State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California August2005
Top Headlines
Opinion
MCLE Self-Study
Interim Suspension, Resignations, Public Reprovals and Charges Pending
Ethics Byte
Feature
You Need to Know
Trials Digest
Contact CBJ
PastIssues

Caution! Almost 180,000 attorneys are eligible to practice law in California. Many attorneys share the same names. All discipline reports are taken from State Bar Court documents and should be read carefully for names, ages, addresses and bar numbers. Read the Discipline Key for an explanation of the different levels of disciplinary action. Use Attorney Search to check an attorney's official bar membership record.

DISBARMENTS

SUSPENSION/PROBATION

DISBARMENTS

SUSAN M. ST. AMOUR [#156657], 53, of Berkeley was disbarred March 6, 2005, and was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that St. Amour committed misconduct involving six clients. She abandoned five clients without telling them she was withdrawing from their cases, misappropriated funds from one client and failed to refund fees to four clients. Two were forced to hire new lawyers.

St. Amour also failed to perform legal services competently or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and the court found that her habitual disregard of her clients’ interest amounted to moral turpitude.

In every case but one, she was hired to set up a special needs trust for a client or a client’s family member. She created only one, and although she provided another lawyer with the necessary trust documents, she abandoned her law office without advising the other lawyer about the distribution of settlement proceeds. She never completed the documents necessary to finalize the trust.

In other cases, St. Amour did not create the trust, return her clients’ files or refund their unearned fees. In one matter, a client’s lawyer gave St. Amour a $27,000 settlement fund. She provided checks to the client written against her business account but misappropriated at least $7,000.


MICHAEL EDWARD O’KEEFE [#51267], 62, of Los Angeles was disbarred March 6, 2005, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that O’Keefe did not comply with rule 955, as ordered in a 2003 discipline. He did not submit to the Supreme Court an affidavit stating that he notified his clients and other pertinent parties of his suspension from practice.

In the underlying discipline, also a default matter, the court found that O’Keefe practiced law while suspended for failing to pay bar dues, committed an act of moral turpitude and he failed to return unearned fees or account for client funds.

He was suspended for about six weeks in 2001 for failing to pay bar dues. During that time, he agreed to represent a client in a partnership lawsuit and accepted a $5,000 advance fee. When the client later terminated the employment, O’Keefe returned his file but did not refund any money. He did not respond to inquiries from the bar.

Prior to 2003, O’Keefe practiced for 29 years without a record of discipline.


JOHN WILLIAM O’DONNELL [#52673], 67, of Los Angeles was summarily disbarred April 17, 2005, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

O’Donnell was convicted in 2004 of grand theft. The conviction meets the criteria for summary disbarment because the crime was a felony that involved moral turpitude.


JOHN J. REINER [#77867], 57, of Los Angeles was summarily disbarred April 24, 2005, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

In 2001, Reiner was convicted of two counts of attempted extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. Both are felonies that involve moral turpitude.

The convictions stemmed from Reiner's effort to extort $310,000 from attorney Edward Masry and Erin Brockovich by threatening that unless paid for their silence, two individuals would go to the media and claim that Masry and Brockovich had a sexual relationship and that Brockovich was a bad mother.


SUSPENSION/PROBATION

JOHN J. NESE [#62264], 55, of Los Angeles was suspended for 30 days, stayed, placed on 18 months of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE in one year. The order took effect March 6, 2005.

Nese stipulated that he improperly shared fees with a non-lawyer and misused his client trust account.

Nese primarily practices dependency law, but a small percentage of his practice is devoted to personal injury. He occasionally used the services of an Armenian-speaking paralegal, who referred several clients to him over many years. Nese used the paralegal in some of the cases and compensated him with a percentage of the fees he earned after the cases settled.

He also did not maintain a general office bank account but instead used his client trust account and routinely commingled personal and client trust funds.

In mitigation, Nese has no prior discipline record, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation, acted in good faith and presented testimony about his good character. No clients were harmed by his actions.


ERIC J. HOLT [#176153], 44, of Valencia was suspended for two years, stayed, actually suspended for six months and until he makes restitution and the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension, and he was ordered to comply with rule 955. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect March 6, 2005.

In a default matter, the bar court found that Holt violated probation conditions attached to a 2003 private reproval and in one case, he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with a client or cooperate with the bar’s investigation.

He represented a client in a fraud action against the sellers in a real estate matter. Holt demanded $8,500 in damages but when the sellers did not respond, he took no further action and the statute of limitations expired. He did not respond to his clients’ inquiries for three years.

In 2003, he was privately reproved and ordered to make restitution to a client, but he did not do so.

Holt also was privately reproved in 2002 for failing to perform legal services competently.


ROBERT MICHAEL WILLIAMS [#69540], 59, of Stockton was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within a year. The order took effect March 18, 2005.

The State Bar Court review department rejected an appeal by Williams and upheld a hearing judge’s findings that he failed to perform legal services competently, notify a client of his receipt of funds and respond to client inquiries.

Williams’ misconduct involved two clients.

The first hired him to help her secure her interest in her ex-husband’s retirement account. Williams agreed to prepare a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, but because he did not know how, he assigned the task to his secretary, who had taken a QDRO class. The QDRO was returned by the court because it was incomplete; Williams never filed a completed document.

Nine months later, the client wrote to Williams, told him she had called his secretary weekly and said it had been a year since she’d spoken to Williams. Several months after that, she told Williams she had serious money problems and inquired about a county retirement plan.

Two months later, she asked for a refund of her fee and the return of her file.

In the second matter, a personal injury client rejected a settlement offer of $43,000 and insisted on going to trial. Williams explained in detail that the client would be responsible for costs if she did not receive more than the settlement offer at trial. The jury awarded the client $25,000.

During the following month, the client called Williams at least 15 times, but he did not speak to her personally. Shortly after he received a settlement check, Williams was in an automobile accident and admitted he did not instruct his office staff to notify the client that he had received a settlement check.

The client later fired Williams and learned he had received settlement money. The opposing attorney issued a new check. The record is not clear whether Williams submitted his bill for fees and costs, nor is there any evidence the client paid any fees.

Neither the hearing judge nor the review department found any mitigation.

Williams was disciplined in 1995 for misconduct in seven client matters, including failure to perform legal services competently, deposit client funds in a trust account, promptly pay out client funds, communicate with a client, maintain respect for the courts or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he withdrew from representation without protecting his client’s interests.


DONNALEE H. HUFFMAN [#60021], 73, of Bakersfield was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to prove her rehabilitation and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

Huffman stipulated that she committed moral turpitude in one case and failed to perform legal services competently in another.

In the first, she worked for a non-profit law firm that handles special education issues and represented a mother who was seeking special accommodations for her child. Huffman prevailed at a due process hearing and was awarded fees and costs. When the school district failed to pay the fees and costs, Huff-man won a federal court order that the district pay.

Although the district paid the mother, it did not provide the agreed upon accommodations. The mother pursued another due process hearing and again Huffman prevailed. The school district paid $20,840 for attorney fees and costs to Huffman, who turned the money over to the mother without notifying the law firm. The money allowed the mother to recoup some of the costs of private education for her child, pending completion of the second due process hearing.

Huffman’s failure to notify the law firm of the monetary award constituted gross negligence, since the firm had a claim to the fees.

In the second matter, Huffman was hired to prepare a limited conservatorship for a client’s disabled child and received a retainer fee of $1,001.50. She never completed the paperwork.

In mitigation, Huffman has no prior record of discipline.


RICHARD WONG [#192970], 34, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

Wong stipulated to five counts of misconduct in a personal injury matter he handled on a contingency fee basis. Wong deposited two settlement checks in his business account rather than his client trust account, and he did not notify his clients about his receipt of funds or distribute the money promptly. He then closed his office and didn’t respond to the clients’ phone calls.

Wong misappropriated $6,000 from the clients, an act of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, he was under severe financial stress and had family problems at the time of the misconduct.


SCOTT ALAN SMITH [#182359], 48, of Fullerton was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year, comply with rule 955 and prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

Smith stipulated to misconduct in four cases, all stemming from his repeated issuance of checks against insufficient funds in his client trust account and using the account to pay personal and business expenses.

In mitigation, Smith suffers from depression. No clients were harmed by his misconduct, he demonstrated remorse and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.


JAMES DARYL WHITE [#73139], 55, of New Orleans was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

White stipulated that he did not comply with rule 955, as required in a 2004 disciplinary order. He did not submit to the Supreme Court an affidavit stating that he had notified his clients and all pertinent parties of his suspension from practice.

In the underlying case, White stipulated to misconduct in two cases, both involving his client trust account. He admitted that he misused the account and that he practiced law while on inactive status.

White previously was disciplined for a felony drug possession conviction.


CHARLES THOMPSON HINDLEY [#55738], 80, of Colton was suspended for six months and was placed on probation for one year. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

Hindley has not complied with probation conditions attached to a 2001 disciplinary order — he did not file quarterly probation reports on time, take the MPRE or keep his address with the State Bar current.

The discipline was the result of a 1999 conviction for one count of receiving stolen property. Unidentified individuals stole trash and other discarded papers belonging to a law firm engaged in civil cases with one of Hindley’s clients.

The items were given to Hindley’s client, who stored them in plastic bags in a space in Hindley’s office. There was no indication Hindley knew of the burglary, although he helped the client move the bags from one location to another.

In mitigation, he had no record of discipline before the conviction and has since been in ill health following open-heart surgery.


WILLIAM BARTLEY ANDERSON [#53070], 58, of Los Gatos was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 60-day suspension, and an earlier probation was revoked and he was actually suspended for 60 days. The suspensions will run concurrently.

Anderson was placed on probation in 2003 for practicing law while suspended for failing to comply with MCLE requirements. He was not aware of the suspension because his address was at a Mailboxes, Etc., location. He did not comply with probation conditions — he failed to file one quarterly report, filed two reports late and did not attend ethics school.

In the new case, Anderson was disbarred from the Ninth District Court of Appeals because he did not respond to an order to show cause regarding a letter written to the court by a client.


RICHARD EVAN GRABER [#137987], 43, of San Diego was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation and take the MPRE. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

Graber was convicted in 2003 of his fourth and fifth DUIs. In the first case, his blood alcohol level was .33 percent; 13 days after that conviction, he was arrested for drunk driving after hitting three parked cars. The court declared him a habitual offender and ordered him to complete a one-year residential program in a sober living home.

Graber previously was convicted twice in the 1980s and given a public reproval by the State Bar, and in 1997 he was convicted a third time.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.


LAWRENCE FRANKLIN HILTON [#35978], 69, of Santa Barbara was suspended for 90 days, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect March 19, 2005.

Hilton stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently in a personal injury case and he withdrew from representation without protecting his client’s interests.

Although he filed a complaint in court, he failed to properly serve the defendant. He appeared at an order to show cause hearing concerning his failure to provide proof of service, but he missed a second hearing and the court dismissed the case.

He stopped working on the case but did not tell his client he had withdrawn.

Hilton was publicly reproved in 2002 for failing to perform legal services competently, return client phone calls, pay court-ordered sanctions or cooperate with the bar’s investigation.

In mitigation, he suffered from emotional or physical problems at the time of the misconduct.


WILLIAM RAY HAWES [#45313], 61, of Redding was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect March 26, 2005.

Hawes represented a criminal defendant in a two-count felony trial. After he was convicted, the client hired a new lawyer and appealed his conviction on the grounds that Hawes abandoned him. The judge ruled that Hawes failed to call certain defense witnesses, conducted inadequate cross-examination of prosecution witnesses and delivered an overly brief closing argument.

The client received an unusually lenient plea offer, according to Hawes’ stipulation, in which he admitted he failed to perform legal services competently.

He also was sanctioned 18 times by the Shasta County court over a one-year period. Because none of the sanctions exceeded $250, they were not reported to the State Bar. Cumulatively, however, they totaled $2,750.

In mitigation, Hawes suffers from adult onset diabetes and bipolar disorder.

Hawes was disciplined in 1990 for failing to maintain respect for the court, perform legal services competently or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he withdrew from representation without protecting his client’s interests. He received a one-year suspension.


STEVEN B. EGGLESTON [#105111], 53, of Los Angeles was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with an actual two-year suspension and was ordered to make restitution, prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect March 26, 2005.

Eggleston stipulated that he failed to deposit client funds in a client trust account or promptly pay out client funds and he committed an act of moral turpitude by misappropriating more than $22,000 in client funds.

He settled a personal injury case for $37,500 and deposited the funds in his trust account, but over a two-month period he transferred almost all the money into his personal bank account. His law firm eventually paid the client what she was owed.

In mitigation, Eggleston has no record of discipline since his 1982 admission to the bar.


ALAN WESLEY CURTIS [#56827], 61, of Newport Beach was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 120-day actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 955. The order took effect March 26, 2005.

Curtis practiced law while he was suspended in 1999. He prepared and mailed a written objection to his client’s deposition the day before his suspension was to take effect, knowing that opposing counsel would not receive it until Curtis was not entitled to practice law. He had a conference with the opposing counsel while he was suspended and did not take any steps to substitute out of the case or have another attorney substitute in to oppose a motion to compel his client’s deposition. The motion resulted in sanctions against Curtis and his client.

In 2002, Curtis was convicted of conspiracy to evade currency reporting as part of a scam to hide money from the IRS. He accepted $310,000 from a partner and utilized the money to engage in business transactions on the partner’s behalf. The transactions were for less than $10,000 in order to evade an IRS requirement that transactions of more than $10,000 be reported by filing currency transaction reports (CTRs).

Curtis also was disciplined in 1995 and 1998.

In mitigation, he did not accept any money for the case he handled while suspended and he paid the sanctions.


CHARLES WILLIAM BRODIE [#35411], 66, of Redwood City was suspended for four years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with a two-year actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect March 26, 2005.

Brodie pleaded guilty in 2001 to misdemeanor DUI and driving under the influence and causing injury to another, and admitted a prior DUI conviction. He was referred to and accepted into the State Bar Court’s alternative discipline program, and agreed that if he did not complete the program he would be subject to a higher level of discipline.

He was terminated from the program because he refused to comply with treatment conditions that he considered unreasonable.

Brodie has been disciplined three times previously, in 1992, 1997 and 1998. All were the result of convictions relating to drug abuse or alcoholism.


ROLANDO M. LUIS [#139574], 58, of Long Beach Probation was revoked, the stay of suspension was lifted, and he was suspended for three years and until he has shown proof of rehabilitation. The order took effect March 26, 2005.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Luis failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a 2002 disciplinary order: He did not submit two quarterly probation reports or prove he attended ethics school.

The discipline stemmed from Luis’ admission that he conspired to commit insurance fraud, shared legal fees with a non-lawyer, made misrepresentations to the State Bar and committed acts of moral turpitude.


HENDLEY CLAY HUTCHINSON [#191891], 50, of Calexico was suspended for two years, stayed, actually suspended for 60 days and until he makes restitution and the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension. He also must take and pass the MPRE. If Hutchinson is actually suspended for two years or more, he must provide proof of rehabilitation; if he is actually suspended for 90 days or more, he must comply with rule 955. The order took effect March 26, 2005.

In a default proceeding, the bar court found that Hutchinson practiced law while suspended for failure to pay bar dues. He was paid $500 by a woman to represent her and her son in an immigration matter. He moved out of his law office without having returned the $500, and he left no forwarding address. All disciplinary letters sent to Hutchinson by the bar were returned as undeliverable.

The court found Hutchinson committed six acts of misconduct, including unauthorized practice of law and failure to communicate with a client, return unearned fees, keep his address current with the bar or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he committed acts of moral turpitude.


DAVID WESTON NAPIER [#192275], 49, of Bisbee, Ariz. Probation was revoked, the previous stay of suspension was lifted and he was actually suspended for 18 months. The order took effect April 10, 2005.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Napier failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a 2003 disciplinary order. He did not submit three quarterly probation reports or three mental health treatment reports.

The original discipline was imposed after Napier stipulated that he violated court orders issued by the bankruptcy court for the Central District. He did not appear at a hearing to determine if his fees were excessive, failed to appear at contempt hearings and was sanctioned $250 and fined $500 in both cases. He was ordered to refund half the fee amount, but did not do so.


DARIN P. WRIGHT [#167826], 38, of South San Francisco was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect April 10, 2005.

Wright stipulated that he indirectly caused an individual to consider withdrawing as an expert witness. He was sanctioned $15,000 by the federal court, which referred to Wright’s “egregious conduct” and “threat . . . to the judicial process” in ordering the sanctions.

Wright represented most of the victims of a fire in Trinity County in 1999 that started as a controlled burn but caused property damage to more than 200 people. The fire was started by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The BLM engaged a group of experts, including a local real estate agent, to provide expertise about the property damage.

During the course of the litigation, Wright helped his clients with a proposed local newspaper advertisement that commented negatively on the real estate agent’s opinions. Although the advertisement never ran, the realtor learned about it and considered withdrawing from the case because she was worried about her personal safety.

The court concluded that the ad served the purpose of punishing the expert witness for her involvement with the government and was aimed at inducing her not to testify. The court also concluded that Wright was involved in the attempt to retaliate against the witness and that his conduct amounted to “bad faith behavior [that] undermines the integrity and fairness of [the] ongoing litigation and calls for substantial sanctions.”

Wright stipulated that he and his clients attempted to wrongfully influence a witness by promoting a countywide boycott of her business.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the investigation and took steps to demonstrate his remorse. Both the judge and the opposing attorney in the case provided statements to the State Bar about Wright’s good character.


STACY LORD SOKOL [#116682], 51, of Los Angeles was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect April 10, 2005.

Sokol represented a client who was the administrator of her father’s estate in litigation she brought against her father’s brother.

Just prior to trial, Sokol spoke with a witness for the father’s brother and showed her a document about a property in dispute. His actions led the witness to believe the property in question would be hers only if she testified in favor of Sokol’s client.

Sokol stipulated that he failed to maintain the respect due to the courts.

In mitigation, he contends that he never meant to imply the witness would either receive or not receive the property if she testified a certain way. He said he regretted the witness’ interpretation of the conversation.

Sokol was publicly reproved in 1999 for representing more than one client in a matter where their interests could conflict.


CAN MITHAT SIRIN [#127299], 46, of San Diego Probation was revoked, the previous stay of suspension was lifted and he was suspended for one year and ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect April 10, 2005.

Sirin stipulated that he failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a 2003 disciplinary order — he did not file three quarterly probation reports or submit proof of completion of ethics school or client trust account school.

The earlier discipline was imposed for Sirin’s failure to deposit client funds in a client trust account.


MAXCY D. FILER [#152500], 87, of Compton was suspended for 30 days, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect April 10, 2005.

Filer, who is famous for taking the bar exam 48 times before he finally passed in 1991, was hired to represent a client in a divorce case. He filed a dissolution petition but did not file the proof of service. On that date, Filer told the client he would file a notice of entry of default in six months.

Fifteen months later, nothing had been filed and the client decided to represent herself. Three times the court rejected her efforts to file a notice of default; the court finally explained the proof of service never was filed. Filer stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently.

He also was disciplined in 2001 for not performing competently.

In mitigation, he admitted he should have taken the steps necessary to file the proof of service.


JOSEPH ROSSETTI [#90051], 53, of San Diego was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and make restitution. The order took effect April 10, 2005.

Rossetti stipulated to seven counts of misconduct in two cases.

In the first, he met with an elderly couple and agreed to prepare a revocable trust. He did so, and the couple asked him to include several revisions in the draft, which Rossetti agreed to do. They also informed Rossetti of their wishes should they become incapacitated.

They made numerous phone calls and sent a certified letter to Rossetti, but he did not respond.

He stipulated that he failed to respond to client inquiries, perform legal services competently or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he withdrew from employment without protecting his clients’ interests.

In the second matter, Rossetti prepared a revocable trust for a married couple and during a visit to their home, prepared a draft of the changes and said he would send the revised trust. He never did so and did not respond to the couple’s numerous phone calls, e-mails and letters. When the couple sought a return of their documents, Rossetti did not respond.

He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, release a client’s file or respond to clients’ inquiries.

In mitigation, Rossetti had emotional or physical difficulties at the time of the misconduct.


Contact Us Site Map Notices Privacy Policy
© 2009 The State Bar of California