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.
NORMAN A. WESSEL [#88320], 50,, of Kailua Kona, Hawaii, was disbarred May 16, 2003, and was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.
Wessel failed to comply with rule 955, as required by a 2001 disciplinary order. He did not submit to the California Supreme Court an affidavit stating that he notified his clients, opposing counsel and other interested parties that he had been suspended from practice.
Failure to comply with rule 955 is grounds for disbarment.
Wessel was disciplined for misconduct committed in Hawaii in connection with two clients. He was disciplined there for failing to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, return unearned fees, provide an accounting or cooperate with the bar’s investigation and for improperly withdrawing from employment.
MICHAEL D. HARGROVE [#177832], 44, of Grand Terrace was disbarred May 24, 2003, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.
Hargrove did not comply with rule 955, as required by a 2001 disciplinary order.
The discipline was imposed for misconduct in two matters, including failing to perform legal services competently, notify his clients of receipt of funds on their behalf, or deposit and maintain those funds in a client trust account. He settled cases without his clients’ consent, signed their names to settlement checks and then misappropriated the money, and in one instance, he misrepresented to the State Bar that the client had agreed to the dismissal of her action. He committed acts of moral turpitude.
Hargrove failed to participate in the proceeding.
JOHN FORREST FRANKLIN II [#100737], 39, of Reseda was disbarred May 24, 2003, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.
Franklin’s probation was revoked last year and he was ordered to comply with rule 955, but he failed to do so.
The probation revocation was the result of his failure to comply with conditions attached to a public reproval — he did not file two quarterly probation reports or mental health reports, and he did not submit a law office management plan. The public reproval was imposed for mishandling three client matters, including failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, return unearned fees, provide an accounting or cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
CONNIE RAE ZAKRAJSEK [#159422], 45, of Tempe, Ariz., was disbarred May 28, 2003, and ordered to comply with rule 955.
Zakrajsek was disbarred in Illinois in 2000. The State Bar Court determined that her misconduct there would subject her to discipline in California.
Her actions constituted 49 acts of misconduct in 19 client matters, including failure to perform competently, maintain client funds in trust, notify clients that she received settlement funds, pay out client funds upon request, return client files, comply with a court order, respond to a client’s status inquiries or maintain only just actions. She also misappropriated 10 clients’ funds, committing acts of moral turpitude.
Several clients’ cases were dismissed or judgments were entered against them because of Zakrajsek’s actions.
WILLIAM J. KESATIE [#131709], 42, of Thousand Oaks was disbarred June 7, 2003, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.
Kesatie failed to comply with rule 955, as ordered in a 2001 discipline stemming from his abandonment of six clients. His misconduct included failing to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, return their files and unearned fees, provide an accounting of client funds and cooperate with the bar’s investigation. He also accepted employment involving a potential conflict of interest without the clients’ informed written consent.
Kesatie’s default was entered when he did not participate in the proceedings.
GILBERT YOSHIHARU NISHINO [#100036], 54, of Hemet was disbarred June 7, 2003, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.
Nishino did not comply with rule 955, as required by a 2001 disciplinary order. His misconduct was the result of his actions in two client matters: he failed to maintain client funds in trust, account to the client or cooperate with the bar’s investigation. He also employed an attorney who worked on client matters while he was not entitled to practice.
In 1996, Nishino was privately reproved for failing to perform legal services competently or communicate with a client.
RAMON OLLER [#123400], 46, of Irvine was disbarred June 8, 2003, and ordered to comply with rule 955.
In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Oller committed multiple acts of misconduct in three client matters, including failure to perform legal services competently, respond to client inquiries, refund unearned fees, maintain client funds in his trust account or promptly pay client funds, and he misappropriated client funds.
In the first matter, he agreed to file dissolution papers from a client who paid him an advance fee of $300. She paid another $298 in three more payments and left at least three phone messages for Oller before she discovered his phone was disconnected.
He never filed the divorce petition.
In the second case, a client hired Oller to handle her marital dissolution and to file a bankruptcy petition for her. She paid $600 for the dissolution and $800 for the bankruptcy.
Although Oller told the client he’d obtained a restraining order against her husband, he had not even sought the order. He also failed to appear at two order-to-show-cause hearings.
He filed both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions. The Chapter 13 petition was dismissed for failure to file schedules, statements or a plan. After receiving a discharge pursuant to the Chapter 7 proceeding, the client realized Oller had not properly listed all her creditors. Although he tried to reopen the matter to correct the omissions, the motion was withdrawn when Oller failed to appear at a scheduled hearing.
Oller did not return his client’s numerous phone calls.
In a personal injury case that Oller settled for $12,000, he did not pay two medical liens and the balance in his trust account fell below the required amount.
In a separate discipline which was not finalized at the time of the disbarment, the State Bar Court found that Oller committed multiple acts of misconduct relating to his handling of settlement funds for one client from 1995 to 1997. The court also found that he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with a client or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he made misrepresentations and misappropriated client funds.
SEBASTIAN CHARLES MESSER [#156586], 47, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual one-year suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation, and was ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect May 3, 2003.
Messer did not comply with probation conditions attached to a 2000 private reproval — he did not file four quarterly probation reports. The discipline was imposed because he failed to provide competent legal services.
In addition, he was disciplined last year for failure to perform competently, deposit client funds in a trust account, communicate with clients, refund unearned fees or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he committed acts of moral turpitude.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and he is seeking treatment for alcohol and substance abuse problems.
TERRELL D. POWELL [#67188], 60, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect May 16, 2003.
Powell stipulated that he failed to properly pursue personal injury cases that were referred to him; his conduct involved gross negligence and moral turpitude.
A sole practitioner since 1976, Powell accepted referrals from Ronald Revere, a chiropractor friend he met when both worked as security guards. Revere had five offices and anticipated having more business and more personal injury referrals.
Powell began accepting referrals and also accepted loans totaling $15,000 from Revere in order to move to a larger office, buy additional equipment and hire more non-attorney staff.
Between 1977 and 1978, Powell received about 300 personal injury referrals from Revere, all arising from alleged auto accidents and all involving soft tissue injuries. All the claimants had purportedly received treatment at one of Revere’s clinics.
When two men appeared at Powell’s office in order to retain his services for a personal injury case, Powell’s secretary remembered they had been referred earlier by Revere but had used different names. When she told Powell, he refused to accept them as clients and dropped their existing claim. However, he did not notify Revere and continued to accept referrals from him.
About a year later, the FBI served a search warrant on Powell’s office and he learned that Revere was under investigation for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. When questioned by the FBI and two insurance companies, Powell denied any knowledge of or involvement in the conspiracy.
He told Revere he would no longer accept referrals from him, but he did not ask him about the fraud and conspiracy allegations, nor did he attempt to determine whether the cases Revere had referred were fraudulent. Powell continued to handle about 20 cases and finished the last one in 1979.
In 1984, two insurance companies sued Revere for RICO violations; they won the suit in 1997 when the court determined that all claims that originated in Revere’s office, including those Powell handled, were fraudulent.
Powell stipulated that he failed to investigate whether the cases Revere referred to him were fraudulent and engaged in a course of conduct that involved gross negligence. By doing so, he committed acts of moral turpitude.
In mitigation, Powell cooperated with the bar’s investigation and he stopped practicing personal injury law in 1985.
PAUL SEIICHI SUGINO [#108945], 52, of Santa Barbara was suspended for one year, stayed, actually suspended for 30 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to end the suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect May 16, 2003.
Sugino pleaded no contest to reckless driving, admitting that his offense included the consumption of alcohol. In exchange for the plea, charges of driving under the influence, driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of .08 and hit and run with property damage were dropped.
He also was convicted of reckless driving with alcohol involved in 1995.
Although Sugino did not participate in the disciplinary proceeding, the bar court noted that he practiced for 18 years without a discipline record.
MICHAEL SCOTT NEWCOMER [#142913], 46, of Sacramento was suspended for one year, stayed, actually suspended for 30 days and until the State Bar Court terminates the suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE. If the actual suspension exceeds 90 days, he must comply with rule 955; if it exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect May 16, 2003.
Newcomer stipulated that he filed a personal injury case one year after a client had hired him to do so, and did not tell the client the complaint was filed. For one year, the court issued at least 11 orders to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for Newcomer’s failure to comply with various local court rules.
Although he appeared twice and filed some documents, he did not comply with five orders to show cause.
When the defendant in the case filed an answer and served interrogatories, Newcomer did not inform his client or respond to the interrogatories, nor did he respond to opposing counsel’s letter and telephone calls.
The case eventually was dismissed without the client’s knowledge, and Newcomer filed a motion to set aside the dismissal because of excusable neglect or his own negligence. He said he believed his client was hiring another attorney and that he never reviewed the court documents be-cause the post office had not delivered them. The court denied the motion.
He did not return his client’s phone calls or reply to a letter.
He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, com- municate with his client, pay court-ordered sanctions or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he improperly withdrew from employment.
In mitigation, he has no prior record of discipline since his 1989 admission to the bar.
SCOTT RAYMOND MERRILL [#141637], 50, of Davis was suspended for three years, stayed, actually suspended for two years and until he makes restitution to three clients, takes the MPRE, proves his rehabilitation and the State Bar Court grants an order to terminate the suspension. He also was ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect May 16, 2003.
In a default proceeding, the bar court found that Merrill committed multiple acts of misconduct in six matters. He failed to perform legal services competently, respond to clients’ status inquiries, refund unearned fees, return client files, or deposit client funds in a client trust account, and he improperly withdrew from employment. He also did not cooperate with the bar’s investigation or keep his address current with the bar.
In one matter, for instance, he was retained to transfer ownership in a house from a client’s mother to the client and his brothers. The mother, who is blind, used a signature stamp to sign a quitclaim deed, which was then notarized. After seven months without any action, the client was told by Merrill’s office that the county recorder would not accept the deed with a signature stamp.
The mother then signed a new quitclaim deed with an “X,” but it was never filed.
Merrill did not return the client’s numerous phone calls and moved his office without informing him. Their last communication was 11 months after Merrill agreed to do the work.
Another client hired him to update his parents’ living trust and make a claim against a brokerage house. Although Merrill updated the trust, he never did any work on the second matter. He did not return any of the client’s phone calls, and when he was fired, he didn’t return the client’s documents.
Merrill was disciplined last year for failing to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees or adequately communicate with a client.
KARL FREDERICK MUNZ [#45668], 67, of Sacramento was suspended for one year and until he proves his rehabilitation and was ordered to take the MPRE and attend ethics school. The order took effect May 24, 2003.
Munz pleaded guilty in 1999 to driving while intoxicated and causing a collision and bodily injury.
As a result of the accident, the driver of the other car suffered permanent mobility disabilities, lost her spleen and had to have multiple surgeries. Munz paid her $3,000 in restitution.
Munz himself was rendered “an incomplete quadriplegic needing 24 hour care,” and he suffered cognitive impairment. He told the bar he will never practice law again. He had no record of discipline in 32 years of practice, he complied with his criminal probation and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.
JOHN ALAN GOALWIN [#70974], 54, of Los Angeles was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect May 24, 2003.
Goalwin stipulated to misconduct in two cases.
In the first matter, he represented a client in a bankruptcy proceeding and a civil defamation lawsuit. The jury in the defamation case found against Goalwin’s client, and Goalwin filed an appeal. However, because the client did not pay the fees to obtain the reporter’s transcript, Goalwin took no further action and the appeal was dismissed. He did not inform his client about the dismissal.
The civil court judgment was deemed non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, and although Goalwin says he discussed the matter with his client, the client cannot recall the conversation.
He did not return the client’s case file and original documents despite numerous requests to do so. He also stipulated that he failed to keep a client reasonably informed about developments in his case.
In the second matter, he represented a client whose friend paid him $3,000 to investigate her matter and another $12,000 as a non-refundable retainer. Goalwin pursued her case, but it was consolidated with others and the client was very unhappy about the consolidation and consulted another attorney.
Eventually, she asked that Goalwin provide her file to the new attorney and she asked for an accounting of fees. Although Goalwin advised both the client and the new attorney that the retainer was non-refundable, he did not provide an accounting for two years.
He was disciplined previously.
In mitigation, Goalwin served on the board of a foundation that runs free drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in Los Angeles and he has volunteered as a settlement officer in Glendale court.