Suspension after stealing stuffed birds

San Rafael attorney ERIC WILLIAM SCHOLZ [#142357], 34, was disciplined by the State Bar after he was convicted of receiving stolen property in connection with the 1994 theft of several stuffed bird displays from the Marin Wildlife Center.

Scholz was suspended for three years, stayed, and placed on probation for four years with two years actual suspension and until he makes restitution and has shown proof of his fitness to practice law. He also must pass the MPRE.

Credit toward the period of actual suspension was given for the period of interim suspension which began May 6, 1995. The order took effect Nov. 21, 1996.

Scholz' misconduct involved the criminal conviction referral and five different client matters.

In the criminal conviction matter, Scholz entered a guilty plea to receiving stolen property, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor. The remaining charge of grand theft was dismissed as a condition of the plea.

After he walked into the wildlife center and put the birds in his car, Scholz drove toward his home and was involved in a traffic accident. He continued to drive home and was later arrested there.

After his arrest, Scholz spent several days in jail and then was admitted to an alcohol treatment facility for about a month.

Scholz said he intended to give back the stuffed birds when he returned home, but he was readmitted to the alcohol treatment center before he could do so.

Prior to the theft incident, Scholz explained he had been released from Napa State Hospital and was emotionally and mentally disoriented. Side effects from a drug, along with ongoing depression and a lifelong interest in ornithology all contributed to poor judgment and his theft of the stuffed birds.

In the five client matters, Scholz' misconduct included failure to competently perform legal services, improper withdrawal from a case, failure to respond to a client's case status inquiries, and failure to communicate and refund unearned fees.

In aggravation, Scholz' misconduct involved multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, minimum weight was accorded his discipline-free record since he was admitted to practice only a short time before the misconduct began. In addition, during this period Scholz suffered from depression and alcoholism. He also was cooperative with law enforcement officials investigating the criminal conviction matter.

Conditions of Scholz' probation include providing proof of his enrollment in a substance abuse recovery program, psychological or psychiatric treatment and restitution of $2,182 to two clients.

Scholz was admitted to the bar in 1989.