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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.

DISBARMENTS

SUSPENSION/PROBATION

DISBARMENTS

THOMAS I. ARMSTRONG [#160040], 46, of Irvine was disbarred July 31, 2005, and was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.

In two consolidated default matters, the State Bar Court found that Armstrong committed six acts of misconduct: failure to promptly pay out client funds, maintain client funds, notify a client of receipt of funds or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he misappropriated client funds and committed acts of moral turpitude.

He was hired by a mortgage company to begin foreclosure proceedings against a borrower. The borrower provided a check for almost $17,000 to stop the foreclosure proceedings and reinstate the loan; Armstrong deposited the money in his client trust account and immediately withdrew most of it. Several days later, Armstrong deposited into the account a cashier’s check payable to the mortgage company for the amount he had withdrawn. He never notified the mortgage company of any receipt of funds, nor did he pay any money to the company.

The balance in his trust account fell below the required amount.

Armstrong filed for bankruptcy, but did not list his trust account in the bankruptcy schedules or list the mortgage company as a creditor. He continued to use his trust account to pay personal and business expenses.

In the second matter, a client hired him to prepare estate planning documents for her parents. He agreed to deposit insurance and annuity checks payable to the client’s mother into his trust account and to disburse the funds to the client.

The client gave him a check, for more than $10,000, payable to her mother for deposit in his client trust account. Armstrong did not respond to three e-mails in which the client asked about the money. He allowed the balance in his trust account to fall below the required amount.

Armstrong told the client he would send the money, but he only issued her a check after she made an in-person demand. The check bounced and the client hired an attorney to help retrieve her money.

An attorney hired by Armstrong provided a check for $12,000 drawn against his trust account to the client and asked her to sign a document saying she was satisfied with the restitution and did not wish to pursue a criminal case against Armstrong. She refused.

Armstrong also was disciplined last January for improperly withdrawing from employment and violating a court order to pay sanctions.

In recommending Armstrong’s disbarment, State Bar Court Judge Richard A. Honn wrote that his “misconduct reflects a blatant disregard of professional responsibilities. He flagrantly breached the fiduciary duties owed to his clients and abused their trust as their attorney.”


FRED J. AMBROSE [#183564], 53, of Long Beach was disbarred Aug. 7, 2005, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

Ambrose failed to comply with rule 955 as required by a 2003 discipline order. He did not submit to the Supreme Court an affidavit stating that he notified his clients and other pertinent parties of his suspension from practice.

The discipline was imposed for Ambrose’s failure to perform legal services competently or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he improperly withdrew from employment.


SUSPENSION/PROBATION

JULIA ANN KEMP [#146670], 54, of La Habra was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 28, 2005.

Kemp stipulated to three counts of misconduct in two cases.

In the first, she received a $1,500 advance fee to modify a client’s child support. Although she prepared some documents, she did not return her client’s phone calls and the client fired her and asked for a refund. She also did not respond to a State Bar investigator’s inquiries.

In the second case, Kemp was retained by a couple to handle a disclosure issue involving a real property purchase. Although Kemp compiled information about the case, she did not return her clients’ phone calls and they too fired her. She refunded their advance fee.

Kemp stipulated to two counts of failing to respond to clients’ reasonable status inquiries and to one count of failing to cooperate with the bar’s investigation.

Kemp was privately reproved in 2001.


CRAIG ALLRED DECKER [#55576], 62, of Mesa, Ariz. was suspended for three years, stayed, actually suspended for two years and until he proves his rehabilitation, and the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension, and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 28, 2005.

Decker was disciplined in Arizona in two cases. In the first, he committed nine acts of misconduct in a bankruptcy matter. Among other things, he did not consult with his clients regarding the negotiation and settlement of a third party creditor’s account, he did not consult sufficiently with the clients, provide a written accounting of entrusted funds or withdraw from representation when requested and he didn’t cooperate with the Arizona bar’s investigation.

In a second matter, a complaint was filed against him with the Arizona bar but he did not respond to its requests for information.

The State Bar Court found that Decker’s misconduct in Arizona also violated California’s Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended his suspension.

He had two prior instances of discipline in Arizona.


SHEILA ANN WHARTON [#52005], 58, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, actually suspended for 60 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE. If the actual suspension exceeds 90 days, she must comply with rule 955, and if it exceeds two years, she must prove her rehabilitation. The order took effect July 31, 2005.

Wharton was suspended by the Supreme Court of Louisiana for committing 20 acts of misconduct in seven client matters. The State Bar Court in California found that she committed seven violations of California rules and statutes. She failed to communicate with a client, perform legal services competently, cooperate with the bar’s investigation or return unearned fees, and she committed acts of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Wharton practiced for 24 years without a discipline record.


OLIVER LEE SAUNDERS [#97300], 67, of Fresno was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 31, 2005.

Saunders stipulated to five counts of misconduct in four cases.

He was hired by a woman and her mother to file separate bankruptcy petitions. Although they signed the petitions in June, Saunders did not file them until October, meaning bank balances and other sworn statements could have changed. The daughter provided a letter from her mother’s doctor to support a request that she participate by phone in any hearings.

Saunders did not make a timely request for telephonic appearance, and when he made the request, he supplied insufficient evidence so it was denied. He failed to appear at two hearings, and the case was dismissed. The court denied a motion for reconsideration and instructed Saunders to file a new case. His client paid him $200 to file a second petition.

The petition was deficient and Saunders did not file a correction by the deadline.

The client ultimately called the bankruptcy assistant trustee who called the doctor herself and generated a memo to approve a telephonic appearance.

In the second matter, he failed to appear at a pretrial conference in a criminal matter. The client appeared and represented himself. Saunders was fined $300.

In another matter, Saunders was hired to file bankruptcy for a man who was in prison. The man’s wife signed the necessary documents, but Saunders did not tell her that her signature was legally ineffective. Saunders failed to appear at four hearings and did not respond to a motion to dismiss. The court ordered him to repay the client’s wife, which he did nine months later.

Saunders did not appear at hearings in another bankruptcy case and was sanctioned $100.

He stipulated in each matter that he failed to perform legal services competently. He also admitted that he practiced law while suspended for non-compliance with MCLE requirements.

Saunders has been disciplined twice previously with a private reproval and a suspension and probation, both in 1992.

In mitigation, he has medical problems and he refunded his fee to one client.


WALTER JAMES ROBERTS IV [#225339], 42, of Los Angeles was suspended for 30 days, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 31, 2005.

Roberts stipulated to two counts of misconduct.

He did not file a civil complaint in one matter for more than 10 months, despite repeated promises to his client to do so. At the time, he was overwhelmed with priority problems related to other cases he was handling and did not make sufficient time available to draft the complaint.

The client filed a complaint with the State Bar, but decided to continue Roberts’ services. In negotiating a new fee agreement, Roberts said he would include a provision requiring her to withdraw her bar complaint, a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

In mitigation, Roberts has no record of discipline, his client was not harmed, he acted in good faith and he demonstrated remorse.


THOMAS H. RAVATT [#67228], 63, of Montebello was suspended for one year, stayed, and was placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension. The order took effect July 31, 2005.

Ravatt stipulated that he failed to maintain client funds in trust or pay his client’s medical bills promptly. He received a settlement check for $21,000 in a personal injury case and was required to hold about $2,600 to pay his client’s medical bills. While Ravatt was out of the country, his paralegal gave a $15,000 check to the client, and wrote two checks for $3,000 each as Ravatt’s fee.

The paralegal told the client she was entitled to the $15,000, in effect reducing Ravatt’s fee without his authorization. Nonetheless, he honored her promise.

Ravatt paid the client’s medical bills from his personal checking account and paid her the difference between the cost of the bills and the amount he was required to hold in trust for her.

Ravatt has a prior record of discipline: he received a stayed suspension in 2002 for failing to perform legal services competently or communicate with a client.

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


ALAN IRVING MOSS [#68369], 61, of San Francisco was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation and makes restitution, 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 July 31.

Moss reviewed a file for a defendant in a lawsuit and recommended that the man hire a real estate expert. With the defendant’s permission, Moss associated with a real estate attorney. The client gave Moss a check for $10,000 as an advance fee.

The client later terminated Moss’ employment and Moss was told the entire fee should go to the other lawyer. He did not provide her the money and stipulated that he failed to refund unearned fees.

In another case, Moss represented a client in an action against an insurance company on a contingency fee basis. He settled the case for $60,000 but did not abide by the terms of the fee agreement.

He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently by not sending the client the settlement check for his endorsement or promptly paying the client what he was entitled to, and by withdrawing a fee without the client’s consent and incorrectly charging his client for another attorney’s work when he should have paid for the work.

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


KARINEH AVANESSIAN [#130048], 49, of Encino was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 100-day actual suspension and was ordered to prove her rehabilitation and comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 31, 2005.

Avanessian employed a non-lawyer who did paralegal and clerical work for her in an office in Encino. Avanessian’s office was in Glendale and she sometimes used the Encino office. The paralegal had a client sign a fee agreement and referred her to the paralegal’s wife, a chiropractor who worked in the same building. The paralegal signed and sent a letter of representation to an insurance company on behalf of Avanessian. The letter and other documents listed Avanessian’s office in Encino.

Avanessian did not respond to a settlement offer before the statute of limitations expired, nor did she file a lawsuit by that time. She says she instructed her paralegal to prepare and file the suit, and he showed her a fabricated suit that he said he had filed. The suit bore Avanessian’s signature, but she says the paralegal signed it.

The paralegal later settled the claim for $3,220, and faxed a fabricated summons and complaint to the client to mislead her. The attorney for the insurance company asked for and received copies of a request to dismiss the suit and a release form that purported to be signed by Avanessian and the client respectively. In fact, neither signed the documents.

The settlement check was sent to the client’s cousin and cashed with the client’s forged signature.

Avanessian did not properly supervise her paralegal, which resulted in the filing of a fraudulent lawsuit and obtaining settlement funds under false pretenses. She falsely held herself out as maintaining a law office in a location where she did not work. She stipulated that she failed to perform legal services competently and committed an act of moral turpitude.

She also stipulated that she improperly split legal fees with the paralegal in 12 cases.

In another case, the paralegal led a client to believe for more than a year that Avanessian had accepted her personal injury case and was working on it. In fact, Avanessian had rejected the case. She stipulated that she failed to supervise her employee.

Avanessian also was disciplined in 2003.

In mitigation, she trusted the paralegal, with whom she had been friends for 10 years. She did not discover his fraud until after the State Bar opened an investigation and she fired him and made restitution to the insurance company.


JOHN CHITTENDEN CASEY [#63949], 57, of Oakland was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 18-month suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE, comply with rule 955 and prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Aug. 7, 2005.

A client hired Casey on a contingency fee basis to represent her in a personal injury matter. She had fired an earlier attorney who filed a lien against any recovery. The client settled for $30,000 and the former law firm asked for $310.

Casey was entitled to $10,000 and was required to maintain $20,000 in trust until the settlement was paid out on the client’s behalf. However, he misappropriated almost the entire amount by failing to maintain it in trust.

He also did not respond to an inquiry from an insurance company that had paid the client’s workers’ comp and disability claims, and requested reimbursement of $10,000. Casey paid after the insurance company complained to the State Bar. He also paid the former law firm’s lien only after the bar investigated.

Casey stipulated that he committed acts of moral turpitude by failing to maintain client funds in trust or to maintain what was owed to the client’s insurance company.

He was privately reproved in 1988 and in 1990 was disciplined for failing to comply with conditions attached to the reproval. The underlying misconduct involved a failure to properly withdraw in two cases.

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


KENNETH E. CALKINS JR. [#102633], 74, of Glendale was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year, comply with rule 955 and make restitution. The order took effect Aug. 7, 2005.

Calkins stipulated to misconduct in two cases. He filed a marital dissolution petition but served his client’s estranged husband improperly; he did no further work and did not return his client’s phone calls for five months. He eventually filed a request for entry of default as to the husband, but the court denied the request because of the improper proof of service. Because Calkins’ phone was disconnected, the court’s order was sent in the mail but was returned since Calkins had moved.

Twenty-nine months after it was initially filed, the divorce petition was served on the husband. Calkins did not respond to discovery requests in a timely fashion. The client fired him and after he substituted out, Calkins told the client she owed him money for “excess work” done on her case.

Calkins stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently or communicate with his client.

In the second matter, he was hired to handle a habeas corpus petition for an inmate who was serving a 19-year prison sentence. The client’s father paid $3,700 in advance fees, but Calkins did not file the petition, meet with the client or provide services of any value to him.

The father obtained a small claims judgment against Calkins for $3,752, but he had not paid it at the time of the stipulation.

He stipulated that he improperly withdrew from employment, failed to return client files, refund unearned fees, communicate with a client or keep his address current with the State Bar.

In mitigation, Calkins has no prior record of discipline and he is retired and no longer practices due in part to physical difficulties.


DAVID ROBERT HENDRICKS [#134812], 43, of San Diego 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. 21, 2005.

Hendricks did not comply with conditions of a public reproval imposed in 2003 for failing to return client files, respond to client inquiries or cooperate with the bar’s investigation. He did not submit written quarterly reports or evidence that he passed the MPRE or attended ethics school.

In mitigation, he was overwhelmed with helping a family member in crisis and neglected his duties as an attorney.


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