JOSEPH MICHAEL COLLER [#79893], 49, of
Granada Hills was disbarred Nov. 18, 1999, and ordered to comply with rule 955 of
the California Rules of Court.
Coller failed to meet the conditions of a 1998 discipline order
requiring him to comply with rule 955 by notifying his clients and other pertinent parties
of his suspension from practice and submitting an affidavit to that effect to the Supreme
He had stipulated to misconduct including failure to communicate with
clients, perform legal services competently, pay out client funds and maintain client
funds in a trust account, and to collecting an illegal or unconscionable fee. His conduct
amounted to moral turpitude due to misappropriation of client funds.
He was suspended for 10 months and until he made restitution.
The disbarment was ordered after a default proceeding.
Coller has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with the
professional obligations and rules of court imposed on California attorneys although he
has been given several opportunities to do so, wrote hearing Judge Carlos E.
. . . It would undermine the integrity of the disciplinary
system and damage public confidence in the legal profession if (Coller) were not disbarred
for his unexplained wilful disobedience of the Supreme Courts order.
BARRY B. ESKANOS [#125092], 40, of Yuba City was
disbarred Nov. 18, 1999, and ordered to comply with rule 955.
Eskanos settled a case involving an automobile fire for $107,500,
receiving three separate payments. Eskanos trust account records showed he wrote 12
checks, totalling $42,789.06 to cash, and one check for $17,439.06 was used to
purchase a cashiers check payable to Sacramento Jaguar.
He disbursed the amounts owed to his clients and one insurance
company, but $71,928.25 owed another insurer, CSAA, was not paid.
His records show no entry reflecting a transfer of that amount to any
CSAA eventually sued Eskanos, who claimed he had mailed the payment
but it was refused, and later said he would not appear at a hearing because his default in
the case was vacated. Neither claim was true.
The court awarded CSAA $88,466.67, which included $10,000 in punitive
Eskanos paid the judgment by a check drawn on a stock brokerage
account held in the joint personal names of two Colorado residents whose surname is
Eskanos. At the time, the balance in his trust account was almost $37,000. (At one point,
it dropped below $500.)
The bar court found that Eskanos failed to perform legal services
competently, failed to maintain CSAAs funds in trust, and engaged in acts of moral
turpitude by making misrepresentations to CSAA and misappropriating funds. He also failed
to cooperate with the bars investigation.
In mitigation, Eskanos had a discipline-free record and he presented
five witnesses who attested to his good character. However, none of the witnesses was
familiar with the charges against him.
Eskanos presented no defense at his trial before the bar, asserting
his Fifth Amendment rights. He was criminally charged as a result of the matter, and
although the charges were dismissed, the investigation continues with the possibility he
may be recharged. He rejected a draft protective order offered by the court, and
maintained he could not call witnesses or cross-examine those called by the bar. Although
he alluded to exculpatory evidence, he declined to present it.
The court said it feared Eskanos might commit further misconduct and
concluded he should not be permitted to practice law again without first proving, by
clear and convincing evidence in a reinstatement proceeding, his rehabilitation and
present moral qualifications for readmission.
JAMES HALL THOMAS [#41143], 63, of Lodi was
disbarred Nov. 18, 1999, and ordered to comply with rule 955.
Thomas was suspended for two years in 1996 and ordered to attend
ethics school within a year. He failed to do so.
He has a record of discipline in two prior matters. In 1982, he was
given a stayed suspension and ordered to make restitution to three clients. At the time,
hed been suspended for two years for non-payment of bar dues.
The discipline was the result of failure to perform legal services
competently or communicate with clients and improper withdrawal from employment.
He paid his dues in 1993 and the stayed suspension and probation from
1982 took effect at that time. In 1996, he was disciplined again for failing to comply
with conditions of the 1982 probation, including filing quarterly probation reports.
He never paid the restitution ordered in 1982.
In recommending Thomas disbarment, the bar court pointed out
that he has been continuously suspended since 1980, and has failed to make restitution,
comply with probation conditions, attend ethics school or participate in two disciplinary
DONALD VINCENT POHLMEYER [#89056], 50, of Union City, N.J., was
disbarred Nov. 25, 1999.
Pohlmeyer was disbarred in New Jersey in 1997, after the Office of
Attorney Ethics found that he misappropriated $35,960.33 from an estate for which he was
the administrator. He also failed to communicate with his client, pay out client funds or
cooperate with the investigation of his activities.
Under the California Business and Professions Code, professional
misconduct committed in another state is evidence that the attorney is culpable of
misconduct in this state. The State Bar Court determined that Pohlmeyers conduct in
New Jersey violated the California Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act.
There was no mitigation.
MIGUEL ANGEL VERDUGO [#73020], 55, of Northridge was
disbarred Nov. 25, 1999, and ordered to comply with rule 955.
Verdugo violated a 1998 disciplinary order requiring him to comply
with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court by notifying all clients, opposing counsel
and other pertinent parties of his suspension and submitting an affidavit to that effect
to the Supreme Court.
Failure to comply with rule 955 is grounds for disbarment. He did not
participate in the disbarment proceeding.
Verdugo has a history of failing to comply with probation conditions
attached to disciplinary orders.
In 1993 and 1995, he was suspended for abandoning a client and
failing to communicate. In 1996, he was suspended for failure to comply with conditions of
the 1993 order. In addition, he violated a court order, failed to perform legal services
competently, respond to client inquiries or cooperate with the bars investigation,
and he withdrew from employment without protecting his clients interests. At that
time, he was ordered to comply with rule 955.
He was disciplined again in 1998 for failure to comply with probation
In recommending Verdugos disbarment, the bar court said he
has demonstrated an unwillingness or an inability to comply with his professional obligations and the rules of conduct
imposed on lawyers.
MICHAEL J. MORIARTY [#51185], 56, of Corte Madera
was disbarred Nov. 26, 1999, and ordered to comply with rule 955.
In three consolidated cases, the State Bar Court found that between
1988 and 1994, Moriarty committed multiple acts of wrongdoing involving six clients and demonstrated a pattern
He failed to perform legal services competently, failed to promptly
pay settlement funds, violated court orders, filed a frivolous lawsuit and was
disrespectful to the court. In addition, he commingled funds, mismanaged his trust
account, forged signatures, made misrepresentations to the court and committed acts of
In one matter, Moriarty represented the plaintiff in a products
liability case. The court declared two mistrials because of Moriartys conduct, which
included misleading the jury, making references the court specifically told him to avoid,
and continued argumentative statements. Moriarty was sanctioned more than $43,000 and was
found in contempt twice.
The bar court found that Moriarty violated court orders, engaged in
trial misconduct, failed to maintain respect for the courts and misled the jury.
In a legal malpractice action, Moriarty made a false declaration to
the court and made a false accusation against the opposing party. He did not promptly pay
a medical provider in a personal injury case, and failed to maintain settlement funds in
trust or supervise his trust account. His gross mismanagement of his trust account
amounted to moral turpitude.
At his clients insistence, he continued to pursue a medical
malpractice case which had been dismissed because of his misconduct. Nevertheless, he
failed to appear at a hearing.
He forged six proofs of service in that matter, was sanctioned by the
court and never paid the sanctions, and falsely told the court a list of experts had been
served on opposing counsel.
Although Moriarty had a 33 percent contingency fee agreement with his
clients in an insurance fraud matter, he unilaterally kept the entire $9,000 he received
in settlement. He deposited the fund in his general account instead of his trust account
and did not notify his clients that hed received the money.
In mitigation, Moriarty had no record of discipline in 16 years of
practice. Although he presented three character witnesses, they were unfamiliar with the
extent of Moriartys misconduct, so the weight given their testimony was somewhat
lessened. In addition, two judges and two attorneys presented evidence of Moriartys
Moriarty told the bar court he needed a continuance of the
disciplinary trial dates because he had a trial scheduled in Placer County. However, the
opposing counsel testified that there was no conflict on one of the days.
Furthermore, during the Placer trial, Moriarty allowed his expert
witness to testify that he had no relationship with Moriarty other than as a professional
consultant. In fact, Moriarty represented the expert in a lawsuit. The bar court found
that Moriarty intentionally suborned perjury, which it called moral turpitude of the
most extreme nature.
In recommending Moriartys disbarment, bar court Judge Nancy
Roberts Lonsdale wrote that his conduct long ago entered the realm of intentional,
deceitful actions. . . . This type of egregious dishonesty simply cannot be countenanced
in an attorney of (his) experience and years. . . . He cannot be trusted to remain as a
member of the State Bar without public endangerment.