond to the client's numerous requests asking for information on the status of the case. The client's home was in forbearance, dependent on the eviction so that escrow could close before going into foreclosure. Ridgeway eventually paid the client $5,000--twice the amount he had received as a fee.
In aggravation, Ridgeway committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 10 years, accepted responsibility and showed remorse for his wrongdoing, submitted evidence of performing pro bono legal services, and suffered from severe financial and emotional stress during the time of the misconduct at issue.
John Zachariah Shafai
State Bar #170518, Santa Monica (August 26, 2022)
Shafai was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
His wrongdoing included: failing to inform a client he did not have professional liability insurance, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to exercise reasonable diligence in representing a client, failing to respond to numerous reasonable client inquiries, failing to keep his client reasonably informed of significant case developments, failing to provide a timely and appropriate accounting of client funds, and making a false and misleading misrepresentation to opposing counsel--an act involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Shafai was hired to represent a longtime acquaintance in a potential breach of contract action. About seven months after he filed a lawsuit in the matter, Shafai's home and office were damaged in a fire in which the client's file was destroyed. He did not have professional liability insurance when he undertook the representation, but failed to inform the client of that fact as required.
Several months later, Shafai filed an application for an order of publication of summons in the case, but took no action in the matter after that--failing to respond to a cross-complaint, discovery requests, and default request. He subsequently misrepresented to opposing counsel that he had served his client's discovery request. The court subsequently sanctioned Shafai, and served an order to set a trial conference, which he did not receive as he had not been retrieving his mail during the COVID-19 shutdown. After Shafai failed to appear, the court set a trial date; again, Shafai did not receive actual notice or other case-related correspondence, as he was still not retrieving his mail.
The court eventually entered a judgment against the client on the original complaint, as well as a default judgment against him on the cross-complaint in the case.
After the State Bar intervened, Shafai paid the outstanding sanction, plus interest, in a check sent to opposing counsel.
In aggravation, Shafai committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his client.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for more than 25 years without a record of discipline, and provided letters from six individuals who had full knowledge of the misconduct alleged--all of whom vouched for his good character.
Robert O. Whyte
State Bar #130021, Mountain View (August 26, 2022)
Whyte was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one count of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
In the underlying matter, Whyte had voluntarily changed his membership status with the State Bar to inactive--and after consulting with the group's Ethics Hotline, became an officer and shareholder of a law corporation, with the understanding he was not entitled to practice law in that role. Several months later, friends contacted him for help in a dispute with their landlord. The landlord was instructed to direct all dispute-related questions and correspondence to Whyte at his "law firm"--the one in which he had become a shareholder.
Whyte then negotiated terms on behalf of the tenants, and in the course of that, offered several legal conclusions--including a proposed settlement on the law firm's letterhead that also asserted the firm was representing the tenants as clients.
About 14 months later, the firm's owner sent a letter to the landlord, explaining that the firm had not been authorized to engage in legal representation in the landlord/tenant matter.
In mitigation, Whyte entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for more than 30 years without a record of discipline, and received moderate mitigation credit for providing letters from four individuals who attested to his good character.
In recommending a stayed suspension and probation as the disciplinary sanction, the State Court Bar opinion noted there is scant caselaw involving the unauthorized practice of law while an attorney is voluntarily inactive. It underscored that in the instant case, Whyte's misconduct was limited in time and scope, involving a single relatively minor dispute handled for no payment and without court filings--and that his inactive status was voluntary rather than a disciplinary suspension.
--Barbara Kate Repa