Simultaneous representation, conflicts lead to suspension

Conflicting advice and conflicts of interest led to serious disciplinary woes for a Southern California lawyer whose legal, business, financial, professional and personal interests collided. TIMOTHY LEE TAGGART [#69462], 47, of Yucaipa was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 120-day actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within a year and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Sept. 19, 1997.

The Supreme Court denied Taggartís petition for review.

In an extremely convoluted situation played out over a 10-year period, Taggart represented a husband and wife who maintained their assets as separate property, and his mother, who loaned the wife $11,000 and later sued her for repayment. All the while, Taggart provided conflicting advice to the three individuals while representing them simultaneously.

Taggart initially represented the married couple in a civil action between 1981 and 1983. He substituted out of the case because his law partner had previously represented the defendant corporation. When Taggartís association with the partner ended in 1987, he returned as attorney of record, believing no conflict existed.

That year, the wife was awarded a judgment of $273,998.73 in the civil case and the husband received nothing. The wife considered the judgment her separate property. The award was to be paid gradually through the sale of the defendantís properties.

In 1990, Taggartís mother sued the married couple individually, seeking repayment of the $11,000 loan she had made in 1981. The wife answered the complaint for herself; the husband did not file an answer.

Taggart told the husband to use some of his wifeís judgment money to pay his obligation to Taggartís mother. He also advised the husband that court opinions stating that the judgment was his wifeís separate property were probably not binding on him.

Taggart also told his mother to write to the wife suggesting she pay her husbandís debt. And he told his mother he was collecting the judgment money for the wife.

In December 1990, Taggartís mother obtained a default judgment against the husband for more than $24,000.

The following March, Taggart received a check for more than $51,000 as part of his clientís award from the civil case. At about the same time, his mother obtained a writ of execution against the husband. She served a notice of levy on Taggart against any money he held for the wife in order to satisfy the judgment against the husband.

Taggart subsequently withheld that amount from the $51,000 owed the wife.

The wife then filed a third party claim against Taggart to recover the money he withheld for his mother. The action cost his former client $6,700 in legal fees.

In his dual roles as both attorney and advisor to the three individuals, Taggart was unethical and dishonest and his conduct amounted to moral turpitude, the State Bar Court found.

"Starting in 1981, (Taggart) considered his own interest before those of his clients and, in the process, continually disregarded the applicable Rules of Professional Conduct," wrote Judge Michael D. Marcus.

Conflicts abounded in Taggartís various roles throughout the civil litigation and his motherís lawsuit. Instead of ending his representation of the wife in the civil case, Taggart "continued to engage in conduct which raises serious questions regarding his loyalty, judgment and morality," Marcus wrote. He had legal, business, financial, professional and personal interests in the civil litigation.

Taggartís "failure to take any steps whatsoever to protect (the wifeís) funds from his motherís levy and his aggravated and blatant breaches of his duty of undivided loyalty to (the wife) were dishonest," said Marcus.

Taggart had no prior record at that time, but the misconduct involved multiple acts of wrongdoing, was surrounded by bad faith, dishonesty and concealment, and caused significant harm.