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ERIC WILLIAM CONNER [#145616], 48, of Lodi was disbarred Oct. 24, 2008, and ordered to comply with rule 9.20.
The State Bar Court review department upheld a hearing judge’s findings that in a single matter, Conner improperly obtained interests adverse to his client, misappropriated client funds, violated trust account rules, failed to competently perform, provide an accounting or promptly return the client’s file, and he committed multiple acts involving moral turpitude, including preparing and submitting false documentation to the State Bar. Conner had sought review, arguing that disbarment was inappropriate.
In 2002, a client hired Conner, for a $10,000 fee, to protect her from possible federal charges resulting from her relationship with Dennis Hunter, an individual who had been arrested. The client held title to three properties whose purchase was financed by Hunter and feared she could be charged criminally due to her association with Hunter.
Several days after executing a fee agreement, Conner’s assistant, Ray Robinson, told the client she would have to pay $50,000 because the case was more complicated than originally thought. She agreed to a $30,000 fee and executed a deed of trust against one of the properties to secure payment of the fees. Conner was named the beneficiary of the deed of trust.
The client wished to sell the properties to recoup her portion of the mortgage payments and use the proceeds for her legal fees. She believed the fees included Conner’s help in selling the properties and although he denied that, Conner continued to represent the woman throughout the sale of the properties.
The government halted the sale of one property because it believed Hunter had used the woman as a straw buyer and was considering seizing his interest. However, it eventually allowed the sale to go forward, provided Conner retained the net proceeds in his client trust account.
The U.S. Attorney sent a letter to the escrow company confirming the government’s agreement that the net proceeds could be released to respondent and maintained in trust. Two days later, Conner made a demand on the escrow company for payment of attorney fees in the amount of $18,500. He did not notify the government and his client did not object because she believed it was partial payment of the $30,000 fee. When another property went into escrow and the U.S. Attorney wrote a similar letter to the escrow company, Conner sent another demand letter for $19,500 in outstanding legal fees. Although the client knew that amount was $8,000 more than the $30,000 in fees she had agreed to pay, she did not object because she could no longer afford the mortgage payments and needed to sell the property. The U.S. Attorney did not consider attorney fees as legitimate closing costs nor did she authorize taking attorney fees from the sales proceeds. After Conner deducted his fees, the net proceeds from the sale of the properties was about $54,000, which he deposited into a client trust account.
Three months later, Robinson offered the client $2,000 in exchange for a $25,000 loan from the money being held for her in Conner’s trust account, purportedly for advertising. Although he was required to maintain $29,105.01 in trust for the client, Conner wrote three checks totaling $18,637.81 and has not repaid any of that money nor the $25,000 he borrowed.
The client received $17,176.06 when the third property went into foreclosure. Conner gave her a check for that amount as well as an invoice for $7,071.75 from an entity called Fast and Efficient Attorney Service, which was owned by Robinson. The client tried to ascertain what work had been performed by Fast and Efficient and hired a new lawyer when she could not get any answers. When the new lawyer said the client would not pay the invoice until she received her file, Robinson wrote a letter containing veiled threats to disclose client confidences, imputing that she was involved in a drug operation and money laundering, and threatening to release her bank records to the government. The hearing judge determined that the threat constituted extortion intended to avoid a lawsuit by the client and to coerce payment of the $7,071.75 bill and amounted to an act of moral turpitude. The review panel agreed. Conner paid Robinson from entrusted funds. The file was not retrieved for nine months. Further moral turpitude was found in misappropriation of $26,699.56 and improperly borrowing $25,000.
The court also found Conner failed to perform legal services competently because he allowed Robinson, who was not a lawyer, to conduct most of the negotiations with the U.S. Attorney as well as the negotiations for the deed of trust and the $25,000 loan. He also had unchecked authority over the office accounts. The hearing judge concluded that Conner collected $60,061.75 in excess of the $10,000 flat fee he was entitled to, and that “this excess fee was exorbitant and so disproportionate to the services performed as to shock the conscience.” The review panel agreed the fee was unconscionable, but found Conner collected almost $63,000 in fees and charged another $15,571.40 for legal research performed either while the case was dormant or after his services had been terminated. The panel found he took advantage of a vulnerable client and his actions amounted to moral turpitude.
Hunter ultimately sued Conner’s client for the sales proceeds, and that case was still pending during the disciplinary trial. At the time, the client had incurred approximately $60,000 in legal fees defending herself in the Hunter lawsuit.
The review panel considered Conner’s 12 years of discipline-free practice and his cooperation with the bar’s investigation as mitigation.
In recommending Conner’s disbarment, review Judge Madge Watai ticked off his violations of professional conduct rules and added that his “unethical behavior is aggravated by multiple acts of misconduct, uncharged misconduct involving moral turpitude, lack of candor, indifference toward rectification, and significant harm to his client….
“Based on this record, we can glean no assurance that the public will be protected against future acts of misconduct,” the panel concluded.
DONALD WILLIAM LAMSON [#97363], 57, of Encinitas was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on 18 months of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Oct. 4, 2008.
Lamson was hired by a former county probation officer who qualified for a service-connected disability retirement after an automobile accident. He also declared bankruptcy and was released from all dischargeable debts. As a result, the county retirement system sought reimbursement of his disability benefits following settlement of his claim against the other driver.
Lamson was retained to determine if there was a basis to argue that the retirement system’s claim was discharged by the bankruptcy.
The retirement system won a judgment of $117,392 against Lamson’s client and began collecting $1,400 per month from his retirement benefits. Lamson sent a demand letter to the retirement system outlining his contention that its claim was discharged in the bankruptcy, but when there was no action, Lamson did no further work. He did not respond to an inquiry from the client for six months.
Five months after that, he sent a retainer agreement to the client in order to pursue a lawsuit against the retirement system. Two weeks after the client signed the agreement, Lamson said he could not represent him.
He stipulated that he failed to respond to his client’s status inquiries.
He also issued a $3,000 check for personal expenses against his client trust account.
In mitigation, Lamson has no prior discipline record in 27 years of practice.
DAVID TURAJSKI [#155885], 49, of Santa Clarita 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 Oct. 10, 2008.
Turajski pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery in 2007 and stipulated that he failed to support the laws of California.
He got into an altercation with the office manager of So Cal Legal Services, where he worked. After the office manager bumped him, Turajski hit him. The office manager reported the incident to the police.
According to the stipulation, there was tension between the office manager and Turajski, who had reported the man to police after he left threatening messages on Turajski’s answering machine. The stipulation called the altercation “an aberrant incident” and noted that Turajski is enrolled in anger management therapy and no longer works for the same employer.
HAIG P. ASHIKIAN [#183083], 42, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Oct. 10, 2008.
Ashikian stipulated to five counts of misconduct in three matters.
In the first, he represented a woman in an uninsured motorist arbitration case. He filed a demand with an insurance carrier a year after the accident, but for nearly two and a half years, he did not communicate with his client other than a single voice mail message. When the arbitration was finally held after the client complained to the State Bar, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the other party. Ashikian neither reviewed the arbitrator’s decision nor told his client about it.
In the second matter, he stipulated that he misused his client trust account by not maintaining client funds in trust and by writing checks against insufficient funds in the account. Writing bad checks constitutes moral turpitude.
In the final matter, he represented a client who accepted a $16,000 settlement of a civil case. The money was to be paid in installments, and when Ashikian received $8,000, he notified the client. When he received another $4,000, he did not tell the client, who subsequently complained to the bar. Ashikian then sent $12,000 — the remaining settlement payments — to the client.
He stipulated that he failed to notify a client of receipt of client funds.
In mitigation, he has no discipline record in 12 years of practice and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.
TERRY L. ALLEN [#134039], 47, of Perris was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with a two-year actual suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation, and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. Credit will be given for an interim suspension that began Dec. 2, 2007. The order took effect Oct. 10, 2008.
Allen stipulated to misconduct in two matters.
He was convicted in 2006 of felony possession of methamphetamine. Allen was a criminal defense attorney and told authorities he obtained the drug from clients in lieu of payment of his fees.
He was placed on interim suspension as a result of the conviction but did not file on time an affidavit stating that he notified his clients and other pertinent parties of his suspension. When he did file an affidavit, it was rejected as deficient. Allen eventually filed a proper affidavit.
He stipulated that he violated the terms of his probation and that his drug possession conviction involved moral turpitude.
JAMES PAUL CRISCIONE [#105622], 51, of North Hollywood was suspended for three years, stayed, actually suspended for two years and until he makes restitution and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension, and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Oct. 10, 2008.
In a default proceeding, the bar court found that Criscione committed 11 counts of misconduct in four client matters. In each case, he effectively abandoned his clients. His effort to be referred to the bar’s Alternative Discipline Program was rejected.
Criscione effectively withdrew from a family law matter for which his client paid a $1,000 fee. He did not prepare the client for an order to show cause or perform any other legal services and did not respond to a bar investigator’s inquiries.
A second client hired Criscione to handle his divorce, paying a $1,000 fee and almost $300 for filing fees. For one year, the client called Criscione almost daily without a response. Criscione sent him a copy of one document that did not have a case number or file stamp.
Finally the client was able to make an appointment, but Criscione did not show up. He did not return the client’s file, as requested.
Criscione was suspended for non-payment of dues in 2005 but did not notify the client. He also vacated his office without telling the client. Letters sent by a bar investigator to that address were returned as undeliverable.
He did not return the numerous phone calls from a bankruptcy client for whom he did no work nor did he refund the client’s advance fees. And in the final matter, he again did not return his client’s phone calls, perform any legal services or refund the unearned $2,500 fee. An arbitrator ordered an award of $2,500 plus costs to the client.
Although Criscione did not participate in the disciplinary proceedings, the bar court considered his 21 years of discipline-free practice as mitigation.
MARK PARDEE McCREDIE [#189962], 58, of Santa Barbara Probation was revoked, the previous stay of suspension was lifted and he was actually suspended for six months and placed on two years of probation. Credit was given for a period of involuntary inactive enrollment that began June 13, 2008. The order took effect Oct. 12, 2008.
McCredie was suspended and placed on probation in 2006, but filed six probation reports late, did not provide proof of authorization to release treatment and recovery information to the bar’s probation office or proof that he attended three meetings a month of The Other Bar, as required. In addition, he did not attend ethics school within the prescribed timeframe.
The underlying discipline was imposed as a result of two misdemeanor convictions for a crime against an elder or dependent adult and marijuana possession. He also was disciplined for failing to return an unearned $300 fee.
McCredie opposed revocation of the probation because his noncompliance resulted from being overwhelmed by the burden of running his law practice alone while meeting the conditions and financial costs of probation. He also argued that he “is less than someone intentionally or willfully ignoring the court’s order.” Although the court rejected those arguments, it also rejected the bar’s request for a one-year suspension as “excessive and not necessary.”
DAVID BURKENROAD [#110320], 59, of Los Angeles was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Oct. 16, 2008.
Burkenroad stipulated to two counts of misconduct while representing a minor in a juvenile case. After making a court appearance, he wrote to the client’s father suggesting that it might be advisable to find a local attorney to represent the boy. If that was not possible, he said, he would continue his representation but requested that he be paid fees and costs. He enclosed a substitution of attorney form with the letter.
The father did not find another attorney or return the substitution form. Burkenroad remained attorney of record but did not appear at two hearings. The court appointed a new attorney.
Burkenroad stipulated that he withdrew from employment without protecting his client’s interests and he disobeyed a court order by failing to appear.
He was privately reproved in 2005 for failing to perform legal services competently or refund unearned fees.
MARK LOPERT WEBB [#67959], 61, of 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 Oct. 16, 2008.
Webb stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently and violated his fiduciary duties to a lienholder.
Webb replaced another attorney in an auto accident case; the former lawyer had a lien of $2,323 on the case. It settled for $710,000. Although Webb withheld funds to pay liens, including the money owed the former lawyer, and he was instructed by the client to pay the lien, he did not do so.
He ultimately paid 18 months later after the lawyer complained to the State Bar.
Webb was privately reproved in 2000 for failing to communicate with clients or properly maintain client funds.
In mitigation, he had difficulty managing his law office after he and his wife, who was the office manager, separated. He also cooperated with the bar’s investigation and demonstrated remorse.
CHARLES M. BARRETT [#94800], 53, of Sacramento was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a one-year actual suspension, and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, make restitution of more than $75,000 to five clients and comply with rule 9.20. Credit will be given for a period of involuntary inactive enrollment that began Jan. 14, 2008. The order took effect Oct. 22, 2008.
Barrett stipulated to misconduct in eight client matters, including failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, return client files, refund unearned fees and make restitution of more than $25,000 to a client, and he committed acts of moral turpitude, appeared without authority and violated probation conditions of an earlier discipline. Barrett’s misconduct occurred between January 1996 and 2003. He entered into the stipulation in 2003, was accepted into the Alternative Discipline Program the following year and completed it in 2008, when he voluntarily went inactive to serve a one-year suspension.
In a civil matter, for example, Barrett filed a complaint but failed to notify his client that the defendants filed a cross-complaint. Barrett filed an answer without telling the client, nor did he notify the client of a motion to compel answers to interrogatories. The court dismissed the complaint and entered a default judgment against Barrett’s client for $57,500. Rather that telling the client the truth, Barrett said he won the case on a default judgment. Several months later, he admitted the case was dismissed.
A $140,000 malpractice judgment against Barrett was discharged in bankruptcy.
In another matter, a couple hired Barrett to try to prevent foreclosure on their home. Although he obtained a temporary restraining order, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment that was granted when Barrett did nothing to oppose it. The complaint was dismissed, but Barrett told the clients their case was still pending. He only admitted the case was dismissed when the clients learned about it from another source. The clients lost their home.
In a 1999 disciplinary order, Barrett was required to make restitution to two clients for more than $25,000 plus interest but failed to do so.
Barrett was disciplined three times previously: a private reproval in 1994 for failing to perform competently and improperly withdrawing from representation; a public reproval in 1995 for failing to perform competently or communicate with clients; and probation and a stayed suspension in 1999 for the same violations. In the final matter, he was ordered to make restitution of $28,078 plus interest to two clients. Causes of action were lost in two matters and the client’s family home was lost in the third matter. Barrett also discharged a malpractice judgment of $140,000 through bankruptcy in one of the client matters and failed to pay any of the more than $25,000 in restitution owed to one of his former clients, as ordered by the Supreme Court.
In mitigation, Barrett has been enrolled in the Lawyer Assistance Program since 2003 as a result of dependency on prescription drugs and alcohol. He has been sober since January 2002.
SCOTT EVANS TURNER [#67856], 61, of Redwood City 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. The order took effect Oct. 23, 2008.
Turner stipulated to six acts of misconduct while representing a client trying to collect attorney’s fees owed to her deceased husband by three clients. He and the client executed three fee agreements that gave him contingency fees of between one-third and one-half depending on the stage of the matter.
He never took any action against two of the former clients and the statute of limitations expired. Although he settled the matter with the third client for $12,500 and collected $7,500, the man then refused to make further payments. Turner was not obligated to pursue the collection efforts but agreed to do so. When his efforts were unsuccessful, he stopped trying to collect the remaining funds.
He did not respond to many inquiries from his client over a two-year period.
Turner stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently or keep a client informed about developments in her case and he abandoned his client without taking steps to protect her interests.
Turner was privately reproved in 2001 for failing to perform legal services competently, return client files or communicate with a client.
CHESTERFIELD A. SPAHR [#190173], 39, of San Francisco was suspended for two years, stayed, actually suspended for 90 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension, and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Oct. 23, 2008.
In a default proceeding, the bar court found Spahr committed four acts of misconduct stemming from his failure to pay three court-ordered sanctions.
He represented the defendant in a civil matter and was ordered to pay the plaintiff and his lawyer fees and costs totaling $2,259.14 within two weeks. Spahr did not do so.
In addition, the court issued a judgment against his client when he failed to appear for trial. Spahr paid a portion of that judgment, but no interest.
The plaintiff filed a claim against Spahr’s law firm as a judgment debtor asking for, among other things, an order imposing reasonable expenses and attorneys fees as monetary sanctions. Spahr’s firm did not file any opposition and was ordered to pay the plaintiff another $986, within 14 days, for discovery violations. The court also ordered Spahr’s firm to provide responses to the plaintiff’s post-judgment discovery within 14 days. Spahr did neither and was found in contempt. At that point, he was ordered to pay another $1,286 to the plaintiff’s attorney for fees and costs within 14 days. He did not do so.
Ten months later, Spahr paid the plaintiff’s lawyer $10,500 to settle the sanctions and judgment.
The bar court found that Spahr failed to obey court orders, maintain the respect due the courts or cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
CHESTER JOHN RAKUS [#37242], 77, of Galt 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 Oct. 23, 2008.
Rakus stipulated to six counts of misconduct in a probate matter.
He represented James Moody, a longtime member of the National Justice Foundation of America (NJFA), a social organization for war veterans. Rakus was president of the foundation.
Rakus prepared a grant deed for Moody that granted a Sacramento property to Rakus, although he didn’t file the deed until after Moody’s death. The property went to the NJFA, per Moody’s wishes expressed prior to signing the grant deed. The probate code prohibits an individual who drafts a will to be its beneficiary and Rakus did not advise Moody to obtain independent advice from a lawyer.
He also made himself the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and received $3,250 in insurance proceeds when Moody died. Rakus also held both a general power of attorney and power of attorney for health care.
Prior to his death, Moody made a complaint against Rakus to Adult Protective Services that he later dropped. Moody also executed a will a week before he died that made a neighbor his beneficiary.
Rakus sued to revoke probate of that will on the basis it was executed when Moody lacked mental capacity. The court granted a default judgment to the defendants, ordering Rakus to return the life insurance proceeds and the property to the estate, and it sanctioned Rakus and his lawyer $2,250. He later was sanctioned another $3,000 for failing to appear at a settlement conference. Subsequent appeals and motions to set aside the default were denied.
Rakus did not report either sanction to the State Bar, as required, and he paid them late.
He stipulated to two counts of violating the Probate Code (prohibiting individuals who draft testamentary gifts from being the beneficiaries of those gifts) and admitted his actions violated professional conduct rules. He also stipulated that he failed to report sanctions to the State Bar and paid them late, and he did not return the life insurance payments in a timely fashion.
In mitigation, Rakus had no prior record of discipline and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation. The default orders resulted from his attorney’s malfeasance and Rakus never had the opportunity to litigate the matter.
HAROLD JAFFE [#57397], 61, of Oakland was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Oct. 23, 2008.
Jaffe stipulated to two counts of misconduct while handling several legal matters for a couple involving their property. Jaffe filed suit in one matter; the couple’s title insurance company paid him $5,635 due to an easement issue and the clients made two payments totaling about $5,000.
Jaffe did not respond to letters from the defendants regarding dismissal of certain causes of action, experts and one defendant. His clients rejected a settlement offer of $3,780 and sent $12,500 to Jaffe as a deposit for a trial. Jaffe did not disclose his experts in a timely fashion or conduct any discovery and he eventually asked to have the case dismissed without his clients’ knowledge. They thought the matter was delayed and did not learn of the dismissal until they hired a new lawyer. Jaffe refunded the $12,500.
He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently or keep his clients informed of developments in their case. The clients estimated the value of their dispute at approximately $35,000.
In mitigation, Jaffe’s sister died three weeks before he dismissed the case. He provided a good deal of her care and her illness contributed to his inability to handle the case. He had no prior discipline record, presented character reference letters and has done pro bono work.
PETER L. THOTTAM [#206882], 37, of Los Angeles Thottam was convicted in 2004 of petty theft, a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.
After practicing law for several years, Thottam enrolled in an MBA program at UC Irvine. He decided to transfer after a year and tried to return his textbooks, worth hundreds of dollars, to the Irvine bookstore for full price. When the bookstore refused, Thottam became upset and took two other books, worth $71 from the store.
At the time, he was under a great deal of stress because his mother had had one leg amputated for gangrene but refused to allow doctors to remove the other diseased leg. She died a few weeks later of septicemia, gangrene of the lower extremities. Thottam admitted taking the books and told police about the stress he was under.
He failed to appear in court for the criminal matter and a bench warrant was issued. He ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor petty theft but did not report the conviction to the State Bar.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and was under extreme stress. He received some mitigation for doing thousands of hours of volunteer work in support of various community and public policy causes.
RICHARD A. STAVIN [#139403], 60, of Woodland Hills 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 and prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
Stavin had used an engineering consultant as an expert witness in litigation that concluded in 2003. He had signed a written agreement with the expert and paid his fees before designating him as an expert.
In subsequent unrelated litigation, Stavin listed the same individual as an expert although the two had no contact and the man knew nothing about the case. Under penalty of perjury, Stavin said the expert had agreed to testify and was familiar with the action, and he summarized the anticipated testimony. His actions amounted to moral turpitude.
In mitigation, Stavin had no discipline record in 16 years of practice, he believed he would be able to retain the same expert in the second matter, he demonstrated remorse and has an exceptional reputation in the legal and general community.
RUBEN F. SANCHEZ [#118309], 52, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation and was ordered to make restitution. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
Sanchez stipulated that he improperly entered into a business transaction with a client. He borrowed $20,000, signing a “demand note” in which he agreed to repay the amount of the loan plus 4 percent interest. He did not advise the client to seek independent legal advice prior to lending the money.
Sanchez has repaid only $1,000.
In mitigation, he practiced for more than 23 years without a discipline record.
ANDREW ELLIS RUBIN [#62587], 59, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, actually suspended for 90 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension and he was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 and take the MPRE within one year. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Rubin failed to comply with conditions attached to a private reproval imposed in 2006. He did not contact the probation office, submit quarterly probation reports or proof of attendance at ethics school or proof that he passed the MPRE.
The underlying discipline stemmed from Rubin’s failure to comply with a Supreme Court order. At the time, he had no prior discipline in 30 years of practice and he had extensive community, school and bar association service as well as pro bono work.
DONALD J. LOFTUS [#150417], 53, of San Diego was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on 18 months of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
Both Loftus and the State Bar sought review of a hearing judge’s 2006 discipline recommendation for behavior the court described as intolerable. The case, wrote Review Judge Joann Remke, “represents an attorney’s failure to recognize both his obligations as an officer of the court and his ethical obligations as an attorney.” A three-judge panel found that Loftus harassed a juror and secretly taped a phone conversation with an adverse party and lied about it during the litigation.
While handling a medical malpractice case, Loftus wrote to and then called one of two neurosurgeons who had treated his client. In the letter, he advised Dr. Gabrielle Morris he wanted to ascertain, among other things, whether she believed the other doctor was negligent and if his activities contributed to a seizure his client suffered.
Although Loftus knew Morris would be a defendant in any medical malpractice lawsuit he filed, he did not so advise her, nor did he ask if she had retained counsel. Instead of revealing the adversarial nature of his inquiry, he gave the impression that he was gathering information from the doctor as a potential witness, not a defendant.
He later called Morris and said that although he thought she was taping the conversation because of a strange noise on the phone, in fact he was recording the conversation.
Loftus filed two lawsuits, one against each doctor, that the court consolidated. He denied taping the phone conversation when asked by Morris’ lawyer, nor did he reveal the taping in responses to interrogatories he filed on his client’s behalf. He later signed a supplemental response to the interrogatories admitting that he had recorded a conversation with Morris. The review department found that he committed an act of moral turpitude, saying he wanted the recording in case Morris recanted her statements.
“Despite multiple opportunities in which he could have disclosed the recording, Loftus chose not to do so until the “gotcha” moment during Dr. Morris’ deposition,” the court wrote. “Although they may make for good television drama, such Machiavellian litigation tactics cannot be condoned.”
At the conclusion of the trial, Loftus called a juror and threatened him. At one point in the trial, the judge said that although court was not scheduled for a particular day, she did not plan to notify any jurors’ employers. Loftus threatened to tell one juror’s employer that he skipped work on a day he did not have jury duty.
Loftus asserted that the judge and the juror engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the juror’s employer, and that it was his “duty as a citizen” to inform the employer of this fraudulent conduct. “Whether or not Loftus truly believed he had such a duty, the manner and circumstances in which he presented the statement to (the juror) is harassment,” the court wrote.
It dismissed charges of inappropriate contact with a juror and illegally recording confidential communications.
Loftus’ conduct “is intolerable,” wrote Remke. “Misconduct such as occurred here damages the integrity of the legal system and discourages the public from participating in a vital function of the administration of justice.”
In mitigation, Loftus practiced for 10 years without any discipline.
JOHN E. LINNEBALL [#181795], 38, of San Francisco was suspended for five years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with an actual three-year suspension and was ordered to make restitution, take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
Linneball stipulated to misconduct in two matters. In the first, he admitted that he failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a 2002 disciplinary order; he filed 13 probation reports and alcohol/drug screening reports late, did not provide four Lawyer Assistance Program compliance reports and provided several others late, and he failed to make numerous minimum restitution payments.
The underlying discipline was imposed after Linneball stipulated to misconduct in eight cases, including failing to perform legal services competently, pay out client funds or properly maintain client funds, and he committed four acts of moral turpitude.
BRYAN DIAZ JR. [#219905], 36, of Somis was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and he was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
Diaz stipulated to five counts of misconduct, all involving moral turpitude, stemming from misrepresentations on his resume. He claimed to have worked at two law firms where he never was employed and listed lengthy experience he never had and clients he never represented. When contacted by the general counsel for Sheppard Mullen, one of the firms where Diaz said he had worked, he claimed the information was the result of typos and was meant to reflect that he had applied for a job there, not that he had worked there.
Diaz stipulated that his statements demonstrated he “is untrustworthy even when confronted with an obvious lie that he made in writing.”
When questioned by a State Bar investigator, Diaz said he contacted the ethics hotline and then contacted the general counsel of the law firm, implying that he initiated the contact in an effort to correct his resume. He also made false statements to a legal search firm.
ANDREW A. DELLOMO [#80932], 62, of Ocean, N.J. was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. If he is suspended for 90 days or more, he must comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Oct. 31, 2008.
Dellomo stipulated that he committed an act of moral turpitude by filing a document with a federal immigration agency indicating that he was a member in good standing of the State Bar of California. In fact, he was on inactive status at the time.
He maintained his practice in New Jersey and was inactive from 1999-2006 at his own request. While handling an immigration matter for clients in New Jersey, he submitted a document to the Citizen and Immigration Services stating that he was a member in good standing of the California bar.
In mitigation, Dellomo practiced law for more than 30 years without a discipline record.
ROBIN CHANDLER CARR [#154023], 45, of San Diego Probation was revoked, the previous stay of suspension was lifted and she was actually suspended for one year, stayed, and placed on two years of probation. The order took effect Nov. 2, 2008.
Carr was disciplined in 2007, but did not comply with probation conditions: she failed to meet with State Bar probation officials, submit three quarterly reports on time, provide a mental health evaluation from a licensed psychiatrist or submit reports showing a mental health treatment plan and her compliance with its recommendations.
She has a record of two prior disciplines. The first was a 2005 private reproval for holding herself out as entitled to practice law and engaging in unauthorized practice. When she did not comply with probation conditions, she was given a stayed suspension and placed on two years of probation.
In mitigation, she has an active pro bono practice.
ERNESTO PEREZ [#77729], 60, of West Sacramento was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Nov. 6, 2008.
Perez stipulated that he improperly used his trust account over a six-month period.
He deposited personal funds in his client trust account and issued checks against the account to pay personal obligations.
In mitigation, no clients were harmed and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.
JOSEPH GUY MAIORANO [#113876], 53, of San Diego was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Nov. 6, 2008.
Maiorano represented an individual who was sued in federal court by an insurance company that alleged the client owed insurance premiums he had collected. The client said he owed about $72,075 and gave Maiorano a check for that amount to hold in trust as an offer of good faith.
The insurance company initially rejected the offer. Maiorano withdrew $68,000. When the company agreed to the offer two months later, Maiorano agreed to “freeze” $72,000 in his trust account pending a court order. He knew he held only $4,000 for the client.
Maiorano stipulated that he committed an act of moral turpitude by signing an interim settlement agreement that contained a false statement.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and he submitted numerous letters attesting to his good character.
QUINCY N. HOANG [#219421], 37, of San Jose was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual one-year suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Nov. 6, 2008.
Hoang stipulated to 15 counts of misconduct in four matters.
In two cases, he appeared in court while suspended. In one of the matters, he requested a continuance but did not inform the court that the request was based on his suspension from practice. When the court asked if he was allowed to practice, Hoang responded, “I believe I am.” He provided an incorrect bar number to the judge.
In another matter, a client hired Hoang to both prepare a power of attorney for his wife and to mediate a fee dispute the client had with a lawyer in Florida. Hoang prepared the power of attorney, but it was deficient; he took no action to correct it. Although he contacted the client’s Florida lawyer asking for an accounting of his fees and rejecting a proposed settlement offer, he did nothing further.
He did not respond to his client’s e-mails or phone calls seeking updates and when the client asked for a refund of his fee, Hoang did not respond.
A third client hired Hoang to obtain a child support modification and paid a $1,500 advance fee. The fee agreement indicated the fee would be billed against Hoang’s hourly rate.
About a month after being hired, Hoang provided some information to the client and asked how he wanted Hoang to proceed. Hoang also sent a bill for $240. About 16 months later, Hoang provided an update on the case, just prior to a hearing. When Hoang failed to appear, the client hired a new lawyer and asked for a refund of his fees.
Hoang did not respond to another refund request, so the client hired a process server to give Hoang a written request for a refund. The process server found that Hoang had been evicted from his office.
Hoang stipulated that he practiced while not entitled, committed acts of moral turpitude by making misrepresentations to the court, failed to perform legal services competently, respond to a client’s requests for information, refund unearned fees, apprise a client of his new address or cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
He was disciplined in 2008 after the bar court found, in a default proceeding, that he committed four acts of misconduct in a criminal case — he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, return unearned fees or obey a court order.
In mitigation, Hoang was involved in a bitter break-up with the mother of his child and he was a victim of domestic abuse and obtained a court order of protection.
MICHAEL ROGER GOODHEART [#50616], 64, of Woodland Hills was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Nov. 6, 2008.
Goodheart stipulated to nine counts of misconduct involving misuse of his client trust account.
He deposited personal funds and issued checks drawn on the account to pay his personal and business expenses. He also wrote checks against insufficient funds and allowed the balance to fall below the required amount. As a result, he misappropriated $91.22 from two clients and $574.03 from another.
He stipulated that he commingled funds, misused the trust account, committed acts of moral turpitude by issuing checks against insufficient funds and misappropriating client funds, and he failed to cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
In mitigation, Goodheart has no discipline record in 35 years of practice and no clients were harmed. He employed a bookkeeper for years who maintained the trust account reliably. The misconduct occurred after the bookkeeper left and a family member maintained the account.