California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 1998
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DISCIPLINE

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CAUTION!
More than 162,225 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
MILTON KERLAN JR. [#39719], 57, of Santa Monica was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with conditions including restitution, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 8, 1998.

Kerlan stipulated to misconduct in eight consolidated matters: five counts of gross negligence in the operation of his law office, and three counts of failing to cooperate with a bar investigation.

Kerlan was, in fact, the victim of a fraudulent law practice scheme created by three friends who appropriated his name.

A criminal defense attorney who practiced out of his home, Kerlan accepted an offer to use a friend's office for occasional meetings with clients. The friend also offered to provide secretarial services, when needed, without charge.

As a result, the friend gained access to Kerlan's stationary, business cards, retainer agreements and other crucial information about the law practice.

He and the other two friends then set up three separate law practices under Kerlan's name. They accepted clients, opened client trust accounts, settled cases and misappropriated client funds, all without Kerlan's knowledge.

At the same time, they referred some low-level criminal cases to Kerlan, who continued his practice of interviewing clients in jail or in the interview rooms at the courthouse. He rarely visited his friend's office, where an illegal law practice flourished.

Eventually, a criminal investigation was launched and all three men were convicted of insurance fraud.

Kerlan was never prosecuted because law enforcement officers concluded he was unaware of his friends' illegal activities. His signature had been forged on documents setting up bank accounts and on other papers.

His secretary told the authorities she was instructed by the non-lawyers to maintain separate files which were not to be shown to Kerlan. She became suspicious and notified the authorities when she realized clients were not receiving their funds.

Kerlan stipulated to gross negligence in the operation of his law office in relation to four clients who believed they had hired him to represent them.

In addition, he was contacted by bar investigators three times, but ignored the inquiries because he did not recognize the clients' names, thought the bar had contacted the wrong attorney and that the mistake would be corrected without his response.

Had he responded, his friends' illegal conduct could have been stopped earlier.

In mitigation, Kerlan has no record of discipline since his 1967 admission to the bar. He fully cooperated with law enforcement and provided information that led to the conviction of the three friends. He also had agreed to make restitution to one client, reimbursed the Client Security Fund for a claim it paid to another client, and paid a default judgment obtained by the doctor of a third client. Each of these clients was a victim of the friends' criminal activities.

MICHAEL T. MORRISSEY [#62195], 49, of Los Gatos was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on one year of probation, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 8, 1998.

Morrissey stipulated to multiple acts of failure to perform legal services competently and communicate with clients.

In a civil action, Morrissey received $25,000 as advanced attorney's fees and costs; he did not deposit all the money in his client trust account as required. Although he filed a complaint in the case, his client ended the representation and asked for a refund of unearned fees and costs.

Morrissey did not do so, and a month later filed for bankruptcy. He eventually settled with the client for $11,000.

In another civil matter, for which a client advanced him $5,000, he was unable to serve the defendant and took no further action in the case. He then failed to communicate with the client, and when she hired a new attorney, he did not promptly forward her file. He withdrew from employment without protecting his client's interests, failed to perform legal services competently, respond to a client's status inquiries, or return client files.

A judgment and sanctions were entered against Morrissey's client in a pending medical malpractice case he took over after he missed two deadlines and failed to appear at a hearing. He did not inform his client about the judgment or the sanctions.

Morrissey failed to prosecute another client's wrongful termination matter; he did not keep appointments with the client, respond to letters or phone calls (his phone was disconnected), or return the client's file or advanced fees.

Although he filed a notice of change of address in another civil matter in which he won a reversal on appeal, he was not notified of several proceedings in the lower court rehearing the case. Nonetheless, he did not return his client's phone calls, and did not provide an accounting when she requested one.

Morrissey also stipulated to a no contest plea to one count of misdemeanor battery after he struck his ex-wife in the face with his fist during an altercation at her residence. His conduct did not involve moral turpitude, but did warrant discipline.

In mitigation, Morrissey's misconduct occurred during a time when he was practicing law with his ex-wife. She became the sole signatory on all accounts, removed all money from the business bank accounts and a month later disappeared. She also took many client files.

As a result, none of the office staff or attorneys was paid, no bills were paid, and most employees quit, forcing the closure of the office. Morrissey, without money or support, assumed the caseloads of five attorneys.

In addition, his ex-wife changed the firm's phone number and put in a change of address to have the post office forward all law firm mail to her. As a result, clients could not contact Morrissey at a time he was attempting to set up a new office and handle cases and deadlines as he became aware of them.

He has no prior record of discipline and cooperated with the bar's investigation.

SANDRA SUE SAWYER [#48609], 55, of Lake Forest was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an 18-month actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. Credit for the actual suspension will be given for an interim suspension which began Oct. 12, 1995. Because the interim suspension exceeded the actual probation, it was terminated, and Sawyer is on active status. The order took effect July 8, 1998.

In 1994, Sawyer pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of being an accessory after the fact in connection with the submission of a loan application containing false statements.

The State Bar Court found that her conduct constituted moral turpitude, and recommended five years of probation and a three-year actual suspension. Sawyer sought review, challenging some of the court's findings and arguing that a three-year suspension was too harsh.

The review department agreed, and reduced the recommended discipline to 18 months actual suspension. With credit for the interim suspension already served, Sawyer was restored to active status.

Sawyer's problems stemmed from her involvement with various investments in the late 1980s. She provided a businessman with whom she worked with the first page of what she said were her federal income tax returns for 1982 through 1985. However, she had never filed the tax returns.

The businessman submitted Sawyer's financial documents to at least three prospective lending banks; only one loan - to improve and operate a turkey farm in Nebraska - materialized. However, the bank asked for more financial information and Sawyer submitted a then current financial statement reflecting a net worth of $12 million.

When the contract with the farm operator was cancelled, Sawyer told the bank she could not make payments on the loan. The bank foreclosed and took over the turkey farm.

Sawyer argued that she did not authorize the delivery of her tax returns to the banks in question, that she acted in good faith in seeking the bank loan, and that the hearing judge erred in assuming the figures in the financial statements were false.

The review department, however, accepted the hearing judge's findings.

In mitigation, Sawyer practiced law for 16 years without any discipline.

But the review judge found that she "significantly harmed" the bank, even though she made court-ordered restitution of $50,000.

JOHN PAUL WALKER [#56194], 55, of Pasadena was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation with a six-month actual suspension, and was ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 8, 1998.

Walker stipulated to two counts of failure to perform legal services competently.

In the first matter, he did not attend two pre-trial conferences in a workers' compensation case.

In the second matter, a personal injury case Walker filed was dismissed by the court on its own motion. However, neither Walker nor opposing counsel was notified of the dismissal.

When his client learned of the dismissal by looking at the court file, he asked Walker to further prosecute the case. Walker took no further action other than to help his client find new counsel.

Walker has a prior record of discipline; in 1994 he was placed on two years of probation and actually suspended for 10 months for misconduct involving misappropriation of settlement funds, failure to perform legal services competently and failure to complete services in a timely manner.

In mitigation, he acted in good faith and cooperated with the bar's investigation.

KENNETH CHARLES BLICKENSTAFF [#75854], 48, of South Pasadena was suspended for five years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a three-year actual suspension and until he makes restitution and proves rehabilitation, and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 10, 1998.

Blickenstaff stipulated to multiple acts of misconduct in 10 different client matters.

They included failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, keep clients informed of developments in their cases, promptly return unearned fees, advise the bar of a change of address, and withdrawing from representation without protecting a client's interests.

He twice did not advice clients to seek independent counsel before entering into a business relationship with him.

In one case, Blickenstaff did not initiate an insurance bad faith claim before the statute of limitations expired, and his clients lost their cause of action.

In mitigation, Blickenstaff suffered emotional distress as a result of his father's illness and death.

He was publicly reproved in 1995 for failure to perform legal services competently, refund an unearned fee, and respond to client's status inquiries.