California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - February 2000
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News Briefs
Appeal court denies bar's petition to reverse Brosterhous
Fee bill introduced
Bar fee arb program gears up
David Bryson, Loren Miller recipient, dies at 58
Board to name one to Judicial Council
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You Need to Know
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Opinion
From the President - For our system to work, we need to be involved
Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
The illusion of a cosmetic fix
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
The Supreme Court and the ADA
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Appointments
Access commission seeks members for 2 positions
Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - 'Rampant' conflicts in a new economy
Attorney suspected of soliciting murder of bar prosecutor
Attorney Discipline
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Legal Tech - If the hype is right, ASPs are H-O-T
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Public Comment

DISCIPLINE

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CAUTION!
More than 168,930 attorneys are eligible to practice law in California. Many attorneys share the same names.

All discipline reports should be read carefully for names, ages, addresses and bar numbers. Attorneys must report address changes within 30 days.

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SUSPENSIONS/PROBATION

DAVID MARTIN AGNEW [#49991], 53, of Westlake Village was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on probation for two years with an actual 60-day suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 17, 1999.

Agnew was placed on interim suspension in 1994, following a conviction for conspiracy to transport, distribute or import marijuana. At the time, he was ordered 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 the Supreme Court stating that he had made the notifications.

He filed the affidavit two months late, immediately following a status conference with a bar court judge. The new discipline is based on a finding that he wilfully violated rule 955.

Agnew argued that he thought the public would not be harmed if he failed to submit an affidavit. He is physically disabled by a severe spinal injury, terminated his law practice in 1989, has been an inactive member of the bar since 1990, and has no clients or cases.

He also believed he had to have an affidavit notarized, requiring him “to crawl to a notary public” and exacerbate his medical condition.

In mitigation, Agnew has no record of discipline in 22 years of practice. His chronic spinal problems also were seen as mitigating.

Because the hearing judge did not order Agnew to submit quarterly probation reports, the bar appealed to the review department, but it declined to add further probationary requirements.

RICHARD A. CANATELLA [#53264], 61, of San Francisco was suspended for 18 months, stayed, placed on 18 months of probation with a 30-day actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 17, 1999.

Canatella stipulated to filing numerous frivolous actions in courts in San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara county courts, as well as in the California Court of Appeal and federal district and appeals courts.

Six were civil matters he filed relating to a criminal case in which he represented a babysitter who was convicted of second degree murder and felony child abuse. The civil cases, filed on behalf of the babysitter and her parents, who owned the house where she lived, included legal malpractice, insurance bad faith, and allegations that various defendants conspired to deprive his clients of their constitutional rights.

Canatella’s involvement in nine other matters also was the subject of discipline.

Sanctions were ordered against him or his clients 37 times. Courts repeatedly found him responsible for frivolous, meritless and vexatious actions. Sanctions totalled more than $18,000 in one matter, and the opposing parties were granted all fees and costs in another.

In one case, a federal judge said, “This complaint is a paradigm for ‘frivolous.’” Wrote another federal jurist: “Plaintiff’s repeated attempt to challenge the sanctions and judgments . . . in the face of clear authority that his claim is frivolous evidences his bad faith and wrongful purpose.”

In mitigation, Canatella has no record of discipline since beginning to practice law in 1972 and he demonstrated his good character by presenting testimonials from eight people, including four attorneys and three judges. He also presented a lengthy list of his professional accomplishments.

WILLIAM EDGAR DAVIS III [#101641], 45, of Los Angeles was suspended for four years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual three-year suspension, and was ordered to make restitution, prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Sept. 17, 1999.

In a personal injury case, Davis deposited two insurance checks into his client trust account. However, at one point, the balance fell below the required amount, and Davis thus failed to maintain client funds in trust.

He also failed to promptly pay out client funds by delaying payment of a medical lien for 19 months, and he misappropriated client funds, committing an act of moral turpitude.

Davis has a prior record of discipline. He was suspended for abandoning clients and disobeying court orders to appear at hearings for those clients.

He did not cooperate with the bar’s investigation of the newer case.

JEFFREY D. EASLEY [#149036], 43, of Denver was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on one year of probation, and was ordered to take the MPRE within a year. The order took effect Sept. 17, 1999.

Easley was disciplined by the Colorado state bar as a result of activities during his representation of 60 women in a sexual harassment case.

He employed a private investigator and a female counselor to assist him in handling the litigation. Although he drafted a memo offering to pay the two 7.5 percent of his fee, the employees ended up billing on an hourly rate basis.

During the course of the litigation, Easley had sex with one of his clients.

Easley entered into a stipulation with the Colorado bar that his conduct violated three rules of professional conduct. The Colorado Supreme Court subsequently ruled in an unrelated case that a sexual relationship between a lawyer and client “during the course of the professional relationship is inherently and insidiously harmful.” Easley was suspended for 60 days in Colorado.

Sex with a client violates the California Business and Professions Code. An attorney can be disciplined in California for professional misconduct in another jurisdiction if that same conduct would have violated California law had it occurred here.

In mitigation, Easley has no prior record of discipline, cooperated with the bar’s investigation, and voluntarily stipulated to misconduct.

BARBARA JEAN KUEHN [#152283], 47, of Burlingame was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a one-year actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE. Credit toward the actual suspension will be given for an interim suspension which began Dec. 5, 1998. The order took effect Sept. 17, 1999.

Kuehn represented a woman in a dissolution in which the family home was sold, profits were to be split 50-50 after payment of debts, and Kuehn was entrusted with the proceeds of the sale.

She distributed more than $6,000 of the entrusted funds to herself without obtaining the court’s authorization. As a result, she was charged with, and pleaded no contest to, embezzlement. She agreed to cease practice for one year, home detention for six months, a fine of $3,750, three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Kuehn was placed on interim suspension last December.

In mitigation, she and her bookkeeper assert that the client gave them permission to take the legal fees from her share of the funds. Slightly more than one-half was taken through oversight and a failure to carefully supervise. Kuehn believed at all times that she was acting with her client’s authority to pay her fees.

The bar received more than 75 letters attesting to Kuehn’s good character. She was a recipient of a bar pro bono award, and has been an active leader in local and state bar associations.

There were claims, supported by witnesses, that a criminal prosecution for a minor embezzlement that would otherwise have been addressed in civil court, was highly unusual.