Nov. 30, 2023
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Joseph Francis Keenan
State Bar #181712, Pleasanton (October 15, 2023)
Keenan was disbarred by default following his conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(a)).
In the underlying incident, highway patrol officers were alerted to a car swerving and nearly colliding with several other vehicles. Keenan was the driver, and he was unable to perform the field sobriety tests administered at the scene after he was pulled over. Later breath samples indicated a blood alcohol content of .13% and .12%. A DMV driver's inquiry revealed Keenan was on probation for an earlier violation that also involved driving under the influence.
After his conviction became final, the matter was referred to the State Bar's Hearing Department for a determination of whether discipline should be imposed. Keenan did not take part in any of the proceedings--though he did acknowledge in a phone call with the Office of Chief Trial Counsel that he was aware of the proceeding and was contemplating resigning from the practice of law.
The State Bar Court found that the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation did not involve moral turpitude, but did constitute other misconduct warranting professional discipline. It also determined that all procedural and substantive factors had been satisfied in the case: proper service, actual notice, proper entry of a default--and a satisfactory factual basis for imposing discipline.
Raymond Joseph Liddy
State Bar #171343, Coronado (October 15, 2023)
Liddy was summarily disbarred after being convicted in a bench trial of possessing images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct (18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B). He had ultimately appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied certiorari, and the conviction became final.
The offense is a felony that involves moral turpitude per se.
Michael Ralph McCabe
State Bar #120644, Redding (October 15, 2023)
McCabe was disbarred by default after he failed to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing he was alleged to have committed.
The State Bar Court found that all procedural requirements--including adequate notice and service--had been met in the case, and that McCabe did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
In addition to failing to cooperate with the State Bar, he was found culpable of an additional nine counts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to obey a court order, failing to return clients' papers and property following his constructive termination, failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to inform clients of significant case developments, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to notify the State Bar of his address change within 30 days as required, and terminating his employment without taking steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to his clients.
Daniel Brett Smith
State Bar #205928, San Juan Capistrano (October 15, 2023)
Smith was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person of through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with two alcohol-related offenses: driving a car while under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(a)) and driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code 23152(b)).
The State Bar Court determined that all procedural requirements had been satisfied--including proper service, reasonable diligence in notifying Smith of the proceedings, proper entry of a default order, and a satisfactory basis for discipline.
Smith did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated--and the statement of facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction were then deemed admitted.
Those facts showed that Smith side-swiped a car while driving his own vehicle, then sped away. The woman whose car was damaged was able to provide investigating officers with a license plate number of the offending car. Within 30 minutes, the officers also received a call about an individual harassing people at a nearby restaurant. There, they found Smith, who was standing next to his car, and they noted the damage on it. Smith denied being involved in the accident and claimed he had walked to the area. He refused to take a preliminary alcohol screening test, but a later blood test, secured after a warrant was issued, revealed a blood alcohol content of .14%. A records check revealed Smith's driver's license had been suspended or revoked.
The State Bar Court found that moral turpitude was involved in the offense at issue, based on "Smith's fleeing the scene following a traffic collision, his refusal to comply with the implied consent law, the elevated blood alcohol level of .14%, and the lies he told to law enforcement."
At the time Smith was disbarred, there was one additional disciplinary matter pending against him.
Bruce Allan Boice
State Bar #249296, Orange (October 15, 2023)
Boice was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct related to two separate matters.
His wrongdoing included six counts of failing to obey court orders and two counts of failing to report court-ordered sanctions imposed against him to the State Bar as required.
Boice represented debtors in bankruptcy actions. In the course of his representation, the court issued a number of rulings--including orders to provide a cost/benefit analysis, a proposed order, a responsive declaration, a statement addressing his failure to appear at a hearing, and a response to requests for production of documents. When he failed to comply with these orders, Boice was sanctioned several times, for a total of $8,518. He failed to timely comply with one of the sanctions orders--and did not report any of the orders to the State Bar as required.
In aggravation, Boice committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 12 years, and provided eight letters written by former clients and members of the legal community--all of whom attested to his good character, as well as evidence of performing substantial community and pro bono services.
Alfred Mills Cook
State Bar #79905, Sacramento (October 15, 2023)
Cook was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and to intentionally practicing law while on inactive status--misconduct involving moral turpitude.
Cook was placed on inactive status after he failed to comply with the education, reporting, and payment conditions related to the State Bar's Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements. Despite receiving notice of his need to comply and of being placed on inactive status, however, Cook continued to practice law--appearing on behalf of numerous clients in traffic court and at arraignments and trials in superior court. At some point, a court clerk noted Cook's inactive status--and he was asked to leave the courtroom to address the issue. A few days later, another judge reiterated that Cook was listed as inactive on his online State Bar profile. Later that day, however, he appeared in trials for numerous clients.
Several days after that, Cook completed and reported his MCLE compliance, and was enrolled again in active status.
In aggravation, Cook committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 44 years before the misconduct at issue.
State Bar #29164, Los Angeles (October 15, 2023)
Deitch was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.
He was culpable of accepting compensation from a third party without securing the client's written consent, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to promptly release a client's file after being requested to do so, failing to refund unearned fees paid, and failing to deposit client fees into a trust account as required.
In the underlying matter, Deitch was retained to represent an incarcerated client in a habeas corpus proceeding. He received $1,000--a partial payment of the flat fee charged--from the client's friend, and deposited it into his personal bank account. Deitch did not receive a prior written consent from the client about the fee arrangement as required; the client later reimbursed his friend for the amount paid.
About six months after he had been retained, Deitch still had not filed a habeas corpus motion on behalf of the client, nor did he provide any work product from the case. The client terminated Deitch's services and requested a refund of the partial fee paid; Deitch failed to do so.
In aggravation, Deitch had four prior records of discipline, and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant matter, which involved a client who was highly vulnerable due to his incarcerated status.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted evidence that his wife, who was also his sole legal assistant, suffered from serious health problems during the time of the misconduct, which contributed to Deitch's delays in handling the present matter.
Adam Seth Dubin
State Bar #320576, Newport Beach (October 20, 2023)
Dubin was suspended from the practice of law for 15 months and placed on probation for two years. Both the State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel and Dubin appealed the hearing judge's earlier decision recommended 18 months of actual suspension. The State Bar Court panel found two of the counts charged did not involve moral turpitude, contrary to the finding below--and also allotted more mitigation and less aggravation than the hearing judge found.
Dubin had been arrested three times in a little more than a year, which resulted in 10 misdemeanor convictions. The three arrest matters were consolidated for trial.
Dubin's convictions included one count of spousal battery (Cal. Penal Code § 243(e)(1)--an offense found to involve moral turpitude. The other two arrests involved incidents related to driving. In one of them, Dubin pled guilty to a hit and run vehicle accident with injury (Cal. Veh. Code § 20001(a)), a hit and run with property damage (Cal. Veh. Code 20002(a)), reckless driving (Cal. Veh. Code § 23103(a)), and reckless driving involving bodily injury (Cal. Veh. Code 23104(a)). In the other, he pled guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152 (a)), driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(b)), driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(g)), driving under the influence of drugs (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(f)), and possession of a controlled substance--cocaine (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11350(a)).
Relevant facts in the domestic violence matter: After work one afternoon, Dubin went to a bar, where he drank for an hour, then used cocaine. When he arrived home, he and his wife of four months began to quarrel and discuss divorcing. At some point, Dubin threw his wife onto the floor, choked her, and threatened to kill her. She was able to escape and phone police, and after relating additional former incidents of physical abuse, she was granted an emergency protective order against Dubin Sheriff deputies located Dubin a few hours later at his mother's house; he denied that he had seen or spoken with his wife that day. After he pled guilty to committing spousal battery, he was sentenced to 60 days in the county jail.
In the hit and run incident, which occurred approximately seven months later, Dubin went to a bar with a neighbor, where he had three double scotch drinks. He then attempted to drive home, hitting and damaging three parked cars as well as his own vehicle. He then left the scene--leaving his injured neighbor there. The next day, he went to the neighbor's apartment and told her he was concerned that the incident might affect his career--suggesting that "somebody else could have been driving" the car during the accident.
About five months later, Dubin was arrested after causing a collision with another car while turning at an intersection. He told police at the scene that he had not been drinking, but had taken some anti-depressant medication earlier; they found cocaine on his person during a search. He was sentenced to 60 days in county jail after pleading guilty to five misdemeanor violations related to the incident.
There was testimony at trial from the director of an in-patient rehabilitation facility where Dubin had received treatment, as well as his treating psychologist--both of whom stated they believed he was committed to recover and at a low risk for relapsing into addiction.
In aggravation, Dubin committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and caused substantial physical and emotional harm to his wife by assaulting her.
In mitigation, he demonstrated cooperation by entering into a detailed stipulation as to facts and admission of documents, offered evidence of his good character through five witnesses who testified at trial and eight reference letters from individuals representing a range in the legal and general communities, expressed remorse for his misconduct, and was also allotted moderate mitigating weight for his rehabilitation efforts.
Timothy Joseph Grant
State Bar #122593, San Diego (October 15, 2023)
Grant was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year--that discipline recommended after he had successfully completed the State Bar's Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).
Grant had earlier entered a plea of guilty to the charge of assault with a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1)) with an enhancement for committing a "serious felony" involving use of a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 1192.7(c)(23)). Grant stipulated that the facts and circumstances surrounding the offense involved misconduct warranting discipline.
The underlying incident involved an altercation at a car wash. As Grant was exiting the car wash he stopped to send a text on his cellphone, prompting the customer waiting behind him in line to honk his car horn--and then leave his car to confront Grant. The two argued. Grant then got out of his car with a metal steering wheel locking device in hand--chasing and striking the other customer several times with the locking device in the arm, shoulder, and head. The man was treated for his injuries at a nearby hospital.
The State Bar Court determined the violation did not involve moral turpitude. In initial proceedings, the court allotted mitigating weight to Grant for having practiced law approximately 33 years without a record of discipline, in addition to some credit for good character references--most of whom were taken from the legal community rather than including people from the general population, and for evidence of performing volunteer community service.
After his conviction became final, Grant requested referral to the ADP program and was accepted into it upon proof of establishing a nexus between his psychological issues and the instant misconduct. His successful completion of the program was considered as an additional mitigating circumstance.
Seong Hwan Kim
State Bar #166604, San Diego (October 15, 2023)
Kim was suspended for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to earlier pleading no contest to several misdemeanor violations: spousal abuse causing injury (Cal. Penal Code § 273.5), assault with a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code § 245(a)(1)), animal abuse (Cal. Penal Code § 597(a)), and two counts of child abuse (Cal. Penal Code § 273a(b)).
After a four-day trial, the hearing judge below found the criminal convictions involved moral turpitude--and recommended discipline that included 60 days of actual suspension. Both sides appealed, resulting in the more stringent discipline recommended here.
The convictions at issue stemmed from a verbal argument that escalated into a physical altercation between Kim and his wife. As their quarrel continued, Kim, who was under the influence of alcohol, verbally berated his wife for four hours, He then grabbed her and forcibly pinned her down on a couch with his full body weight (the basis of the deadly weapon charge), causing scratches and other injuries to her body. During that time, he also threatened the family dog. The couple's two children, ages 12 and 9, witnessed the incident--and the older child hid in a closet while summoning the police to the scene.
In aggravation, Kim committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and harmed highly vulnerable victims: his wife, two children, and the family dog.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation prior to the remand trial, had practiced law 25 years without a record of discipline, and presented live testimony from four witnesses and declarations from 12 additional witnesses who vouched for his good character, as well as evidence of engaging in pro bono service for the legal community.
Brian David Mabee
State Bar #235840, Costa Mesa (October 15, 2023)
Mabee was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct--all of them related to a single matter involving clients who were a married couple pursuing a breach of contract claim.
Mabee was culpable of failing to provide legal service with competence, failing to act with reasonable diligence in representing a client, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to promptly account for advance fees paid, failing to promptly return the client's papers and property after being requested to do so, failing to inform the clients of significant case developments, and making a false representation to the clients--an act involving moral turpitude. He also failed to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged in the case.
Mabee represented the buyers in a breach of contract claim involving the construction and sale of real property they purchased. After reviewing documents related to the matter, Mabee drafted a demand letter and two versions of a complaint. He then requested a $5,000 retainer "to get through discovery;" there was no written fee agreement in the case. About one year later, Mabee falsely represented to the clients that he had filed a complaint on their behalf, requesting an additional $5,000 "to complete the case."
The clients paid, but after Mabee failed to respond to queries about the case, they hired new counsel. The new attorney requested a refund of the $10,000 the clients had paid, as well as their files in the case and an accounting of any work performed. Mabee did not respond, nor did he respond to the State Bar's subsequent inquiries about the wrongdoing alleged in the matter.
In aggravation, Mabee committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 14 years without a record of discipline, submitted letters from eight witnesses who had known him for many years and attested to his good character, and presented evidence of performing a substantial amount of pro bono legal work.
Kathleen Anne Moreno
State Bar #106062, Long Beach (October 20, 2023)
Moreno was suspended from practicing law for one year after the State Bar Court found she had violated various conditions imposed in an earlier probation order. It then recommended that her probation should be revoked and that the entire period of suspension, which had previously been stayed, should be imposed.
The earlier disciplinary order had imposed 30 days of actual suspension, as well as one year of probation subject to a number of conditions--including scheduling an initial meeting with her assigned probation case coordinator, submitting quarterly written reports, and submitting a declaration attesting to her compliance with the report-writing requirement.
Moreno initially contacted the Office of Probation, requesting a delay in imposing the suspension and explaining that her delay in complying with the disciplinary conditions was because she "had been ill and dealing with a lot of stressful events." The Office of Probation stressed that it did not have authority to modify probation conditions--and that such requests must be filed with the State Bar Court. And despite receiving courtesy reminders from the Office of Probation, Moreno failed to comply with any of the conditions imposed in the earlier disciplinary order.
In aggravation, Moreno had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct, showing indifference toward rectifying her wrongdoing, and demonstrated a lack of cooperation by failing to participate in the instant proceeding.
Richard Helmut Bambl
State Bar #244333, Visalia (October 15, 2023)
Bambl was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Specifically, he failed to file a quarterly written report with the Office of Probation by its due date, failed to submit a declaration attesting that he had read the California Rules of Professional Conduct and sections of the Business and Professions Code as directed, and failed to submit evidence of taking and passing the State Bar's Ethics School and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
In aggravation, Bambl had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant matter.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted evidence of experiencing serious health issues that prevented him from complying with several of the conditions imposed in the disciplinary order.
Dimitrios Peter Biller
State Bar #142730, Albuquerque, New Mexico (October 27, 2023)
Biller was placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of two counts of improperly communicating with a represented party.
In the underlying matter, Biller represented a client in three separate but related actions related to her business. He acted as successor counsel in a state court lawsuit and a bankruptcy proceeding and in a later federal court lawsuit.
The initial complaint alleged various causes of action naming several defendants, including the chief operating officer (COO) of the company that had acquired the client's business. (The client became a minority shareholder in the acquired company and signed an employment contract, agreeing to work there in various capacities.) All defendants in the action were represented by a single attorney, who subsequently filed a cross-complaint alleging various unfair business practices as well as copyright infringement. A related bankruptcy action was also filed, and though the COO was not a party to that matter, she was represented by counsel to the extent that she had an interest in it.
Shortly after substituting in as counsel, Biller contacted the defendants' attorney, providing notice that he intended to file a complaint in federal court seeking damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, as well as injunctive relief. He also advised he would be detailing the claims in the bankruptcy action. In his communications, Biller asked counsel to inform the defendant clients of the actions he intended to take.
Biller initially sent an email message directly to one of the defendants and some other individuals, copying in the counsel with whom he had communicated earlier, but asking for contact information of any attorneys representing them. The next day, he filed a complaint in federal court alleging RICO violations in addition to other claims. He followed up with e-mail messages to the defendants, urging settlement and attaching a status report he intended to file; their counsel was not included in the e-mail circulations.
The evidence showed that Biller sent a total of 22 communications with the represented defendants over a two-year period about the underlying court actions. And the State Bar Court found proof that he had actual knowledge of the continuous representation, also concluding that counsel did not consent to the communications with his client.
In aggravation, Biller committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he had practiced law without a record of discipline since his admission to the bar in 1989, but the court limited the mitigating weight due to Biller's lack of insight into his misconduct, which it found signaled a failure to establish that it would not be repeated.--Barbara Kate Repa