‘Obnoxious behavior’ billing garners disbarment

A Los Angeles attorney who "penalized" his clients by billing them for "obnoxious behavior" was disbarred Aug. 23. Although ROBERT THOMAS GILLERAN [#70962], 50, had no record of discipline, the State Bar Court found his misconduct, which spanned five years, serious enough to warrant disbarment. "He has shown contempt for his clients, has attempted to mislead and lie to trial courts, has ignored the disciplinary system in the early stages of its investigation and has, in turn, attempted to stymie its efforts at every turn," wrote Judge Carlos E. Velarde. "His acts of moral turpitude, his charging of unconscionable fees, and his disregard for his duties to his client and the bar go to the heart of this issue."

Gilleran, who was admitted to the bar in 1976 after receiving his law degree from Yale Law School, solicited clients to participate in civil RICO actions against four different tax shelters. The participants had made an initial investment, signed promissory notes, and took deductions against payments on the notes which were later denied by the IRS.

Some participants retained Gilleran to defend them in the tax cases.

Others were invited in a letter from Gilleran to employ him to file a civil RICO case which he suggested had "an excellent chance of receiving a recovery equal to many times the amounts which you paid in connection with the transaction." He included a retainer agreement under which fees varied depending on the extent of the clients’ participation in the tax shelter.

The retainer agreement stated that Gilleran would not "be available by phone on a regular basis."

When asked for specifics about their cases, Gilleran provided status reports without answering his clients’ questions. At the same time, he asked for additional payments from the clients.

After one client complained about Gilleran to the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Gilleran advised the client to stop engaging in "obnoxious behavior" and included in a later invoice a $500 "penalty" for his "obnoxious letters and comments."

"I warned you that I do not tolerate such conduct," Gilleran wrote. He later "fired" the client.

Gilleran admonished another client to change her attitude as well, warning her he would "fire" her and ordering her to communicate with him only in writing.

Gilleran told a third client, who complained to the State Bar, that he would end his representation if the client did not pay a $750 "penalty" and write a letter of apology to him.

Gilleran never filed any of the RICO cases.

In a case in Los Angeles Superior Court, Gilleran tried to disqualify two judges and made false statements in affidavits supporting the disqualification petitions.

He was sanctioned twice for a total of nearly $5,000, but did not pay the sanctions or report them to the State Bar.

Gilleran also issued 16 bad checks on his client trust account.

The misrepresentations to the court and the bad checks amounted to moral turpitude.

In addition to commingling personal and client funds, Gilleran engaged in financial improprieties which included five counts of failing to return unearned fees totalling $13,750 and three instances of charging unconscionable fees.

He also failed to communicate with clients and provide competent legal services in three instances, and did not cooperate with the bar’s investigation in five instances.

The bar court found that because Gilleran’s actions spanned a five-year period, they constituted a pattern of misconduct.