Shawn Michael Dickerson
State Bar #256012, Irvine (August 26, 2023)
Dickerson was disbarred. He earlier stipulated to committing 23 separate acts of professional misconduct related to four client matters.
His misconduct included one count each of breaching his fiduciary duties to his clients, failing to notify a client of funds received on his behalf, failing to promptly release a client's papers and property, failing to represent his clients diligently, failing to disclose his lack of professional malpractice insurance, disobeying court orders, charging and collecting an illegal fee, making a misleading statement to a judge, and withdrawing fees from trust assets without first obtaining the trustees' consent.
He was also culpable of two counts each of failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments, and failing to respond promptly to reasonable client inquiries, as well as five counts of failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds.
Additional acts of misconduct were deemed to involve moral turpitude: one count of issuing checks on an account he knew had insufficient funds, and two counts each of misappropriating client funds and making false statements about material facts in a case.
In the matter involving the most misconduct charges, Dickerson was hired by two successor co-trustees seeking to have the surviving primary trustee conserved, with the trust property to be sold for her benefit. Within one month of being hired, Dickerson informed the co-trustees that he was increasing his hourly rate from $320 per hour to $600 hourly. One of the co-trustees paid a total of $13,900 in fees and costs in a six-month period.
After the primary trustee was determined to be incapacitated and moved to a care facility, the successor co-trustees took over trust management. As the co-trustees sold property they controlled, they placed a total of just over $491,530 into Dickerson's client trust account. The trust assets were placed under the court's jurisdiction. At a subsequent hearing, Dickerson informed the court that the trust assets were "around $260,000," when in fact he knew that his client trust account balance was only $81,941. Over a period of nearly 2 1/2 years, Dickerson paid himself more than $436,567 from the trust funds--depleting the account--without seeking authorization from either the court or the trustees. Despite numerous requests from one of the trustees, he did not provide an accounting of the funds held in trust.
In another client matter, Dickerson was hired to perform various services as "in-house corporate counsel" for an organization, charging an hourly fee as well as a flat monthly fee of $3,000. He was then called upon to defend the corporate officers and the corporation in a wrongful termination action. However, he failed to perform needed services or attend scheduled hearings in the case, prompting the court to rule that "the defendants lost their day in court after their attorney repeatedly failed to appear at court hearings" and that "Dickerson effectively abandoned them in their efforts to defend this case on the merits."
In the other two cases, Dickerson represented clients in divorce and support matters and engaged in substantially similar misconduct. The gravamen of the clients' complaints was his failure to keep them informed of significant developments in their cases, as well as his failure to provide accountings of their funds, even after repeated requests. In one of the cases, he also misappropriated funds. And in the other, he misrepresented to a State Bar investigator that he had prepared and tendered client invoices when in fact, he had not done so during the course of his representation.
In aggravation, Dickerson committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients--two of whom were deemed especially vulnerable due to their financial limitations and lack of sophistication, and also acted to conceal his wrongdoing from clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, and was allotted slight mitigating credit for practicing law for approximately four years without a record of discipline. In addition, he received mitigating credit for suffering a confluence of family and emotional difficulties surrounding his family, finances, health, home, and work life that coincided with the time of his misconduct.
Mansour Sig Haddad
State Bar #172061, San Luis Obispo (August 13, 2023)
Haddad was disbarred in the instant case.
He earlier pled guilty to one count of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher and to being involved in a hit and run incident (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(b)). Both offenses are misdemeanors. He also admitted to having two prior misdemeanor DUI convictions within the last 10 years, as alleged in the complaint against him.
In the underlying incident, Haddad drove his car while under the influence of alcohol and struck a car in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant, then drove over a curb and struck another parked vehicle. A witness summoned police, who found him unconscious and slumped over in the driver's seat of the vehicle. After he was arrested and transported to a hospital, police obtained a warrant to obtain a blood sample, which indicated a blood alcohol concentration of .352%.
The State Bar Court determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violations did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Haddad had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he took steps toward rehabilitation by admitting himself into an inpatient sober living treatment program, and demonstrated progress toward sustaining a recovery.
Brett Deforest Maxfield
State Bar #208161, Los Angeles (August 26, 2023)
Maxfield was summarily disbarred after he failed to respond to the State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel's request for summary disbarment, which was based on his felony conviction.
Maxfield earlier entered a plea of nolo contendere to a felony charge of assault with a firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(2)). After the conviction became final, the hearing judge issued a decision finding that the facts and circumstances underlying the conviction involved moral turpitude.
Relevant facts about the offense: Maxfield was waiting outside a music venue when a patron asked him to stop harassing the bouncer who refused to let him inside. Maxfield then drew a .38 caliber revolver from his pocket and fired two to three rounds in the patron's direction. The patron was not hit, and Maxfield told investigating officers that he intended for the first shot to ricochet off the ground and strike the patron "to let him know the firearm was real."
The State Bar Court noted that the offense--a felony involving moral turpitude--satisfied both criteria necessary to support a summary disbarment.
Ronald L. Miller
State Bar #111817, Fermley, Nevada (August 10, 2023)
Miller was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his conviction referral matter.
The offenses of which he was convicted were a misdemeanor of driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(a)), with admitted enhancements of having a prior similar conviction (Cal. Veh. Code § 23540) and of driving with a blood alcohol concentration above .15% (Cal. Veh. Code § 23578).
Miller drove his car into a pole, damaging his car, and then driving over a curb before coming to a stop on a sidewalk. He told officers summoned to the scene that "nothing had happened," and seemed confused and was verbally abusive, refusing to perform field sobriety tests. After being arrested, he threatened an officer with the words: "I'm going to kill you." A blood sample revealed a blood alcohol content of 29%--approximately four times the legal limit.
Miller did not respond to the petition for disbarment with which he was served, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
Following a showing of finality of the convictions, the State Bar recommended disbarment.
Debbie Lee Morawski
State Bar #248466, Santa Maria (August 13, 2023)
Morawski was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding in which she was charged with six ethical violations related to a single client matter.
The State Bar Court determined that all legal prerequisites had been satisfied to warrant imposing disbarment: proper service of the disciplinary charges, actual notice to the attorney charged, proper entry of a default, and a satisfactory basis for imposing discipline. The evidence also showed that Morawski did not seek a motion to set aside or vacate the entry of the default.
She was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to report a judgment imposed against her to the State Bar as required, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, and two counts each of failing to obey court orders and failing to report judicial sanctions imposed against her to the State Bar.
Morawski had one prior record of discipline, and there were additional disciplinary matters pending against her at the time she was disbarred in the instant matter.
William Hans Oei
State Bar #229455, Mission Viejo (August 13, 2023)
Oei was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in a disciplinary conviction referral matter involving misdemeanor convictions for battery (Cal. Penal Code § 242) and trespass (Cal. Penal Code § 602(m)). The offenses are both misdemeanors, and the State Bar Court found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violations did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In the underlying incident, Oei entered a convenience store, then washed his hands with ice at the soda dispenser and sampled all flavors at a slushy dispenser; the clerk told him this conduct was forbidden and he would have to leave the store. Oei became agitated, physically assaulting the clerk and knocking over a food display in the store as he left.
The State Bar Court recommended disbarment after the convictions became final, and Oei did not move to have the default entered against him in the case set aside or vacated.
There were other disciplinary matters pending against Oei when he was disbarred in the instant case.
State Bar #94672, Los Angeles (August 26, 2023)
Richards was disbarred after she stipulated to committing 36 acts of professional misconduct related to numerous client cases.
Her wrongdoing included: failing to pay court-ordered sanctions, threatening to file a legal action to obtain an advantage in a civil dispute, failing to return unearned advance fees, failing to perform legal services with competence, and failing to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order; two counts each of failing to report judicial sanctions imposed to the State Bar, disobeying court orders, and failing to maintain client funds in a trust account; and three counts each of failing to provide accountings of client funds. It also included four counts of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, as well as five counts each of failing to properly maintain her client trust account and disobeying laws requiring her to honor medical liens.
In addition, she was culpable of several counts involving moral turpitude: submitting false statements in a court-filed document, two counts of practicing law while not authorized to do so, and five counts of misappropriating client funds.
In a State Bar investigation matter, a court found that Richards had filed 12 bankruptcy actions and transferred two others while not admitted to practice before that court. It determined that her filings "showed a remarkably consistent pattern of abuse--failing to file fee disclosures, failing to file required documents, failing to attend meetings of creditors"--and concluded Richards was aiding debtors in abusing the bankruptcy process. She was sanctioned $1,000, which she did not report to the State Bar as required, and barred from filing new bankruptcy matters until she completed at least four hours of MCLE.
Despite the order barring her from doing so, Richards then filed three additional bankruptcy cases and one adversary case. She was sanctioned an additional $2,500 for that violation, which she did not pay when due and did not report to the State Bar.
In a client matter, Richards represented an individual with a personal injury claim. Their contingency retainer agreement entitled her to 25% of the proceeds if the case was settled without litigation. The case settled for $12,900--and Richards deposited the settlement check into her operating account instead of holding it in trust. She then failed to pay the medical lien incurred, misappropriating the funds for her personal use. The same violation occurred in another case that Richards took on while actually suspended; she failed to provide a client accounting or to refund the advanced fees paid. And in a trio of additional cases, Richards repeated similar misconduct--though depositing the settlement funds in her client trust account, then misappropriating them.
In another case, Richards represented a client who claimed her estranged spouse had filed a bankruptcy action in her name without her consent, and sought to expunge it. Richards later admitted she had electronically filed a petition in the case by filing the client's signature--and without actually meeting with the client. The bankruptcy court subsequently issued an order revoking her privilege to practice in that forum "for an unlimited period of time."
In an additional matter, Richards, while under a disciplinary suspension, sent a letter attempting to collect past due payments from a lawyer written on "Smart Attorneys, Inc." letterhead--signing it as "Vice President of Client Relations" and threatening to file a complaint with the State Bar if payments were not forthcoming. In fact, Richards is the sole proprietor; no others were employed by Smart Attorneys. She was again sanctioned $2,500 for practicing law while not entitled to do so.
She also violated several conditions imposed in an earlier discipline order.
And finally, Richards accepted a total of $7,000 as an advanced fee to represent a client in an immigration removal proceeding. She then appeared at the bond hearing without the required documents, and the client terminated her services. She did not provide a refund or an accounting as requested.
In aggravation, Richards had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant matter, and failed to make the restitution ordered in two of the cases.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation.
State Bar #224649, Chula Vista (August 26, 2023)
Salazar was disbarred after a six-day consolidated trial in which she was found culpable of all 24 ethical violations with which she was charged.
The wrongdoing related to several client matters and to mismanaging her client trust account.
She was culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to comply with the law, failing to promptly distribute client funds, failing to promptly release a client's file, and failing to deposit funds in a trust account. Her wrongdoing also included two counts each of failing to render accountings of client funds, failing to promptly return unearned advanced fees, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the misconduct alleged; three counts of commingling personal and client funds in her trust account; and four counts of failing to maintain funds in a trust account. Additional misconduct was deemed to involve moral turpitude: one count of repeatedly issuing checks from her client trust account that contained insufficient funds to cover them, and five counts of misappropriating client and lienholder funds.
The misconduct occurred in five separate client cases spanning a range of subject matters--from personal injury to family law.
In one case, Salazar represented a client injured at a fast food restaurant, eventually settling the matter for $13,001 and depositing the settlement check into her client trust account. The client, opposing counsel, and a recovery agent for a third part lienholder all contacted Salazar about the settlement. None of the funds remained in her trust account, and she did not disburse any of the money to the client, nor did she provide an accounting. Salazar represented the same client in another matter, but when she moved from the office building they shared, the client sought new counsel and demanded her client file; Salazar insisted on a $200 fee to copy it, but failed to do so until a court ordered the release.
In another matter, Salazar hired a court reporting group for deposition services, but failed to pay the $4,982 bill, even after a small claims court issued a judgment against her. She did not respond to two letters that State Bar investigators sent seeking information about the nonpayment.
Salazar was also found culpable of mismanaging her client trust account, testifying that the account was "out of control." The evidence showed she had issued five checks written with insufficient funds to cover them, and commingled personal funds with client funds in the account on at least 38 occasions.
In an additional client matter, Salazar represented a client in a restraining order action, who paid $1,999 as an advanced deposit. Salazar deposited the check into her client trust account and participated in an initial consultation by phone, but thereafter, took no action in the case. She issued the client a refund check for $2,000, which was returned for insufficient funds.
And in the course of handling a family law matter, Salazar deposited the client's $2,000 advanced fee into her client trust account, but failed to maintain that balance or to promptly refund the fee after being terminated.
Finally, Salazar substituted in as counsel, retained to defend a pharmaceutical company at a rate of $350/hour. She deposited a $20,000 check, which included unpaid invoices for work previously completed for the company, into her business account. The next week, she withdrew nearly $13,450 from the account to cover casino expenses--leaving a balance of $906.63; there was a zero balance in her client trust account. She did not provide the requested itemized billings when the client terminated her services.
In aggravation, Salazar committed multiple acts of misconduct, demonstrated a lack of remorse for her wrongdoing--especially the misappropriation of settlement funds, and showed a lack of insight and indifference to her violations.
In mitigation, she practiced law for approximately 16 years discipline-free and stipulated to facts and admission of documents, though not to culpability.
Eric C. Singleton
State Bar #164667, Salt Lake City, Utah (August 13, 2023)
Singleton was summarily disbarred after he failed to respond to a request by the State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) for summary disbarment.
He had earlier pled guilty to committing bankruptcy fraud (18 U.S.C. §§ 157(1) and (2)), and was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of 12 months and one day.
Singleton engineered a scheme in which he defrauded both the bankruptcy court and creditors by filing bankruptcy documents concealing assets. He advised his clients to transfer their funds to his client trust account "for safekeeping," then spent approximately $260,000 of that money for his own personal benefit. He also made several false statements in filings with the bankruptcy court, and falsely testified he had retained the client funds that he had actually spent.
The OCTC transmitted evidence in the form of certified copies of the judgment and the criminal docket. Singleton did not appeal, and his conviction is now deemed final.
The conviction is a felony that the State Bar Court found "necessarily involved moral turpitude because it involved the intent to defraud"--meeting of the requirements for summary disbarment.
State Bar #305071, San Jose (August 10, 2023)
Yuan was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in her disciplinary proceeding.
The State Bar Court found that all procedural requirements, including adequate service and notice, had been satisfied--and that Yuan had not moved to have the default ultimately entered against her set aside or vacated.
As a consequence, the factual allegations in the notice of disciplinary charges were deemed admitted, and she was found culpable of seven of those eight charges. Her wrongdoing included: failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to promptly release papers and property belonging to her clients, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to promptly account in writing for entrusted client funds, and two counts of failing to keep her client reasonably informed of significant case developments.
She was also fund culpable of one count of failing to comply with several conditions imposed in a previous disciplinary probation. Specifically, she failed to meet and cooperate with the Office of Probation, failed to submit two quarterly written reports, and failed to provide a declaration attesting that she had reviewed the Rules of Professional Conduct and specified sections of the Business and Professions Code as mandated.
Yuan had one prior record of discipline before being disbarred in the instant case.
Michael Brian Buckley
State Bar #298510, St. Petersburg, Florida (August 13, 2023)
Buckley was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to two convictions that occurred in another jurisdiction--both involving alcohol-related driving violations. The two matters were consolidated in the instant proceeding.
In one incident, highway patrol officers were dispatched following a complaint of five vehicles racing on the highway. While an officer was conducting a traffic stop of one of the vehicles, Buckley drove toward the patrol car at a high rate of speed, then cut across three lanes of traffic and continued to switch lanes--at times, reaching a speed of 104 miles per hour. When eventually stopped after officers activated the patrol car's lights and siren, they found a bottle of vodka and several bottles of beer inside Buckley's car; he told them the alcohol belonged to his girlfriend. After he was unable to perform the field sobriety exercises satisfactorily, he was arrested and refused to provide any breath or blood samples. He later pled no contest to two charges: driving while intoxicated (Fla. Stat. § 316.193) and resisting an officer without force (Fla Stat. § 843.02).
Three days later, Buckley drove his vehicle into the fence inside a tow yard, then fled the scene of the collision. A tow yard employee followed his vehicle and summoned police. Dispatched officers observed Buckley run a stop sign, and initiated a traffic stop. When he stepped from the car, the cap from a vodka bottle fell from his lap onto the street; there were several empty beer bottles inside his vehicle. The back side door of Buckley's vehicle was damaged, but he stated he did not know how that occurred. He refused to participate in field sobriety exercises or to give a breath sample once he was transported to the local jail.
Buckley pled no contest to driving with a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher and causing damage to property (Fla. Stat. § 316.193) and refusing to submit to a breath test while having had his driving privilege suspended for a prior refusal (Fla. Stat. § 316.1932). Both offenses are misdemeanors.
The State Bar Court determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violations involved did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Buckley had a prior record of discipline related to two incidents in Florida--both involving alcohol. He had no prior record of discipline in California.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and took remedial steps to address his substance abuse-related misconduct by enrolling in an inpatient treatment center.
Christopher Lee Campbell
State Bar #230168, Long Beach (August 26, 2023)
Campbell was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year following a disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with violating a single condition attached to a public reproval previously imposed on him. The reproval conditions imposed on Campbell included an abstinence requirement as well as a monthly laboratory testing requirement. Campbell was culpable of failing to produce valid drug/alcohol test results on five separate occasions as required. One of the test results submitted was invalid as diluted; two of the urine tests were positive for EtG--indicating alcohol use; and he failed to submit any test results for two months as mandated.
Campbell admitted that he did not abstain from consuming alcohol numerous times during the period covered, and also stipulated that he had not been tested by a laboratory for many months--a condition he claimed was difficult since he moved his residence to Columbia while maintaining his California address on official State Bar records.
In aggravation, Campbell had a previous record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case, and was given moderate aggravating weight for the uncharged violation of drinking alcohol on at least 10 occasions during the reproval period, as he later admitted.
In mitigation, he cooperated in the investigation of his wrongdoing by admitting to culpability in his response to the State Bar and by entering into a stipulation.
Victor Stephen Haltom
State Bar #155157, Sacramento (August 11, 2023)
Haltom was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after the State Bar Court found him culpable of numerous counts of professional misconduct; it noted that several of the counts were based on multiple, separate misdeeds.
His wrongdoing included: improperly withdrawing from employment, accepting fees from a non-client without obtaining the client's informed written consent, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, and making a material misrepresentation to a client--an act involving moral turpitude; two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, and failing to inform clients of significant case developments; and three counts each of failing to render accounts of client funds and failing to return unearned advanced fees.
The instant case involved Haltom's handling of three clients--all of whom were incarcerated and facing potentially long prison sentences.
In one, the client family members hired Haltom with the explicit understanding that they were "focused on finding an attorney who could spend a great deal of time on the appeal and stay in communication with them." He assured them he would, and accepted $50,000 in exchange for his services. He then sought and received eight extensions to file an opening brief in the matter. Haltom belatedly filed an opening brief, which was rejected as untimely--then asked family members to review it. Their objections to it included incorrectly named parties and the impression that it was "a regurgitation of prior filings" by previous attorneys. The court reinstated the appeal, but rejected the opening brief refiled four days after the case was dismissed, for "missing bookmarks." That day, the client informed Haltom he would be seeking new counsel, and sent a written letter to that effect. The family members sought a refund of at least a portion of the $50,000 advanced fee they had paid. In contravention of their express wishes and despite being terminated, Haltom refiled the opening brief in the case, which was eventually stricken after new counsel was hired. Haltom did not refund any part of the $50,000 or give an accounting of the funds. In its opinion, the State Bar Court cited several specific significant developments in the case about which Haltom failed to communicate, noting that the client learned of them only from monitoring the court's docket.
The second client matter involved a criminal appeal and habeas corpus petition, in which Haltom received payment through the incarcerated individual's mother and friend without a prior third-party consent. They had also emphasized their need for good communication throughout the matter. Haltom sought nine extensions to file the opening brief in the case, which was again initially rejected for missing bookmarks. Without conferring with his client or the parties who had paid him, Haltom unilaterally decided not to file a reply brief in the case. He did not inform them of the missed court deadlines and extensions and ignored many of their queries for case updates, falsely assuring them that all filings were "timely submitted to the court." After being terminated, Haltom failed to refund any portion of the $17,500 in advanced fees paid, nor did he provide an accounting of the funds.
In the third case, an incarcerated individual's father hired Haltom to pursue post-conviction relief, seeking habeas corpus petitions in state and federal court. The service agreement specified an advance fee of $12,500 to be billed against an hourly rate of $275. The client communicated concern about the charges, but eventually borrowed the money to cover them. Ultimately, Haltom never substituted into the federal habeas matter, did not file anything substantive in the case, and did not prepare a habeas petition as promised. He did not inform the client he had stopped working on the case, nor did he render an accounting or return any portion of the $14,000 in fees paid.
Clients in all three cases filed complaints with the State Bar regarding Haltom's services; he failed to respond to the 10 investigatory letters or the email message sent to him requesting more information.
In aggravation, Haltom was given substantial weight for a prior record of discipline that involved misconduct similar to the current transgressions, for committing multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant case, for exhibiting behavior that showed indifference and a failure to understand his ethical responsibilities as an attorney, and for his failure to make restitution to his clients--all of whom were highly vulnerable due to their incarcerated status.
He also received moderate aggravating weight for his lack of cooperation, which was already encompassed in a number of the counts of which he was found culpable.
In recommending two years of actual suspension, the State Bar Court underscored that it was particularly troubled by the similarities between Haltom's present and prior disciplinary proceedings, noting: "That concern, coupled with his lack of remorse and insight into his misdeeds in this proceeding, strongly indicates that Haltom will continue to engage in misconduct."
Kathy Qi Hao
State Bar #243231, Pasadena (August 26, 2023)
Hao was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to being culpable of professional misconduct in another jurisdiction: the U.S. Postal and Trademark Office (USPTO).
She reached a settlement with the USPTO after approving joint conclusions of law regarding numerous violations of the USPTO Rules of Professional Conduct. Her wrongdoing included: failing to provide competent representation (37 C.F.R. § 11.101), failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing clients (37 C.F.R. § 11.103), failing to reasonably consult with her client in pursuing the case (37 C.F.R. § 11.104(a)(2)), failing to keep the client reasonably informed about the case status (37 C.F.R. § 11.104(a)(3)), failing to provide the client with a sufficient explanation to enable informed decisions (37 C.F.R. § 11.104(b), and failing to take reasonable measures to protect her clients upon terminating representation (37 C.F.R. § 11.116(d)).
Hao was also culpable of knowingly making false statements to a tribunal (37 C.F.R. § 11.303(a)(1)), knowingly offering false evidence to a tribunal (37 C.F.R. § 11.303(a)(3)), failing to inform the USPTO of all known material facts (37 C.F.R. § 11303(d)), knowingly disobeying tribunal rules (37 C.F.R. § 11.304(c)), assisting another in practicing law in violation of the legal profession (37 C.F.R. § 11.505), and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (37 C.F.R. § 11804(d)).
She was sanctioned by being suspended from practice before the USPTO for six months and placed on probation for 12 months after reinstatement in that tribunal.
The State Bar Court determined that the disciplinary proceeding in the other tribunal provided Hao with fundamental constitutional protection.
The facts underlying the violations were as follows: Hao, licensed to practice in California and more recently in Washington, was listed as the attorney of record in approximately 5,200 trademark applications filed with the USPTO during a three-year period. During that time, she had business relationships with three foreign national companies, offering them trademark application services. The USPTO rules require that the signatory on trademark applications must sign applications personally. However, Hao allowed the companies to sign and file most of the applications ostensibly bearing her signature through an electronic filing system, in contravention of the rules.
After the USPTO filed a complaint against Hao for this transgression, she failed to inform any of the trademark applicants that the impermissible signature could impact their intellectual property rights--though she later did so after retaining counsel.
In mitigation, Hao entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law in California for approximately 13 years before committing the instant misconduct, provided evidence of good character in the form of sworn declarations from six individuals and letters from an additional four--all attesting to her good character, and also presented evidence of performing substantial community service.
In aggravation, she committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and her misconduct was deemed to be "intentional and in bad faith" because it continued for an additional 10 months after the USPTO informed her of her impermissible practices.
State Bar #277256, San Jose (August 13, 2023)
Huynh was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing nine acts of professional misconduct related to two separate client matters.
In one case, the wrongdoing included: failing to update his official address in State Bar records until seven months after he was required to do so, accepting legal fees from a non-client without securing the client's prior written consent, providing legal advice to a client when he was actually suspended, and seeking an agreement of a client to withdraw a State Bar complaint, as well as two counts involving moral turpitude: actively practicing law when he was not entitled to do so and submitting a false statement to the court regarding his suspended status.
In the other case, he was culpable of failing to act with reasonable diligence on behalf of his client, failing to keep his client reasonably informed of significant case developments, and failing to respond to the client's reasonable inquiries about the status of the case.
In one client matter, Huynh was hired to assist a married couple with estate planning. He emailed their daughter information about paying a portion of the flat fee charge, which she paid electronically, without first obtaining the actual clients' written consents. Several months later, Huynh was suspended from practicing law due to nonpayment of child support; however, he continued to counsel the clients about their trust and tax matters in addition to negotiating his legal fees. One of the clients subsequently informed Huynh she had filed a complaint about him with the State Bar. He implored her to reconsider, stating he would forego payment of any additional fees owed to him. He also submitted a declaration to the State Bar falsely stating that he had not practiced law while suspended.
In the second case, Huynh was again hired to assist in preparing estate planning documents. He prepared some initial drafts, but then did not communicate with the client for nearly two years, moved his office without informing the client, and ignored numerous messages from her seeking to finalize the documents she sought.
In aggravation, Huynh committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 10 years without a record of discipline, and presented letters from 12 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities attesting to his good character, as well as evidence of performing a substantial amount of community service.
James Tuong Nguyen
State Bar #175617, Morgan Hill (August 26, 2023)
Nguyen was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years.
He earlier stipulated to being culpable of three acts of professional misconduct: willfully disobeying the law by breaching his fiduciary duty, and two counts of fostering false and fraudulent statements in legal representation--acts involving moral turpitude. The wrongdoing related to a single client matter.
Nguyen who worked as a pain management doctor before his medical license was revoked. Over a period of 10 years, he treated a particular patient for various conditions, becoming a friend of the patient and her family, and accepting gifts of money from them totaling approximately $4,500--later held to violate the hospital's gift acceptance policy. In time, the elderly patient was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and cognitive impairment. During one of the patient's hospital stays, she asked Nguyen and his wife to become the agents in her financial power of attorney (POA). Nguyen prepared the necessary document and sought out the two witnesses required to finalize it--both employees with whom he had worked previously, only one of whom was familiar with the patient. Nguyen explained to that potential witness that the document was related to authority for health care decisions--a misstatement she repeated to the other witness, which Nguyen did not correct. He had also falsely represented that all of the patient's family members were living in Japan.
The three entered the patient's hospital room--and over the protests of the patient's husband and daughter-in-law, asked her to sign the POA giving Nguyen and his wife control over her finances. Nguyen was aware that the patient was unable to read the document she signed, and he took no steps to assess her mental capacity at signing. While the document was being executed, one of the witnesses noticed it empowered Nguyen to negotiate "stock"--and became aware it covered financial rather than health care matters. She also learned that the people in the hospital room were in fact relatives of the patient. She reported the incident to hospital management.
As a result, Nguyen agreed to rescind the POA. The Medical Board subsequently filed an accusation against Nguyen--alleging he had made false statements to the witnesses to induce them to sign the POA, and had accepted gifts of money from the patient in violation of hospital policy.
The Medical Board revoked Nguyen's license. At the time, he had been on active status as a lawyer for only 2 1/2 years, and had performed legal services only for his wife.
In aggravation, Nguyen committed multiple acts of misconduct involving a highly vulnerable client who was elderly and had cognitive impairment.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and was allotted mitigating credit for evidence of performing pro bono and community service work, as well as limited weight for character reference letters submitted by 12 individuals who did not represent a range in the legal and general communities.
State Bar #326866, Simi Valley (August 13, 2023)
Tavakoli was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to violating an earlier disciplinary order by failing to timely file an affidavit of compliance as required (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
When he failed to respond to the Office of Probation's reminder and non-compliance letters, the matter was referred to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel; representatives there were unable to communicate with Tavakoli, who had left the country to attend to his ailing father. Upon returning to the U.S., he filed a compliant affidavit--nearly three months after its due date.
In mitigation, Tavakoli entered into a prefiling stipulation, showed remorse and recognition of his wrongdoing by filing a compliant albeit late declaration before disciplinary proceedings were initiated, provided 16 character reference letters written by individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities, and did no harm to any clients, the public, or the administration of justice. He was also allotted mitigating weight for experiencing extreme emotional difficulties during the time of his misconduct as documented by credible outside evidence.
Lawrence Holden Davis
State Bar #119677, Porter Ranch (August 26, 2023)
Davis was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to commingling client and personal funds in his client trust account and failing to maintain proper records of that account. The evidence showed that over a period of nearly six months, Davis made 27 deposits of earned fees into the account and failed to maintain a written ledger or to make monthly reconciliations of client funds held in it during that time.
In aggravation, Davis committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 36 years, presented letters from 13 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities attesting to his good character, and caused no harm to clients through his misconduct. In addition, Davis was allotted mitigating weight for promptly taking remedial measures in the matter--including completing the State Bar's Client Trust Accounting School.
State Bar #270268, Los Angeles (August 26, 2023)
Gladkov was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct related to two distinct client matters.
He was culpable of: failing to perform legal services with competence, disobeying a court order, improperly terminating his representation, and terminating his representation without taking steps to protect his client from reasonably foreseeable prejudice, as well as two counts each of failing to act with reasonable diligence in his representation and failing to keep his clients reasonably informed of significant case developments.
In one case, Gladkov represented a client in an action related to an auto accident. After settlement negotiations were unsuccessful, he filed a civil case on the client's behalf, but failed to timely inform her of the default entered against the defendant--nor did he inform her of numerous court orders in the case. Gladkov then failed to respond to or oppose the default, failed to appear at hearings and at a trial setting conference, failed to prevent the case from being dismissed for lack of prosecution, and failed to have the dismissal ultimately entered in the case set aside or vacated.
In the second client matter, Gladkov represented a client injured in a motor vehicle accident; the client's insurance had been canceled, limiting his recovery options. After no settlement offers were received, Gladkov filed a civil action in the case, but failed to respond to opposing counsel's discovery requests, or to several motions to compel--and failed to inform the client of the motions. In addition, he failed to appear at a hearing and case management conference in the case, or to take any action to prevent the case from being dismissed for lack of prosecution. Gladkov filed a case management statement but sent an appearance attorney to appear in his place--effectively terminating his representation at that point. After the case was dismissed, he failed to act to have the dismissal set aside or vacated.
In aggravation, Gladkov committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients, whose cases were dismissed.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, submitted letters from five individuals who attested to his good character and pro bono service, and took steps to resolve his wrongdoing--albeit after the State Bar investigation was initiated. He was also allotted slight mitigating credit for having practiced law for eight years without a record of discipline.
Robert Adair Graham, Jr.
State Bar #76588, Medford, Oregon (August 26, 2023)
Graham was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing several acts of professional misconduct in another jurisdiction; he was then suspended from practicing law for one year there.
The California State Bar Court found that the disciplinary proceeding held in the other jurisdiction provided Graham with fundamental constitutional protection, and that his misconduct there also warranted imposing discipline in California.
The underlying misconduct involved three separate client matters.
In one, Graham represented a client in a breach of contract and corporate matters until a dispute arose between them. He informed her he was withdrawing from representation, but did not inform the court, nor did he inform the client of subsequent case developments--most notably, an order requiring her to pay a portion of an arbitrator's fee; she was subsequently precluded from participating in the arbitration, and ultimately required to pay more than $47,700 in damages.
In the second case, Graham represented a client in a breach of contract matter, but failed to appear at a pretrial conference and deposition in the matter. He appealed the judgment entered against his client, but failed to pay the required filing fee, settlement conference statement, or to timely file an opening brief or response to the motion to dismiss. Additional filings he made in the case were deemed by the court to be "severely deficient."
And in the third case, Graham represented a client in various business matters, including a license renewal and restructure. The related forms Graham filed were deemed deficient, and he delayed in returning the files to the client, who undertook correcting the pleading deficiencies on his own.
In aggravation, Graham committed multiple acts of misconduct and harmed a client by causing her to suffer an adverse award in damages.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law approximately 41 years without a record of discipline, and presented evidence backed by an expert that he had suffered from extreme emotional difficulties during the time of the misconduct, as well as evidence of performing substantial community service.--Barbara Kate Repa