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Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California October2002
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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.




LOUIS J. LA ROCCA [##154708], 35, of Sunnyvale was disbarred May 5, 2002, and was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.

State Bar Court Judge Eugene Brott recommended La Rocca's disbarment because he abandoned 10 clients in less than two years. The clients were either forced to hire new lawyers and incurred additional legal expenses or they could not afford to pay a new attorney and their case remained unresolved.

Brott also noted in his decision that La Rocca's actions caused his clients anguish and frustration. One said La Rocca turned a "stressful situation into a nightmare" and another was so traumatized by La Rocca's actions that he could not provide a declaration. Instead, his mother had to submit a supporting declaration. The judge said La Rocca ignored his clients' repeated requests that he return their files, provide status reports or refund unearned fees.

He did not participate in the disciplinary proceedings against him, and his default was entered.

In one case, for example, a client contacted La Rocca after her husband died and asked him to change the title of some trust properties to her name. The changes had to be made within a year of her husband's death to avoid tax consequences. She paid La Rocca $500.

Despite 15 phone calls and two visits to his office, the client could not determine the status of her case. After five months, La Rocca sent the client a letter saying he would contact her in two weeks, but he never did. The woman's daughter had no better luck when she tried to contact La Rocca.

He did not respond to an eventual demand for a refund of the advance fee.
The client had to hire another attorney, pay her accountant additional money and may face tax consequences as a result of La Rocca's inaction.

In another matter, La Rocca filed papers in a child support and visitation case, but he did not return his client's phone calls for a long period of time, eventually telling the client he had been ill. The opposing attorney also could not reach La Rocca and when he visited La Rocca's office was told La Rocca had left without telling anyone.

The client and his wife went through mediation, but the question of child support was not resolved. The client hired a new lawyer, paying him $2,500 to do the work he'd paid La Rocca to do. La Rocca signed a substitution of attorney form but did not refund the fees.

Brott found La Rocca committed 49 acts of misconduct, including failure to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees, communicate with clients, release client files, maintain records of client funds or cooperate with the bar's investigations, and he wrote checks against insufficient funds, improperly withdrew from employment and committed acts of moral turpitude. He also forged a client's signature on a stipulation and related order.

MARIE R. CANNELLA [##115480], 58, of Glendale was disbarred June 8, 2002, and ordered to comply with rule 955.

In a default proceeding the State Bar Court found that she failed to comply with rule 955 order last year by failing to submit to the Supreme Court an affidavit attesting that she notified her clients and other pertinent parties of her suspension from practice. Failure ot comply with rule 955 is grounds for disbarment.

The underlying discipline, also ordered in a default proceeding, was the result of Cannella's failure to perform legal services competently or return client files.

JOHN WILLIAM BERNBROCK [##144254], 41, of Anaheim Hills was disbarred June 8, 2002, and ordered to comply with rule 955.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Bernbrock failed to comply with a rule 955 order issued in 2001. He did not file the required affidavit with the Supreme Court.

The original discipline was the result of failing to deposit client funds in a trust account instead misappropriating the money for his own use in one matter, and in a second case, failing to refund unearned fees or maintain complete records of client funds.


DONALD BARNETT [##33012], 65, of Palos Verdes Peninsula was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on 18 months of probation with an actual four-month suspension and was ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect April 25, 2002.

Barnett stipulated to misconduct in two consolidated matters.

In a divorce case, he asked his client, who had been awarded $102,500 as her share of community property, for a $27,500 loan. The client says she told Barnett she would think about it.

When Barnett received the settlement draft, he gave the client $75,000 and sent the client a letter than $27,500 would be deferred for 150 days, as agreed, and he would then repay her $30,000. About six months later, the client demanded immediate payment. She says she never read nor signed a memorandum about the terms of the loan.

When Barnett did not return the money, the client sued him.

He stipulated that he entered into an improper business transaction with a client.

Barnett also violated the terms of a 2000 probation by not submitting quarterly probation reports, attending ethics school or client trust accounting school, and by not taking the professional responsibility exam.

The underlying discipline was the result of failing to maintain client funds in trust or promptly pay client funds, and commingling client and personal funds. Barnett also was publicly reproved in 1977 for paying another party for soliciting business for him.

In mitigation, Barnett had emotional or physical difficulties at the time and presented evidence of his good character.

HOYT ELVIN HART II [##125088], 46, of Rancho Santa Re was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect April 25, 2002.

Hart stipulated that he commingled funds in his trust account and made a misrepresentation to the State Bar, an act of moral turpitude.

He did not maintain a separate general business account and routinely commingled personal and business funds with client funds. He also wrote personal checks against his client trust account and bounced checks. When questioned by a bar investigator, Hart said the checks were made out to clients or were written on behalf of clients, which he knew to be untrue.

In mitigation, he has no record of prior discipline, no clients were harmed and he cooperated with the bar later in its investigation.

ROBERT EMIL RELAT [##125467], 53, of Salinas was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with a 21-month actual suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation, and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect May 5, 2002.

Relat stipulated to misconduct in seven matters. Three involved his client trust account; he repeatedly issued checks against insufficient funds, committing acts of moral turpitude, and he commingled personal or business funds with client funds. In addition, he cashed a check for $550 written on the account at a check cashing service and then stopped payment and did not reimburse the funds. The check cashing service sued him in small claims court and won a judgment of $2,082, which it collected through wage garnishment.

He voluntarily dismissed the case of a client who had hired him to resolve a property dispute and paid $3,255 in legal fees.

Relat closed his office without telling a client who hired him to handle a workers' compensation and work-related injury matter. He stipulated that he improperly withdrew from employment without protecting his client's interests, and failed to return his client's file or communicate with him.

His misappropriated $3,650 and $2,380 respectively from two other clients.

In mitigation, Relat had extreme emotional difficulties as the result of his divorce at the time, he made full restitution to his clients and he cooperated with the bar's investigation.

TIMOTHY F. PERRY [##77738], 50, of Berkeley was suspended for 23 months, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 23-month suspension and until he makes restitution, and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect May 5, 2002.

Perry stipulated to misconduct in three matters.

In two consolidated cases, he handled claims against various securities brokers for a client who paid him $4,000 as an advanced fee against a contingency fee. Perry told the client his case might be worth up to $400,000 in potential damages. An arbitration was scheduled 15 months later.

Perry told the client on the day of the scheduled arbitration that it had been postponed because the arbitrator was being replaced. The client never heard from him again.

The opposing parties moved to dismiss, Perry failed to appear at the hearing, and he did not notify the client about a discovery order but filed a response to the motion to dismiss, citing his own medical problems. The client was never made aware of any developments in the case.

With arbitration imminent, Perry failed to submit the required 20-day notice relating to identification of witnesses and other matters. As a result, the arbitration was continued. Perry did not appear at that hearing, nor did the client, who was unaware a hearing had been scheduled. All of Perry's client's claims were denied.

The records show that Perry did not honor numerous agreements with opposing counsel and at least one arbitration order to provide further discovery responses.

The client learned the outcome of the arbitration only after the State Bar investigated.

Perry stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with his client, or refund unearned fees.

In another case, Perry wrote a check against insufficient funds in his client trust account.

In 2000, Perry also was suspended from practice before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for three years as a result of repeatedly violating procedural rules and orders, misleading his clients and the court, and failing to cooperate and communicate with a client.

In mitigation, Perry has no record of prior discipline, he suffered from emotional difficulties and prescription medication abuses, and he has performed charitable and pro bono work since his 1977 admission to the bar.

BARBRA MESCH [##195743], 48, of Sherman Oaks was placed on one year of probation with an actual 60-day suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect May 5, 2002.

While on voluntary inactive status, Mesch was employed as an attorney at a law clinic operated by a non-lawyer. She stipulated that she practiced law while not a member of the bar, aided another person in the unauthorized practice of law and split fees with a non-attorney.

In mitigation, she was under severe financial stress at the time.

LEROY ALLAN MARTIN [##137619], 49, of Alhambra was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 60-day suspension and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect May 5, 2002.

Martin stipulated to misconduct in four consolidated matters, all dealing with immigration issues.

In one case, he did not properly supervise his staff, one of whom did not re-submit a petition to the INS after it was returned because the check for the filing fees was not signed. The client tried repeatedly over 10 months to determine the status of her case, but was unable to do so. When she hired a new lawyer, Martin did not release her file promptly.

In another matter, Martin prepared and submitted a labor condition application to the Department of Labor for his client and prepared but never submitted a petition for a non-immigrant worker to be submitted to the INS. When the client requested copies of the documents filed on her behalf, Martin's paralegal refused, saying the documents were confidential. Martin also did not respond to a phone call or a letter from the client.

Although Martin's office prepared petitions seeking an extension of two visas, they were never filed with the INS. Martin's paralegal gave the clients documents which purportedly showed the petitions had been filed, but in fact they referenced another client's case. The clients had to hire another lawyer.

Although he had one year to file an application for asylum for another client, he did not do so, despite many assurances by his staff that the matter was being handled. He represented the same client in a deportation case and as the merits hearing approached, he realized the asylum petition had not been filed. The judge accepted the late filing but advised Martin's client to get a new attorney.

Martin also was disciplined in 1994.

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

REBECCA L. STITT [##89346], 51, of Torrance was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 75-day suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect May 5, 2002.

Stitt stipulated to misconduct in two cases.

In divorce matter, although Stitt filed a response to her client's husband's complaint, for some reason it was never filed and put in court records. There also was no filed copy of a TRO. Stitt told the copy the TRO had been filed but never provided her with a copy.

Because there was no response to the husband's complaint in the court file, he filed a request for default. Despite Stitt's many reassurances that there was nothing to worry about, judgment was entered against her client. Stitt again told her client she was working on her case, but in fact did no further work.

Stitt filed a wrongful termination lawsuit for another client and appeared for one status conference but not for another. Although she filed a response to the court's motion to dismiss the case and appeared for two hearings, Stitt failed to appear at another hearing and the matter was dismissed.

Stitt misrepresented the status of the case, telling her client it was active and that she was diligently pursuing it. She also created settlement documents and letters indicating communication between herself and the defendant. After repeated inquiries from the client, she told him the case had settled but that she had not received any settlement funds.

She ultimately admitted to the client that his case had been dismissed five years earlier without any settlement offer. Stitt never returned the client's file to him.

She stipulated that she failed to perform legal services competently in both matters, and in the second case that she failed to keep a client reasonably informed about developments or provide the client with his file, and committed acts of moral turpitude by making misrepresentations to the client.

JONATHAN I. MANN [##94098], 47, of Sherman Oaks was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect May 5, 2002.

Mann stipulated that in a personal injury case, he allowed the balance in his client trust account to fall below the required amount and he failed to promptly disburse funds received on behalf of a client.

In mitigation, Mann's attorney wife had stopped practicing with him but he was unable to employ another attorney due to financial restraints. As a result of his additional caseload, he wasn't able to manage his office adequately. He and his wife then separated, causing additional stress and financial strain. He has no record of prior discipline and he cooperated with the bar's investigation.

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