California Bar Journal
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Range of client, criminal misconduct leads to disbarment
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A Sacramento attorney who was first disciplined by the State Bar in 1988 and has a long record of subsequent misconduct was disbarred Sept. 24. JOSEPH ANTHONY MESCE [#75299], 51, also was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court by notifying all pertinent parties of his disbarment. Introduced to the bar's discipline system in 1987 after a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon without a license, Mesce was formally disciplined seven times. His offenses include four criminal convictions, misconduct toward clients ranging from failure to perform legal services competently to not refunding unearned fees, and several instances of failing to comply with conditions of his disciplinary probations.

In recommending that Mesce be disbarred, State Bar Court Judge Eugene E. Brott noted that he has been disciplined seven times. "The multiple acts of misconduct in this proceeding are serious and graphically demonstrate that [Mesce] is either unwilling or unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the State Bar Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct," Brott wrote.

In the most recent case to come before the bar court, Mesce was hired to represent a criminal defendant in 1995. The client and his wife paid Mesce $5,350, but several months later became dissatisfied with his work and fired him. He refunded some of the advance fee, but still owes the client $900.

He did not promptly refund the balance of an unearned fee in another criminal matter in which he could not appear at trial because he was suspended from practice.

Mesce was suspended and placed on probation in 1994 and 1995, and did not keep his address current with the bar. He was again suspended in 1996 for nonpayment of bar dues. During that suspension, he agreed to represent a criminal defendant, although he told her he was suspended. She understood he would use part of her retainer to pay his dues and penalties so he could resume practice.

The bar court found that Mesce engaged in the practice of law while suspended and made misrepresentations to a judge by stating that he did not have a written fee agreement with the client and had not received any funds from the client prior to being reinstated.

In the 1994 discipline order, Mesce was required to take the professional responsibility exam within one year. When he failed to do so, he was suspended in May 1996.

During the suspension, he accepted more than $7,200 in advance fees to represent a defendant in a criminal case and a DUI. He did not appear at two hearings for which his client received continuances, nor did he tell the client or his mother that he was suspended. He asked for and received additional travel funds twice, sought another continuance and finally appeared at the fourth scheduled hearing. At that time, he told his client and his mother of his suspension.

The bar court found that Mesce engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, withdrew from employment without protecting his client's interests, failed to promptly refund unearned fees, and committed acts of moral turpitude. He also failed to cooperate with the bar's investigation.

Mesce's record includes convictions for carrying a concealed weapon without a license, contempt of court, possession of methamphetamines, battery and failure to appear on a misdemeanor charge. He was suspended in 1993 for failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients or refund unearned fees, and for violating court orders, depositing personal funds in his client trust account and writing bad checks. He failed to comply with various conditions of probation.