Feb. 1, 2024
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Eyad Yaser Abdeljawad
State Bar #308427, Chino (January 19, 2024)
Abdeljawad was disbarred after the State Bar Court panel on appeal affirmed the hearing judge's recommendation of imposing a disbarment order.
In both forums, he was found culpable of 17 counts of professional misconduct. The initial notice of disciplinary charges alleged 42 counts related to eight separate matters. The parties stipulated to having the trial of the matter proceed in two phases--with the first phase addressing four of the eight matters covering 21 counts. The stipulation specified that a second phase, if necessary, would address the remaining counts and matters charged.
Abdeljawad's wrongdoing, as adjudicated in this first phase, included one count of failing to promptly release a client's file upon termination of his representation; three counts of failing to deposit client funds in a trust account; and four counts of breaching his fiduciary duty to clients. An additional nine counts involved moral turpitude: three charged that he misappropriated client funds, and six that he made material misrepresentations to his clients and to the State Bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC).
Abdeljawad, a sole practitioner, shared office space with two individuals--a non-attorney and a disbarred attorney--who operated a fund collection firm and a legal processing business in their workspace. There was testimony at trial that the relationship among them was as advisors and "business partners and good friends."
In the first matter, a client hired the fund collection firm to assist after a foreclosure of a residence in an estate, and also executed a document appointing Abdeljawad as her attorney with the authority to "do all things" on her behalf to secure some surplus funds in the estate. The client's agreement with the collection firm specified that the funds were to be deposited into an IOLTA account, though none existed.
After he prepared and filed a petition for letter of administration on her behalf, as well as an order for probate, Abdeljawad received a check in the requested amount of $1,487,688.10 made out to the client "c/o" the collection firm; he gave it to the firm, which deposited it into its business checking account. The client was not informed or asked to endorse the check. The checking account was substantially depleted the next day.
Nearly five months later, the firm notified the client that the check had arrived--falsely stating that the funds had just been received and were being held "for the purposes of clearing." The client and Abdeljawad subsequently exchanged emails--with her demanding the full amount due, as well as an accounting. Abdeljawad falsely stated he was informed by the bank that it placed "daily limits" on releasing the funds. He demurred that he had been retained only to obtain the letters of administration, and also informed the client (the decedent's sister) that half the amount received would be deposited with the court, as potentially payable to the decedent's widow. In addition, he subsequently told an OCTC investigator that the client had stated she would not pay other estate beneficiaries, which was a falsehood. He also falsely claimed that half the funds had been set aside for the decedent's widow and that the client had directed the firm to pay the widow directly.
In the second matter, a client seeking help with a foreclosure contacted Abdeljawad's office. She was not fluent in English, and the fee agreement in the case was finalized through Abdeljawad's Spanish-speaking assistant. It stated that recovered funds would be placed in an IOLTA trust account, though Abdeljawad did not have one, nor did he maintain a client trust account.
Abdeljawad received the check for $167,980.34 from the foreclosure trustee, but did not inform the client; it was deposited into the fund collection firm's business account, which was overdrawn the next week. The client subsequently executed an assignment agreement with the legal processing business operating in Abdeljawad's office which specified a 30% contingency fee, though the assignment was not explained to the client, nor did she receive a copy of the agreement in Spanish. She believed the fee was 10%. Abdeljawad sent the client a "final disbursement check" in the amount of $110,000, which the bank returned as unpaid. The amount was less than the amount she was owed, even if a 30% contingency fee was deducted. He falsely told OCTC investigators that the trustee released the funds directly to the client.
In the third matter, Abdeljawad was again involved in an arrangement in which the fund collection firm executed an agreement with a client entitling it to 30% of funds recovered related to a foreclosure sale; it specified the funds would be deposited in an IOLTA account. The client also signed a form designating Abdeljawad as his attorney. The funds eventually received were again deposited in the firm's checking account, which was depleted a few months later. Abdeljawad failed to promptly release the client's file after being requested to do so.
And in the final matter, Abdeljawad was retained by a client seeking to renew a restraining order against her ex-husband. He planned to call the individual who had been the process server for two prior orders that had expired to testify at the renewal hearing. At a meeting held beforehand, the client admitted to Abdeljawad and the process server that she had forged the server's name on one of the prior proofs of service. The meeting had been recorded with the knowledge of all three who attended. In a subsequent investigation, Abdeljawad made six false statements to the OCTC, claiming that he did not know of any problems with the proof of service.
In aggravation, Abdeljawad committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that "encompassed both bad faith and dishonesty," refused to account for entrusted funds, demonstrated indifference toward rectifying or atoning for the consequences of his misconduct, showed a lack of candor and cooperation during the investigation and trial of the present case, and caused significant harm to the clients involved.
In mitigation, he was allotted limited weight for stipulating to easily provable facts and for character testimony from seven individuals--several of whom were not familiar with the misconduct alleged.--Barbara Kate Repa