Attorney disbarred for using law firm's computer, assets

DANNY RILEY [#153827], 33, of Bevery Hills was disbarred effective July 20, 1996, and ordered to comply with rule 955. Riley was found culpable, after a default trial, of multiple instances of misconduct involving dishonesty and moral turpitude when he used his employer's computer system for personal business and overbilling clients.

In 1990, Riley was hired as law clerk and remained with the Los Angeles firm after he passed the bar in 1992. In mid-1992, he was discovered deleting information from the firm's computer system and placed on suspension pending an investigation by the firm.

It was discovered that Riley had been using the firm's assets and facilties over an 18-month period for personal activities at the expense of the firm and its clients.

Approximately 8,000-10,000 pages of unauthorized documents were created by Riley and stored in the computer system, using 25-30 percent of the system's capacity and slowing down its operation.

Items retrieved from the firm's computer system dealt with Riley's outside business interests and included information on running a film and video rental business, documents relating to script writing and promotion, a list of producers in Texas, Lexis research on "The Brady Bunch," "Bart Simpson," Anthony Robbins motivational programs and documents relating to seminars assisting students entering college and law school.

Other documents related to Riley's personal business endeavors included a dating service for 40- and 50-year-olds, a power of attorney for "non-poor elderly," a bankruptcy practice for credit card debt and job applications in the entertainment industry.

The internal investigation also turned up a significant number of personal online searches which were improperly billed to the firm and its clients.

Total out-of-pocket costs incurred by the firm due to Riley's misconduct amounted to $38,030.60. Of that amount, Riley defrauded the firm of $24,451 for improper Lexis Law Research online costs, $12,531 for overbilling law clerk/cite checking time and $1,048.60 for unauthorized personal photocopy charges.

In the disbarment decision, the hearing judge wrote that Riley was in a position of trust and "grossly violated that trust by essentially stealing from [the firm] and its clients . . . what [Riley] did was no less reprehensible than if he had gained access to the firm's trust account and stolen funds from the account outright."

The firm's office administrator estimated that the cost of conducting the investigation into Riley's activities ranged from $25,000-$35,000. Additional costs incurred by the firm included $17,000 to restore the computer system, out-of-pocket investigative expenses and to correct Riley's unauthorized billing to the firm's administrative account.

Also, $24,475 was reimbursed to clients for overbilled online research charges and the $12,531 for law clerk/cite checking time.

In another matter, Riley was hired by a couple to represent them in a bankruptcy proceeding, but he failed to perform the services for which he was hired or return unearned fees of $660.

Riley's failure to appropriately participate in his disciplinary proceedings prior to his default entry was considered a minimal aggravating factor.

In his decision, the bar court judge said that Riley's disbarment was appropriate due to the amount of money involved and the lack of mitigation.

"That disbarment is the appropriate disposition is further indicated by the extended period of time over which the misconduct occurred, the sophistication of [Riley's] scheming, and by his failure to make any notable effort to make restitution to [one client] or explain any inability to do so," wrote the bar court judge.