State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California February2003
Top Headlines
Opinion
MCLE Self-Study
Ethics Byte
Feature
You Need to Know
Trials Digest
Contact CBJ
PastIssues

Caution! More than 200,000 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

JEFFREY ELLIS HARBIN [##137997], 41, of San Diego was disbarred Aug. 17, 2002, and ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.

The State Bar Court found that Harbin committed misconduct in three separate client matters, including failing to competently perform legal services, properly withdraw from employment, communicate with clients, comply with court orders, release a client file and cooperate with the bar's investigation. Coupled with four previous disciplines, the court recommended Harbin's disbarment.

Several prior proceedings related to his failure to comply with probation conditions from other disciplines. Harbin's "apparent disregard for the State Bar disciplinary process, as exemplified by his repeated violation of probation conditions, by his failure to cooperate with State Bar investigations and by his failure to participate in these proceedings do not give this court any confidence that (Harbin) can conform his conduct to the standards required of practitioners in the state of California," wrote Judge Pat McElroy.

Harbin's default was entered in the three cases consolidated for the most recent proceeding.

The first involved a personal injury case in which Harbin did not return his client's phone calls. He did not file a lawsuit or negotiate with his client's insurance company. When the client fired him and went to his office, she found it was empty and Harbin had moved without leaving a forwarding address.

Another client paid Harbin $18,000 in advance fees to represent him in a criminal and a related civil matter. The client was the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit. Harbin did not appear at several hearings, a default was entered in the civil matter and he was sanctioned $500, but never paid the sanction. In addition, the plaintiffs were awarded a judgment of just over $6 million.

In the third matter, Harbin represented the plaintiff in a civil action, but failed to appear at a status conference and several hearings on notices to show cause. He did not return at least 20 phone calls from the client and at one point told the court he thought he had substituted out of the case. He did not file a motion to withdraw as counsel, despite the judge's order to do so. Eventually the client was incarcerated and the court determined Harbin abandoned the client.

Harbin's history of discipline began in 1989, a few months after his admission to the bar, with a private reproval for failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with a client or properly withdraw as counsel. As a result of his misconduct, his client's civil action was dismissed.

He then was disciplined three more times for failing to comply with probation conditions, as well as for misconduct which resulted in the entry of a $65,000 default judgment against his client. A $240,000 malpractice judgment was entered against Harbin. He committed acts of moral turpitude by making misrepresentations to a lender in order to borrow money.


IRIS Z. SPECTOR [##107506], 45, of Corona del Mar was disbarred Aug. 17, 2002, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Spector did not comply with an earlier rule 955 order. She did not submit to the Supreme Court an affidavit attesting that she notified her clients, opposing counsel and other interested parties of her 2001 suspension.

Failure to comply with rule 955 is grounds for disbarment.

Spector's disciplinary problems began in 1991, when she was suspended for non-payment of bar dues. In 1994, while still suspended, she appeared in court on behalf of a plaintiff. At that time, she was suspended and placed on probation.

Her failure to comply with probation conditions led to the 2001 order and violating that order led to the disbarment.

Bar court Judge Stanford E. Reichert recommended Spector's disbarment because she "repeatedly demonstrated (her) failure to meet (her) ethical and legal obligations, including disobeying an order from the Supreme Court."


MICHAEL LEIGH REAGAN [##82583], 59, of Westminster was disbarred Aug. 24, 2002, and ordered to comply with rule 955.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Reagan failed to comply with a 955 order issued in 2001. The order was issued as part of a discipline resulting from Reagan's failure to perform competently, inform a client of significant developments in a case, communicate with a client, promptly pay out client funds or maintain client funds in trust and for misappropriating client funds, an act of moral turpitude.

He had stipulated to misconduct in five consolidated cases.


SUSPENSION/PROBATION

MICHAEL FRANK BORKOWSKI [##105068], 43, of Sacramento was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on one year of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation and pass the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 20, 2002.

Borkowski stipulated to three counts of misconduct in a criminal defense matter. He was hired to represent a client who had been sentenced to prison and was paid a $2,500 fee by the client's wife.

Because he had done little work on the matter, he agreed at a later date to prepare a writ for no additional cost.

Borkowski never initiated a writ proceeding, contending he was awaiting a Supreme Court decision which could have directly affected his client.

However, he never returned phone calls and did not tell the client or his wife why he delayed the proceeding.

He also did not respond to a letter from the wife giving him a deadline to prepare the writ or return the advance fee. He finally refunded the fee eight months later.

Borkowski stipulated that he failed to provide status updates to his client, return the client file when his employment ended or promptly refund an unearned fee.

He has been disciplined three times previously. In 1992, he was privately reproved for failing to obtain a conflict waiver; in 1996, he was publicly reproved for failing to properly withdraw from employment; and in 1998, he was placed on probation for failing to communicate with a client or cooperate with the bar's investigation.

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


DANIEL GARZA MEZA [##108475], 47, of Los Angeles was suspended for three years, stayed, actually suspended for one year and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension, 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 July 20, 2002.

Meza did not respond to the charges against him, so the bar court ruled based on a State Bar brief in lieu of a default hearing. It found that Meza failed to perform legal services competently and improperly withdrew from employment in a case involving 13 clients he represented in a civil lawsuit against the owner of commercial property where they leased space.

Meza began a jury trial which was expected to take at least 10 days with possible damages of more than $1 million. On the seventh day of trial, Meza did not appear and could not be located. When he failed to appear on three subsequent days, the court declared a mistrial.

A new lawyer won a verdict of more than $1 million for the clients. Meza's whereabouts were unknown when the case ended.

He has been disciplined twice before as the result of criminal convictions. He has two DUIs and a felony conviction for continuous sexual abuse.


CHRISTOPHER GEORGE WESTON [##174808], 42, of Beverly Hills was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on three years of probation and ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 20, 2002.

Weston stipulated to one count of failing to perform legal services competently.

He was employed as an associate by a busy civil litigation attorney soon after his 1994 admission to the bar. As a condition of employment, Weston was required to open a client trust account and a general business account, both in his name. His employer controlled the accounts and made all decisions concerning what funds were deposited in them and how the funds were disbursed.

At times, the employer also required Weston to pose as a sole practitioner, using his own letterhead.

In 1996, at his employer's direction, Weston substituted into a wrongful death suit as counsel of record for one of several plaintiffs. He represented himself as a sole practitioner to the other parties, but his client knew he worked for his employer.

He received a $95,000 settlement check payable to him, his client and the client's two previous attorneys. He sent the check to the two attorneys, asking for their signatures and promising to retain the attorney fee portion in his trust account until the apportionment of the fee could be decided.

The day after he deposited the check in his trust account, his employer paid the client more than $60,000 and paid the entire remainder of $34,505.21 to himself.

In subsequent litigation, it was determined that Weston and his employer owed some $22,000 to one former attorney and about $4,200 to the other. Weston has been financially unable to reimburse the funds stolen by his employer, largely because the employer improperly withheld his salary. Weston has a judgment against the employer, who has refused to pay anything.

The employer resigned from the bar in 2001, with 25 disciplinary charges filed against him for theft or conversion of client funds in excess of $600,000. Several additional charges were pending for insurance fraud of approximately $900,000 and for the theft of funds from Weston.

In mitigation, Weston cooperated with the bar's investigation, he terminated his employment when he learned about his employer's theft of funds and he closed the two bank accounts, which had been used by the employer.


ELLA SMITH CHATTERJEE [##149923], 50, of Newport Beach was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 300-day actual suspension and was ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 31, 2002.

Chatterjee stipulated to misconduct in three matters.

The first involved misusing her client trust account. She issued 23 checks drawn on the account to pay personal and business expenses, she deposited payroll checks into the account and she wrote 14 checks against insufficient funds, committing acts of moral turpitude.

In the second matter, she represented a client in a personal injury case, which settled for $13,000. The client asked, and Chatterjee agreed, to not pay the client's chiropractor until treatment was completed. Chatterjee asked the client to release her fees immediately, which the client did.

Before the chiropractor was paid, Chatterjee allowed the balance in her trust account to fall below the required amount 57 times. She took seven months to pay the chiropractor.

Chatterjee settled a personal injury case for another client for $10,000 and received a check payable to her, the client and a previous counsel. She gave the client $800 and held the remainder until medical liens were paid, explaining she was negotiating reduced medical bills and that she would receive one-third of the remaining balance as her fee. Any remaining funds after Chatterjee and the lienholders were paid would go to the client.

Chatterjee did not return her client's phone calls or respond to a certified letter, and she closed her law office without advising her client and without disbursing settlement funds to the lienholders or the previous lawyer. The lawyer won a small claims judgment against Chatterjee and her client and the chiropractors sent their lien to a collection agency.

Chatterjee eventually paid the client his share of the settlement.

She did not cooperate with the bar's investigation of all three matters.

Chatterjee also was suspended in 2001 for failing to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients or cooperate with the bar's investigation.


JOSEPH MEIR RIBAKOFF [##146573], 46, of Long Beach was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with a nine-month actual suspension, and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, make restitution and comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 31, 2002.

Ribakoff stipulated to misconduct in four cases.

He represented a client in an administrative appeal of the denial of long-term disability benefits by an insurance company. He notified his client that the appeal was denied and advised him of the option to pursue litigation. The client decided to do so, paying Ribakoff $1,500 in fees and agreeing to a contingency fee of 25 or 35 percent of any settlement, less the $1,500.

Ribakoff did not file suit or return the client's phone calls over a three-month period. When the client finally reached him, Ribakoff asked for another chance to handle the matter and sent a letter promising to perform services and return phone calls within one business day. Over a later four-month time period, Ribakoff did not return approximately 23 phone calls. When the client fired him, he also did not refund the advance fees.

In a second matter, Ribakoff was retained to represent a client in two matters. After researching one of the matters, he determined filing a lawsuit was not appropriate. However, the client believed a suit had been filed and he fired Ribakoff when he learned it had not. Ribakoff did not return the files promptly, nor did he refund unearned fees.

A couple paid Ribakoff $2,000 in advance fees to file suit against an insurance company for denying disability benefits for the wife. He also handled a matter regarding the wife's longterm disability carrier.

Ribakoff never filed a complaint against the insurance company, but told the client he had and said he was awaiting a court date. He did not return his clients' numerous phone calls, return their file or refund unearned fees.

Ribakoff was replaced by another attorney in another case, but never provided an accounting to the client of the $2,250 advance fee.

Ribakoff stipulated that he failed to respond to client inquiries or keep clients informed of developments in their cases, he failed to refund unearned fees, release client files, perform legal services competently, take steps to avoid prejudice to his client, account for client funds or cooperate with the bar's investigation. He also made misrepresentations to a client, committing acts of moral turpitude.

He also was suspended and placed on probation in 2001 for failure to perform legal services competently, promptly refund unearned fees or communicate with clients, and he committed acts of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Ribakoff was under severe financial stress at the time of the misconduct.


EDWARD JOSEPH LaBARRE [##71569], 58, of of Colorado Springs, Colo. 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 Aug. 1, 2002.

LaBarre pleaded no contest to misdemeanor obstructing government operations in Colorado in 2000 and was suspended from practice for 90 days in that state. The conviction was the result of his representation of a defendant in an assault case. The defendant was a member of a motorcycle club known as the "Sons of Silence" which was being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire-arms. A witness in the case was sent by the ATF to see LaBarre, who influenced the witness how to testify.

He was initially charged with felony witness tampering but that charge was dismissed and LaBarre pled no contest to the misdemeanor charge of obstructing government operations. Under Colorado law, the essential elements of obstructing government operations are that the defendant intentionally obstructed, impaired, or hindered the performance of a governmental function by a public servant by using or threatening to use violence or physical interference or obstacle.

The State Bar Court determined that LaBarre's misconduct in Colorado warranted discipline in California.

In mitigation, he has no record of discipline, no client was harmed, LaBarre showed remorse and he cooperated with the bar's investigation.


JOHN EDWARD LINNEBALL [##181795], 32, of San Francisco was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual nine-month suspension, and was ordered to make restitution, prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Linneball stipulated to misconduct in eight cases. He failed to perform legal services competently six times, promptly pay out client funds nine times, properly maintain client funds twice, refund unearned fees twice, communicate with clients twice and he stipulated to one count each of failing to properly withdraw from employment and maintain proper respect to the courts. He also committed four acts of moral turpitude.

Linneball was a new attorney at the time of the misconduct and was first employed by and later became partners with Gerald Ross. Ross had primary and at times exclusive control over the firm's client trust account and other office matters.

Linneball was consuming large quantities of alcohol, in part to deal with the stress of working in a high volume litigation practice with constant deadlines and where cases often were given to him at the last minute. The practice also was very poorly managed and had financial difficulties.

In a 1994 matter, a client hired Ross & Associates to file a lawsuit charging retaliatory discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The client had filed suit against the company in the name of the U.S. Government, charging fraud by government contractors. The company fired him.

The client reached a settlement agreement with the company. Because of the government's interest in the case, the settlement had to be approved by the court. A federal judge approved the settlement and ordered that the client and the Ross law firm accept an additional settlement term requiring payment of $10,000 to the United States, specifying that $5,000 was to come from attorneys' fees and the remainder was to be paid by the client.

Ross told the client the firm would pay all amounts owed to the government as part of its disbursement of settlement proceeds.

The company paid the settlement in four installments totaling $250,000, but the client never received all proceeds to which he was entitled, nor was the government paid the money it was owed, with the exception of $2,500 paid by the client.

Although Ross sent three checks totaling $50,000 to the client on the same day, each was written on a different account and bore a different date. Each bounced. Two eventually were honored, but the third never cleared.

Another employment matter settled for $24,000, but the client later decided he wanted to set aside the settlement. When he was unsuccessful, the client fired Ross and Linneball and filed a substitution of attorney designating himself as his own attorney.

The client refused to accept the settlement money, which was eventually deposited with the northern district court registry. The court ordered the client to pick up the funds or, if he did not do so, to allow his attorney of record to retrieve the funds.

A representative of Ross and Linneball retrieved the $24,000, even though the firm no longer was involved in the case. The client never received any funds.

Settlement funds were not given to another client, who paid fees in her case herself when Linneball's check bounced. In another civil matter filed by a couple who later divorced, all settlement proceeds went to the husband, despite Linneball's promises to the wife that he would protect her share of the money.


MARK RANDAL POVRAZNIK [##153629], 42, of Los Angeles was suspended for four years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual two-year suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Povraznik failed to comply with rule 955, as ordered in a 2000 discipline.

A drug addict, Povraznik has been in jail and was incarcerated at the time he stipulated to misconduct. He did not comply with rule 955 because he erroneously believed that since he had not practiced since 1996, he did not need to comply. He filed the required affidavit nine months late.

The underlying discipline was the result of failing to comply with probation conditions attached to a 1997 disciplinary order. That matter resulted from a petty theft conviction as well as failure to promptly refund unearned fees, deposit client funds in a trust account, communicate with clients or pay court-ordered sanctions and improperly withdrawing from employment.

Povraznik also was disciplined in 1994.


JOHN ROYALL READ III [##51388], 62, of Ventura was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE within two years and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Read stipulated to misconduct in three matters.

He practiced law while suspended for non-payment of child support in 2000 by filing an answer to a complaint and making a court appearance. He also filed three bankruptcy petitions as well as an opposition to a motion in the bankruptcy court.

In another bankruptcy matter, Read entered into a business transaction with his client without advising the client to seek independent legal advice and without determining that the terms of the transaction were fair and in writing. The business transaction was Read's agreement to pay his client's tax liability.

He filed the bankruptcy petition so his client could discharge a tax liability of about $26,000 on a capital gain, an option available because of a new law. However, Read filed the petition three weeks before the law took effect. As a result, the tax liability was not discharged and Read agreed to pay the installments on his client's liability.

After several months, he stopped making payments without telling the client.

As a result, the IRS began collection proceedings against Read's client.

In mitigation, Read has severe financial problems because his child support payments often exceed his monthly income. He also has a long history of chronic anxiety and mild depression, which interferes with his judgment.


ROBERT EDWIN KEIJI VALDEZ [##176841], 45, of San Bernardino was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Valdez was retained to register an Oregon judgment in California and to undertake collection efforts on the judgment. The client, who lived in Oregon, hired Valdez with the help of his law firm in that state.

Valdez did not respond to three letters sent by the Oregon attorney seeking information about the collection efforts. When he received a fourth letter, Valdez says he drove to the San Bernardino County Clerk's office, filed an application for entry of judgment on sister-state judgment and was told by the clerk that a hearing would be set but she could not stamp his copy of the application as filed or received by the court.

Valdez then told the Oregon attorney that he had moved to have the judgment entered and that a motion would be heard. He did not respond to the lawyers' next two letters.

After receiving a third letter, Valdez sent a copy of the application he had filed, which bore a court stamp on it. He later filed a different application and a proposed judgment, which the court signed. Valdez told the Oregon attorney the debtor had 30 days to contest the judgment.

After writing three more letters and not receiving responses, the Oregon attorney complained to the State Bar. Valdez did not respond to the bar's investigator.

He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with a client or cooperate with the bar's investigation, and he improperly withdrew from employment.


ERIC W. SCHOLZ [##142357], 39, of San Rafael was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with a two-year actual suspension, and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, make restitution and take the MPRE if he did not take it as part of an earlier disciplinary order. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Scholz did not comply with the terms of a 1996 probation: he failed to file nine quarterly probation and psychiatric reports or quarterly reports showing compliance with substance abuse recovery, He also did not report required restitution payments.

The underlying discipline was the result of Scholz' failure to perform legal services competently, promptly refund unearned fees, properly maintain client property and funds, and he improperly withdrew from representation.

In mitigation, his failure to comply with probation was a direct result of his alcoholism and he has taken steps to achieve sobriety. He cooperated with the bar's investigation.


JACQUES S. WHITFIELD [##147362], 39, of Sacramento was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation and was ordered to make restitution, prove his rehabilitation and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Whitfield stipulated to misconduct in five consolidated cases.

From 1995 through 1997, Whitfield attempted unsuccessfully to start his own law firm and accepted referrals from a prepaid legal services program. From the end of 1997 to June 1998, he was employed at a law firm, bringing with him three unfinished referral cases.

He also began to represent a new client in a probate matter after joining the new firm.

When Whitfield left the firm, he failed to communicate with his remaining clients, return unearned fees and, in one matter, account for entrusted funds. He believed the law firm would conclude the cases for him.

In mitigation, Whitfield has no prior record of discipline in more than 10 years of practice, he was under severe financial stress, separated from his wife and declared bankruptcy, and agreed to refund the entire amounts of the retainers to the affected clients, whether or not he performed legal services for them.


ERNEST WAYNE HUGHES [##106943], 38, of Carmichael was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 90-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 Aug. 1, 2002.

Hughes was suspended in 2000, but failed to comply with probation conditions by not filing three quarterly reports.

He also was privately reproved in 1996 for failing to communicate with a client, and when he did not comply with probation conditions, he was disciplined in 2000.


POOYA DAYANIM [##187620], 29, of Beverly Hills was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation, and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, make restitution and take the MPRE. Credit shall be given for the period of interim suspension which began Aug. 31, 2001. The order took effect Aug. 1, 2002.

Dayanim pleaded guilty in 2000 to possessing a false identification document, a counterfeit Iranian bank certificate in another man's name, with the intent to defraud the government.

In mitigation, a case agent said Dayanim was a peripheral participant in a scheme involving 15 people using false information to obtain visas. He also has performed community service.


LAWRENCE A. MERRYMAN [##28984], 71, of Bakersfield was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to make restitution and attend ethics school. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

Merryman stipulated that he failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a private reproval in 2000. He has not made restitution or submitted proof of attendance at ethics school.

The reproval was imposed as a result of Merryman's failure to perform legal services competently, promptly refund unearned fees and maintain complete records of client funds.

In mitigation, he suffered from severe financial stress because several clients did not pay their legal fees. Because Merryman has recently been able to collect some fees, he can now afford to make restitution and to attend ethics school.


JAMES KASMIR O'BRIEN [##168485], 42, of Marina del Rey was suspended for 24 months, stayed, placed on 36 months of probation with a 10-month actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, make restitution, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

O'Brien stipulated to misconduct in eight consolidated matters.

He deposited personal funds in his client trust account, which he used to pay personal and business expenses, and he wrote 28 checks against insufficient funds in the trust account. He practiced law while suspended by making numerous court appearances on behalf of five clients and he did not comply with rule 955, as ordered in a 2001 discipline.

In two matters, he stipulated to failing to perform legal services competently. In the first, he was hired to represent a client in a bankruptcy matter, but he never filed the petition and did not refund his client's unearned $200 advance fee. In the second, he represented a client in a child custody dispute but did not submit an evidence list to the court prior to the court date. His lack of knowledge about procedures for returning children in custody disputes also delayed the return of his client's child by 30 days. He also owes his client $750, half of the advance fee.

In mitigation, O'Brien cooperated with the bar's investigation, he made restitution to one client and he had emotional difficulties which led to substance abuse. He underwent residential treatment and has been sober for 17 months.


RICHARD S. PAUL [##90142], 58, of Newport Beach was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual two-year suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE. Credit shall be given for the interim suspension which began July 7, 2001. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

Paul pleaded guilty in 2000 to making terrorist threats, a felony, and was sentenced to 16 months in state prison. The State Bar placed him on interim suspension in 2001.

The criminal charge stemmed from a 1998 incident in which an intoxicated Paul threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend. Paul was arrested several days later when he threatened to commit suicide because he had "done something stupid."

In mitigation, Paul had a 40-year history of alcohol abuse at the time of the incident, and also was a heavy user of cocaine. He has participated in residential and outpatient recovery programs since his arrest. He also cooperated with the bar's investigation.


OTTO PENA [##182379], 46, of Fullerton was suspended for 30 days, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was or-dered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

Pena was publicly reproved in 2000, but failed to comply with probation conditions by not taking the professional responsibility exam or attending ethics school.The reproval was the result of his failure to perform legal services competently or communicate with a client.

In mitigation, he had signed up for the exam but had a family emergency. He also made restitution to a client.


SEBASTIAN C. MESSER [##156586], 47, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, actually suspended for 90 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to end the suspension, 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 Aug. 17, 2002.

In a default proceeding, the bar court found that Messer misappropriated and commingled funds, improperly withdrew from employment and failed to perform services competently, communicate with a client, return unearned fees or cooperate with a bar investigation.

He was charged with misconduct in four cases.

The court found that in 2000, Messer mismanaged and mishandled his client trust account by commingling funds and allowing the balance to fall below the required amount twice. He used funds belonging to one client to make payments to another client, and he wrote one check against insufficient funds. His actions constituted moral turpitude.

In a personal injury case on behalf of a minor, Messer was required to take a series of steps for settlement funds to be released. He never did and did not respond to letters and phone calls from his client and opposing counsel.

Another client asked for a refund of her $3,000 advance fee. Messer's check bounced and he never refunded the fee.

Messer was privately reproved in 2000 for failing to competently perform legal services.


MARK KA-HO LI [##126829], 44, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation and take the MPRE. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

Li used his client trust account exclusively as a personal and business checking account and wrote 11 checks against insufficient funds.

After being put on notice that the State Bar was investigating commingling and bad checks written against his client trust account, Li deposited attorney fees in the account and wrote three more checks against insufficient funds and 15 checks for personal and/or business expenses.

By continuing to commingle personal funds in his trust account after being notified that such conduct was prohibited, Li showed his indifference, according to a stipulation he reached with the bar.

In mitigation, he has no record of prior discipline and no clients were harmed.


PETER J. KURTISS [##159237], 51, of Chula Vista was suspended for one year, stayed, actually suspended for 60 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 90 days, he must comply with rule 955; if it exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Kurtiss failed to perform legal services competently, obey a court order, respond to client inquiries or cooperate with a bar investigation and he improperly withdrew from employment.

Although he failed to file a substitution of attorney in a personal injury matter, he made court appearances as his client's counsel of record. When he did not appear at three hearings, however, the case was dismissed. He did not notify his client or take action to vacate the dismissal.


PHYLLIS N. VOISENAT-RAFTER [##159095], 40, of Oakland was suspended for 60 days, stayed, placed on five years of probation and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

Voisenat-Rafter stipulated to misconduct in two matters.

She filed a tort action asserting, among other things, malicious prosecution by a bankruptcy trustee and the trustee's appointed counsel. The defendants moved the case from superior to bankruptcy court, where their motion for summary judgment was granted and Voisenat-Rafter and her clients were sanctioned $34,179.

In a foreclosure matter, Voisenat-Rafter received $2,182 from her client as partial payment of a retainer and as a filing fee. Nearly two years later, the client determined that Voisenat-Rafter had done almost no work on the case and requested a refund.

Voisenat-Rafter stipulated that she improperly withdrew from employment, failed to refund an unearned fee or deposit client funds in a client trust account.

In mitigation, she repaid the client.


RICHARD J. SULLIVAN [##169297], 46, of Los Angeles was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 120-day actual suspension and until he makes restitution, and he 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 Aug. 17, 2002.

Sullivan stipulated that in a contingency fee case, he failed to promptly pay his client's former attorney and all but one of her medical providers the settlement funds to which they were entitled, failed to properly maintain his client's funds, and misappropriated client funds, an act of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, he has no record of discipline and he cooperated with the bar's investigation.


IRA SELTZER [##46225], 59, of Los Angeles was suspended for 18 months, stayed, and placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension. The order took effect Aug. 17, 2002.

Seltzer stipulated to misconduct in two matters.

He negotiated a $5,500 settlement in a civil matter against an airline and issued checks to his client and a medical provider. One of the checks was written against insufficient funds. Seltzer stipulated that he failed to properly maintain client funds and misappropriated at least $3,200, an act of moral turpitude.

In a second matter, he treated his trust account as a personal or general office account, either allowing his own funds to remain in the account longer than they should or misappropriating client funds.

Seltzer also was disciplined in 1993 and 1998 for not properly maintaining client funds or promptly paying out client funds and for committing an act of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, he attended client trust accounting school and instituted new office procedures.


Contact Us Site Map Notices Privacy Policy
© 2018 The State Bar of California