DISBARMENT Allyah Sabreen Abdullah State Bar #282927, Lodi (January 27, 2023) Abdullah was summarily disbarred after pleading nolo contendere to one count of grand theft (Cal. Penal Code § 487(a)), and the State Bar Court had received evidence that the conviction had become final. The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude--meeting the threshold legal qualifications for imposing summary disbarment. Michelle Ellen Anderson State Bar #184490, Santa Cruz (January 27, 2023) Anderson was disbarred by default. She failed to respond to the notice of disciplinary charges alleging 16 counts of professional misconduct in four client matters, and did not move to have the default subsequently entered against her set aside or vacated. The State Bar Court determined that all procedural requirements, including proper notice, had been satisfied. Anderson was then found culpable of all counts charged. Her wrongdoing included: two counts of failing to return unearned advance fees; three counts each of failing to promptly release client files and property after being requested to do so and failing to render accounts of client funds; and four counts each of failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the charges against her. Jimmie Dean Culp State Bar #208020, Austin, Texas (January 27, 2023) Culp was disbarred by default after he failed to respond to the initial notice of disciplinary charges against him and the subsequent petition for disbarment. The State Bar Court judge verified that both had been properly served on him, and that reasonable diligence had been used to notify him of the present proceeding He was found culpable of all seven counts charged: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep his client informed about significant case developments, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to render an accounting of client funds, failing to return unearned advance fees, failing to release the client's materials and property after being requested to do so--and finally, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged. Culp had one prior record of discipline at the time he was disbarred. Kym Samuel Cushing State Bar #143335, Henderson, Nevada (January 27, 2023) Cushing, licensed in both California and Nevada, was disciplined by the Supreme Court of Nevada after being found culpable of professional misconduct in that state related to misappropriating funds from his law firm's operating account. The California State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel initiated the present reciprocal proceeding to determine whether the Nevada proceeding offered fundamental constitutional protection and whether the culpability determined there also warranted professional discipline in California--and if so, the degree of discipline to be imposed. Cushing failed to participate in the instant proceeding, and also failed to respond to the petition for disbarment, nor did he move to set aside or vacate the default ultimately entered against him here. The California State Bar Court determined that all procedural and substantive requirements had been satisfied: proper service, actual notice, proper entry of default, and a satisfactory basis for discipline. In the underlying matter, Cushing was suspected of misappropriating funds from his firm's operating account. When confronted about the theft, he lied--claiming that the funds taken were reimbursements for an expert witness. The address given for that alleged "witness," however, was actually that of a property Cushing was renting, and the phone number belonged to his friend. Cushing later admitted that he wrote checks from the firm's account to cover his gambling debts, and was asked to resign from the firm. He subsequently misrepresented the reason for his departure to a prospective employer, and misrepresented to the Nevada State Bar that he was "addicted" to gambling. Finally, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered Cushing to report to the Nevada Lawyers Assistance Program; he failed to comply with the program's treatment recommendations--blaming that failure on the program's administrators. The California State Bar Court found that, as a matter of law, Cushing's culpability in the Nevada proceeding warranted discipline in this state in accord with California rules and laws and recommended disbarment as the appropriate discipline to be imposed. Noushin Dehnadi State Bar #208312, Mission Viejo (January 27, 2023) Dehnadi was summarily disbarred. She previously pled guilty and was convicted of conspiring to solicit a bribe (Cal. Penal Code § 182(a)(1)), 11 counts of bribing an executive office (Cal. Penal Code § 67), and conspiring to commit a crime (Cal. Penal Code § 6152(a)(1)). The offenses met the criteria for summary disbarment: all are felonies involving moral turpitude. The disbarment order was issued after the State Bar received confirming evidence that the judgment of conviction had become final. Matthew Powell Fletcher State Bar #189923, Long Beach (January 27, 2023) Fletcher was disbarred after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct--all involving moral turpitude: conspiring to obstruct justice by bribing a witness to testify falsely and testifying falsely while under oath, as well as the uncharged misconduct of making an intentional misrepresentation to State Bar investigators. Fletcher was retained to represent a client charged with murder and attempted murder after intentionally running over two individuals in the parking lot of a restaurant. The day he was hired, Fletcher held a conference with an online news magazine in which he alleged that both victims had guns--a falsified detail the client had not provided. In a phone call between Fletcher and his incarcerated client, Fletcher counseled they should be prepared to spend "up to $25,000" to pay witnesses to falsely testify that both victims had guns at the time of the murder and attempted murder. The call was recorded, which led local sheriffs to monitor subsequent county jail phone calls between the men--some after Fletcher no longer represented the client--in which they repeatedly spoke of the efforts to pay a witness to falsely testify about the guns at the crime scene. In a separate incident, Fletcher falsely testified under oath at his State Bar Court trial that he never texted an individual about paying his fee; records showed there were more than 400 text messages between the two of them. He also testified he was never paid any money by individuals related to a criminal defendant he had represented; records showed a wire transfer into his bank account of $13,500, as well as an additional $7,000 in cash. He later pled guilty to a charge of perjury (Cal. Penal Code § 118(a)); that conviction was not final at the time of the present disciplinary case. In aggravation, Fletcher had two prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant matter, and made misrepresentations that were intentionally dishonest and surrounded by bad faith and that significantly harmed the administration of justice. In addition, the State Bar Court found Fletcher culpable of uncharged conduct: making an intentional misrepresentation in a written response to investigators assigned to his discipline case. James Radcliff Gorman State Bar #68945, Laguna Woods (January 27, 2023) Gorman was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at the trial in which he was charged with two counts of professional misconduct. After he failed to appear, the State Bar Court entered a default against him, which he failed to contest or have set aside within 45 days. The court also verified that all procedural requirements, including proper notice, had been satisfied in this case. Gorman was found culpable of both counts charged: commingling personal and client funds in a trust account and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged. James William Green, San Diego State Bar #204877 (January 27, 2023) Green was disbarred by default after he ultimately failed to participate in the disciplinary proceedings in which he was charged with 13 counts of professional misconduct related to four separate client matters. Green had failed to file a response to the initial notice of disciplinary charges, but the default subsequently entered against him was vacated, as the court discovered an email it had "inadvertently missed" signifying Green's attempt to file a response electronically. However, he did not file a response by the new deadline set by the court. A second motion for entry of default was served to Green's address on file with the State Bar, accompanied by a supporting affidavit enumerating the additional steps taken to give him proper notice. Green did not seek to have that default set aside or vacated. Three of the 13 charges were dismissed with prejudice, but Green was found culpable of the remaining 10--including engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to promptly release a client file after terminating services, failing to respond to a client's reasonable inquiries, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and three counts each of failing to perform legal services with diligence and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged. There were other disciplinary investigations pending against Green at the time he was disbarred. Jehu Thomas de Gerold Hand State Bar #124016, Lake Arrowhead (January 27, 2023) Hand was summarily disbarred after the State Bar received evidence of the finality of his convictions of two counts each of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 371), securities fraud (15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b) and 78ff, 17 C.F.R. § 254.10b-5, and 18 U.S.C. 2), and conspiracy to commit wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343, 1349 and 2. The offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude. SUSPENSION Robert Arthur Bartlett State Bar #197966, Riverside (January 27, 2023) Bartlett was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. His wrongdoing included two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to pay client funds upon request, and misappropriating client funds--an act involving moral turpitude. In both client matters, Bartlett represented individuals pursuing personal injury claims, executing agreements with them that specified the contingency fees to which he was entitled In aggravation, Bartlett committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed a client by depriving him of funds to which he was entitled. In both cases, he deposited settlement checks into his client trust account, but failed to maintain the requisite balance in the account--effectively misappropriating more than $23,000 in client funds. In mitigation, he had practiced law discipline-free for 15 years, presented character letters from 13 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities, and had suffered extreme emotional and psychological difficulties surrounding deaths of family members that affected him at the time of the misconduct at issue. David Andrew Bovino State Bar #257462, Aspen, Colorado (January 27, 2023) Bovino was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in another jurisdiction for which he was disciplined. The California State Bar Court determined that the disciplinary proceeding in the other jurisdiction provided fundamental constitutional protection and that the misconduct committed there also warranted imposing discipline in this state. Bovino is licensed to practice law in California and Colorado. Though the matter for which he was disciplined in Colorado involved an additional charge, one criminal matter is most germane to the instant proceeding: a guilty plea to one count of initiating a communication intended to threaten or harass (Colo. Rev. Stat. 618-9-111(e)). Bovino, who was under a court order to make monthly child support payments, submitted statements to Colorado's Office of Attorney Registration, falsely declaring he had complied with that obligation on four separate occasions. He entered the plea to the criminal charge based on three "obscene and harassing" text messages he sent to his wife's friend, who was then at his home while he was in Asia. The next day, Bovino sent an additional text apologizing to the friend and claiming he felt "threatened" because she had attended the couple's divorce proceeding. He failed to timely report the criminal guilty plea to the State Bar of California as required. In aggravation, Bovino committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had been admitted to practice law in California for eight years without a record of discipline, suffered extreme emotional difficulties due to various personal and marital problems he was dealig with during the time of his misconduct, and submitted 12 letters from members of the legal and general communities--all of whom attested to his good character. Edward Mark Chavez State Bar #146133, Los Angeles (January 27, 2023) Chavez was suspended for 15 months and placed on probation for two years after contesting that order of discipline recommended by the hearing judge below. He argued that the weight of mitigating over aggravating factors mandated discipline of actual suspension of six months or less. The panel on appeal affirmed the stipulated legal conclusions of Chavez's culpability adopted by the hearing judge, as well as the initial discipline order. Chavez was found culpable of failing to provide legal services with competence and failing to inform his client of significant case developments, as well as two counts of failing to obey court orders. All counts related to a single client matter. In the underlying matter, Chavez was hired to represent a client pursuing various claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. While he attended an initial case management conference, appeared at hearings and a deposition related to the case, he failed to make appearances at a related court-ordered case management conference, the hearing on default, the final settlement conference, and the jury trial. Chavez also failed to notify the client of significant case developments--including the court's dismissal of the case. And finally, he failed to obey two court orders imposing sanctions. In aggravation, Chavez had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted evidence of performing substantial pro bono and community service. He was also allotted moderate weight for nine written references of his good character--as none of them knew of the discipline order imposed on him previously. Ryan P. Claridge State Bar #290105, Mesa, Arizona (January 27, 2023) Claridge was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct as adjudicated in another jurisdiction. The California State Bar Court found that, as a matter of law, the culpability determined there also warranted imposing discipline under the laws and rules in effect in California. Claridge, admitted to practice law in both California and Arizona, represented an Arizona resident in a family law matter. The trial for the dissolution of marriage was held with the judge present in a courtroom, while all other parties appeared through video/audio or through video conferencing software. During his client's cross-examination, Claridge used the chat feature of the software to coach her--including providing specific, substantive answers to specific questions posed to her. The court subsequently discovered the coaching when reviewing the chat and admonished Claridge that the conduct was "inappropriate and should immediately cease." In response, he insisted the practice "would be the same as if I shook my head in the courtroom;" but he agreed to stop. The Supreme Court of Arizona subsequently imposed a 60-day actual suspension on Claridge; he failed to report the order to the State Bar of California within 30 days as required. In mitigation, Claridge entered into a pretrial stipulation--though that mitigation was "tempered" due to his failure to report the disciplinary order to the California State Bar. He was also allotted slight mitigation for having practiced law discipline-free for seven years. Lauren Arrington Davis State Bar #315311, Oakland (January 27, 2023) Davis was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after being terminated from the State Bar's Alternative Discipline Program (ADP) due to her failure to comply with the program's requirements. She had earlier stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct including failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to promptly release her client's file upon request, failing to deposit client funds into a trust account, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, and intentionally misappropriating client funds--an act involving moral turpitude. She was also culpable of two counts of making intentional misrepresentations to her clients--which involved moral turpitude; three counts of failing to provide legal services with competence; and five counts of failing to keep her clients reasonably informed and to promptly respond to their inquiries. In aggravation, Davis committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and caused significant harm to her clients--two of whom were highly vulnerable due to their uncertain immigration status. In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation. Because Davis failed to successfully complete the ADP, the State Bar Court recommended the higher level of discipline--including two years of actual suspension, as specified in the contract and waiver of participation she executed earlier. Christopher Ronald Erwin State Bar #220022, Irvine (January 27, 2023) Erwin was suspended from the practice of law for one year and placed on probation for two years after the State Bar Court Review Department affirmed that level of discipline, which had been recommended by the original hearing judge. He was found culpable of all five counts charged: seeking to mislead a judge, entering into an improper business transaction with a client, threatening criminal and administrative charges to gain advantage in a civil dispute, acquiring an interest adverse to a client, and making various false statements to the State Bar--misconduct involving moral turpitude. While employed as an attorney and licensed insurance agent, Erwin represented a client in a chargeback dispute, as well as two additional contract disputes. The instant disciplinary matter focuses on an insurance policy conversion referral arrangement formed among Erwin, the client, and a third party who was an employee of a life settlement brokerage company that Erwin also owned. The three entered an agreement, never memorialized in writing, that some brokerage company clients would be referred to the client, who would then pay Erwin a percentage of the life insurance commissions he generated. The types of licenses each held is germane, as the client held a "life only" license--required to handle such conversions; Erwin held only an individual life insurance license. Erwin's employee, who was not licensed as an insurance agent, handled most of the initial and follow-up tasks involved in the policy conversions. Erwin did not inform the client that he could seek the advice of an independent lawyer before the two entered the business arrangement. After several individuals were processed through the arrangement, the client had paid Erwin approximately $90,433 in fees for referrals. Erwin, however, became frustrated with the set-up--believing the client was withholding some of the commissions he was owed. Erwin then sent the client a text message accusing him of theft and threatening to file a lawsuit for fraud and conversion. He followed that up with a call to local police, alleging the client had stolen $130,000 from him. And some months later, Erwin sued the client and his company--alleging breach of contract, conversion, and fraud. The client's attorney responded that the referral arrangement appeared to violate the rule restricting attorneys from entering business transactions with clients (Former rule 3-300). Two amended complaints were subsequently filed with the court; the amended ones alleged it was not Erwin, but his employee who had entered into the oral contracts for the policy conversions. After the client complained to the State Bar about the business arrangement and threats, Erwin denied making both referrals and threats. The Review Department rejected Erwin's arguments that he did not "author or file" the pleadings deemed to be shams and that he made no direct threats to the client--and found him culpable of all counts charged, In aggravation, Erwin committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed the administration of justice, showed indifference toward atoning by refusing to accept responsibility for his actions, and demonstrated a lack of candor by offering dishonest and contradictory testimony during his disciplinary proceedings. In mitigation, he was allotted moderate weight for practicing law discipline-free for 12 years, for entering into a pretrial stipulation admitting easily provable facts, for submitting five character references from individuals--none of whom were from the legal community, and for evidence of performing pro bono work that lacked detail. Steve Escalera State Bar #195210, Brawley (January 27, 2023) Escalera was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on suspension for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single matter: two counts of failing to promptly pay settlement funds to which the clients were entitled, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing he was alleged to have committed. In the underlying matter, Escalera represented two individuals who were married--both of whom were injured in a car accident--pursuing personal injury claims. He settled each matter for the policy limit sum of $15,000. After the clients endorsed the settlement checks, Escalera informed them he would pay the medical lienholder and his attorney fees--then issue the remaining balance to them. He then deposited the settlement checks into his client trust account, and was subsequently successful in substantially reducing the clients' medical liens to $5,000 each. After the liens, fees, and costs were deducted, Escalera owed each client just over $3,900 in settlement funds. One of the clients attempted to contact him by email and phone for more information about their pending payments; Escalera received but did not review the messages, as he was winding down his office and had stopped using the email and phone to which they were directed. The client's attempt to reach Escalera through Facebook was also unsuccessful. State Bar investigators looking into the potential misconduct that was alleged had similar difficulties reaching him. Escalera eventually paid the clients--approximately 31/2 years after receiving their settlement checks. In aggravation, Escalera significantly harmed his clients by depriving them of their settlement funds for an extended period. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 20 years, and submitted evidence of performing community service and of his good character--as attested to in letters from seven individuals taken from both the legal and general communities who were fully aware of the misconduct at issue. Aaron Thomas Gordon State Bar #305013, Encinitas (January 27, 2023) Gordon was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to violating several conditions attached to a disciplinary order--a reproval--imposed on him earlier. Specifically, he failed to schedule and participate in an initial meeting with the Office of Probation, failed to file four quarterly written reports, failed to file an attestation oath setting out that he had read the Rules of Professional Conduct or Business and Professions Code as mandated, failed to attend and complete the State Bar Ethics School, failed to rake and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and failed to file a final written report. In aggravation, Gordon had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant matter, and showed indifference toward toning for the consequences of his wrongdoing. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and at the time of the misconduct, suffered emotional and physical difficulties--now being directed treated. Matthew John-William Greife State Bar #295995, Denver, Colorado (January 27, 2023) Greife was suspended for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing several acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters in another jurisdiction. He was disciplined there--suspended from practicing law for three years. The California State Bar Court determined that the disciplinary proceeding in the other jurisdiction provided fundamental constitutional protection. It found that as a matter of law, the culpability determined there also warranted imposing discipline in California. It also found the misconduct committed there also violated five of California's equivalent laws prohibiting commingling and misappropriating client funds--an act involving moral turpitude, as well as those requiring performing legal services with diligence, maintaining records of client funds, and keeping clients reasonably informed of significant developments. Greife, licensed in both California and Colorado, became the sole owner of a Colorado firm he purchased from another lawyer. In one case, a client had retained the firm to handle a bankruptcy shortly before Greife took over ownership. She paid $1,155 of the $1,620 of the fee agreed to initiate the case, but never received any communications from the firm. Her attempts to contact representatives at the firm were unsuccessful, and four years after retaining it, she filed a request for investigation with Colorado's Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. An investigation revealed that no bankruptcy petition had been prepared, and the firm had no files, records, or accountings related to her case. In addition, it revealed that Greife had never deposited a $1,000 installment the client had paid toward her legal fee, but had made several withdrawals from the firm's trust account to reimburse himself for other work. The second case was also a bankruptcy matter--those clients paid the full $1,650 in initial fees to the firm after Greife took over. He confirmed their payment in full, and over the next two years, the clients provided additional documents required for their bankruptcy filing. However, they tried but were unable to contact Greife for more than a year. No bankruptcy petitions were filed on their behalf. In aggravation, Greife committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients and the administration of justice, and failed to repay any portion of the unearned advance fees he had collected. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation. Candace D. Hayward-Hoke State Bar #272530, Shoreline, Washington (January 27, 2023) Hayward-Hoke was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing two counts of professional misconduct: sharing legal fees with non-lawyers and aiding others in the unauthorized practice of law. Salient facts in the underlying matter: Hayward-Hoke began worked remotely as a contract attorney for a business that was owned and operated by two non-lawyers. She had located the business on Craigslist, and while she believed it to be legitimate, she did not verify or investigate its internal operations, management, and structure. While employed there, Hayward-Hoke was assigned to 100-125 matters--preparing family law court documents and providing legal advice to the clients. She received a flat fee of $150 for each matter she completed. About seven years after Hayward-Hoke began working for the firm, the State Bar filed a petition, initiating an unauthorized practice case, which ultimately resulted in a permanent injunction against the business. When Hayward-Hoke learned that the State Bar was seeking an injunction, she immediately stopped working for the business. In aggravation, Hayward-Hoke committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, showed spontaneous candor during the State Bar's investigation, expressed remorse for her wrongdoing, presented evidence of performing pro bono legal work, and was allotted slight mitigating weight for practicing law for seven years without a record of discipline. PROBATION Paul John Couchot State Bar #131934, Newport Beach (January 27, 2023) Couchot was placed on probation for one year after successfully completing the State Bar Court's Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). He had earlier entered a guilty plea to charges in two separate incidents: one count of battery (Ca. Penal Code § 242) stemming from a physical altercation with his adult son and spouse while he was intoxicated; the other domestic battery (Cal. Penal Code § 243 (e)(1)) after he pushed his wife during an argument, causing her to fall. Both offenses are misdemeanors. He stipulated to the facts and circumstances surrounding both violations, as well as to the recognition that both involved moral turpitude and warranted professional discipline. The two matters were consolidated for the consideration of eligibility for the ADP. In aggravation, Couchot committed multiple acts of wrongdoing. In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had no prior record of discipline, suffered from extreme emotional, physical, and mental difficulties and disabilities, and provided evidence of good character. The State Bar Court allotted him additional mitigation for successfully completing the ADP. Based on that successful completion, the State Bar Court imposed the lower level of discipline: one year of suspension (stayed) and a year of probation with conditions.
-Barbara Kate Repa
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