California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 1999
spacer.gif (810 bytes)

DISCIPLINE

spacer.gif (810 bytes)
CAUTION!
More than 165,270 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.

spacer.gif (810 bytes)
DISBARMENTS
HOWARD LESLIE HUSTED [#165328], 57, of Newbury Park was disbarred Aug. 20, 1999, and was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.

Husted was disciplined in 1998 and ordered to comply with rule 955 by notifying all clients and other pertinent parties of his suspension and submitting an affidavit to that effect to the Supreme Court. His failure to submit the required affidavit led to his disbarment.

Husted had been placed on two years of suspension and 90 days of actual suspension for failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, or return a client's file, and for negligently misappropriating $83 from a client trust account and failing to cooperate with the State Bar's investigation.

In a second discipline, also in 1998, Husted failed to perform competently, communicate with a client, or cooperate with the bar's investigation, and he improperly withdrew from employment.

He defaulted in both matters.

DAVID L. ODOM [#52057], 58, of Aurora, Colo., was disbarred Aug. 20, 1999, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

Odom was disciplined in 1998 and was ordered to comply with rule 955 by notifying all clients, counsel and other pertinent parties of his suspension and submitting an affidavit to that effect to the Supreme Court.

His failure to submit the affidavit led to the disbarment.

Odom was disciplined in Colorado for misconduct including failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with a client, adequately advise a client of conflicting interests, or cooperate with a State Bar investigation, and abandoning a client. The California State Bar Court found that Odom would have been held culpable for that conduct in California and suspended him in this state.

Under Business & Professions Code 6049.1, an attorney who has been disciplined in another state can be disciplined in California if the misconduct would have led to discipline had it occurred in California.

In the Colorado proceeding, it was also found that he had a prior 1992 public censure for failing to perform competently and for representing, without prior warning, a client in a conflict situation.

There was no mitigation.

SUSPENSIONS/PROBATION
JAMES DAVID PITTMAN [#92995], 49, of Huntington Beach was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual two-year suspension, and was ordered to make restitution, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect July 22, 1999.

Suspended since 1996 for failure to pay bar dues or complete MCLE requirements, Pittman handled two matters while suspended. He was hired by one client to file a motion in bankruptcy court, and although he did not do so, he told his client he had filed the motion. The client was forced to retain a new lawyer.

Pittman did not respond to the client's inquiries or refund unearned fees, and committed acts of moral turpitude.

He also failed to cooperate with the bar's investigation or to keep his address current.

In addition, Pittman failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a 1995 private reproval requiring him to take the professional responsibility exam, make restitution and attend ethics school and a client trust accounting class.

The private reproval was the result of failing to competently perform legal services or to preserve in a trust account the identity of funds and property of clients.

Although he offered no mitigation, the court noted that in the earlier discipline, Pittman presented evidence that he suffers from bipolar affective disorder and has been taking lithium since 1994.

ROBERT J. BARTH [#75776], 56, of Beverly Hills was placed on a six-month actual suspension July 22, 1999, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

Barth was ordered to file quarterly mental health reports as part of a 1997 discipline, and he failed to do so.

He has five prior records of discipline, including three client abandonments, two probation violations, two failures to perform legal services competently or communicate with clients, and one instance of unauthorized practice.

DAVID RAMIREZ DeQUIT [#178841], 35, of Olangapo City, Philippines, was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on one year of probation, and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect July 22, 1999.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that DeQuit failed to perform legal services competently in a marriage nullification. He failed to prepare and file necessary papers, and when he went to the Philippines on a business trip, he told his client he had given the file to another attorney.

Although he arranged for the other lawyer to make a court appearance for the client, he did not employ him to perform any other services.

DeQuit never filed substitution of attorney papers and abandoned his client. He never refunded unearned fees.

PATRICK HUGH HUTCHINSON [#50799], 57, of Santa Rosa was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 14-month suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. He shall receive credit for the interim suspension which began April 16, 1998. The order took effect July 22, 1999.

Hutchinson pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and was placed on probation for three years and sentenced to six months of house arrest with an electronic monitor and 250 hours of community service.

The court found that the sentence departed from the guideline range due to extraordinary family circumstances.

Hutchinson, a criminal defense attorney in Santa Rosa, served as a courier for a marijuana dealer for several months in the mid-1990s. He had had open heart surgery and his wife, who was a heroin addict, had reneged on promises to support him and their family.

According to papers filed with the federal court, Hutchinson has demonstrated "exceptional rehabilitation," is a good parent to the couple's son, and intervened with his stepdaughter, who was introduced to heroin by her mother. The mother served a three-year prison sentence for marijuana distribution.

The interim suspension by the bar has been vacated and Hutchinson's law license is now active.

PATRICIA E. SHIELDS [#173175], 47, of Concord was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension, and was ordered to make restitution, prove rehabilitation, take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 955. The order took effect July 22, 1999.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Shields failed to perform legal services competently, keep her client informed of developments in his case or return his documents. She also withdrew from representation without protecting her client's interests, misrepresented material facts to the client, and disobeyed a court order that she appear at a hearing.

Shields failed to file timely pretrial pleadings in an adversary bankruptcy action between her client and his ex-wife. As a result, the trial was continued. She failed to appear at the rescheduled trial and then abandoned the case completely.

Shields did not inform her client she would not appear at trial until the morning of the trial, leaving a voicemail message the client did not receive. Without her client's consent, she offered to settle the case, and she told her client that opposing counsel had offered to turn over stock certificates to him, when no such offer was made.

When the trial began, her client appeared without counsel and judgment was entered against him. Shields did not file an appeal, as requested by the client.

She also did not appear at a hearing for sanctions, then failed to pay sanctions of $975 ordered by the court.

Shields then did not appear at a contempt hearing before the bankruptcy judge, who subsequently disbarred her from practice in the bankruptcy courts for the northern district of California.

The bar court warned Shields that "if she does not take the remedial actions ordered, further discipline up to and including disbarment will result."

PHILLIP ARON SCHUMAN [#151261], 44, of San Diego was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with two and a half years of actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. Credit towards the actual suspension will be given for a period of interim suspension which began June 27, 1996. The order took effect July 22, 1999.

Schuman was convicted in 1995 of one count of money laundering, and was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison and fined $7,500.

He was asked by an undercover agent posing as a dry goods importer and marijuana smuggler to set up an offshore bank account. Schuman set up the account through another attorney. He knew or had reason to know that his co-defendant planned to transport cash allegedly belonging to the undercover agent from the United States to London in order to avoid reporting requirements.

In mitigation, Schuman presented evidence attesting to his good character, is undergoing therapy, completed 36 hours of MCLE courses and has been working as a law clerk for a general practitioner in San Diego.

MICHAEL NEWTON ALEXANDER [#105279], 43, of Rancho Cucamonga was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on one year of probation, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Aug. 6, 1999.

Alexander stipulated to misconduct in five consolidated cases, most relating to his failure to pursue cases.

He did not keep clients reasonably informed of developments in their cases, perform legal services competently, release client papers, account for legal fees, return unearned fees or cooperate with the bar's investigation. He also withdrew from employment improperly.

In mitigation, Alexander experienced serious personal problems during the time of the misconduct.

STEVEN KROFF [#55818], 64, of Los Altos was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with an actual two-year suspension, and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 6, 1999.

In a personal injury matter, Kroff failed to perform legal services competently and committed an act of moral turpitude by accepting a settlement offer and depositing a check into his trust account without his client's knowledge.

In a second personal injury case, Kroff unilaterally reduced a medical provider's lien by one-third and paid himself that amount as additional attorneys fees. After being contacted by the medical provider, he wrote a check for the amount in question, which the bank honored despite insufficient funds in his trust account.

The bar court found that Kroff failed to properly maintain funds in his trust account or promptly pay lienholder funds. Taking the reduced lien as additional attorney fees constituted an act of moral turpitude.

Kroff had a dispute with his client about a $5,500 settlement offer in another personal injury case, so the client hired a new attorney who settled the case for $15,000. When the check was received, Kroff disputed his share of attorney fees. The other attorney left the disputed amount in trust and offered to submit to arbitration but Kroff refused.

Kroff then sued the bank where the check was cashed, charging it had converted the settlement check without his endorsement. Two more complaints were filed by various parties to the dispute and at trial, the court found that Kroff was not entitled to any attorney fees. Kroff was sanctioned $1,560 for frivolous and bad faith actions, but the order was immediately set aside and continued.

At a later hearing, Kroff was ordered to pay the bank $2,850 in fees and sanctions, and pay his client and the other attorney $4,586.50 in costs, fees and sanctions.

He appealed and lost and was ultimately ordered to pay the other attorney nearly $8,200 in sanctions.

The bar court found that Kroff did not inform the bar of one of the sanctions orders within 30 days, and he filed a frivolous appeal.

Kroff has a record of prior discipline. In one case, he mishandled five client matters and in another he solicited clients, attempted to collect unconscionable fees, failed to render appropriate accountings or promptly pay client funds and committed acts involving moral turpitude.

In the current matter, the court said Kroff has "no insight into his wrongdoing and continues to raise arguments to circumvent his responsibility." It noted that in his final letter to the court, Kroff wrote, "I cannot determine what facts or conduct were deemed so extreme or improper to lead the court to the conclusion of unethical conduct."

TRACY LYNN STEWART [#92958], 61, of Redondo Beach was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a six-month actual suspension, and was ordered to comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 6, 1999.

Stewart stipulated to misconduct in 12 consolidated cases, most involving a failure to perform legal services competently in criminal cases.

She failed to appear at court hearings numerous times, resulting in the issuance of warrants for the arrest of three clients and one warrant for her arrest.

Following one failure to appear, Stewart did not appear at a contempt/sanctions hearing and was sanctioned $500. At her request, she was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service in lieu of the monetary sanctions, but she never did the community service.

Stewart failed to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees, pay sanctions, render financial accountings, return client files, communicate with clients or respond to status inquiries, supervise her staff or properly withdraw from representation.

She was disciplined in 1996 and 1998.

In mitigation, Stewart had medical, financial and family problems, cooperated with the bar's investigation and presented references attesting to her good character.

PETER RIND VAN PETTEN [#94396], 47, of Santa Monica was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Aug. 6, 1999.

In a personal injury matter, Van Petten did not communicate with his clients. They complained three separate times; after the first two complaints, he promised to work on their case. He did not respond to the third complaint.

In another personal injury matter, Van Petten did not pay a medical lien for more than a year, and then only after being contacted by the State Bar. He told the doctor that his client was responsible for paying the bill, despite the medical lien.

After taking over representation of the plaintiff in another case, Van Petten failed to file a proof of service and when he failed to appear at a hearing, was ordered to pay sanctions. He did not appear at four more hearings or comply with sanctions orders and the case was dismissed.

He failed to provide legal services and improperly withdrew from representation.

Van Petten abandoned another personal injury case; he did not respond to his client's requests for status reports, failed to return her file, did not attend a hearing, and paid a filing fee and sanctions late.

He did not cooperate with the bar's investigation of three matters.

In mitigation, Van Petten has no record of discipline in his 18 years as an attorney.

VINCENT CRAIG WILLIAMS [#135531], 38, of San Francisco was suspended for one year, stayed, and placed on one year of probation with a 60-day actual suspension. The order took effect Aug. 6, 1999.

Williams was disciplined in 1993 for trust account violations and for forming a partnership with a non-attorney which resulted in the non-lawyer misappropriating client funds. Williams agreed to make restitution over five years, but was unable to do so because of financial hardship.

The restitution order was modified, but he still made payments late and was unlikely to complete the restitution this year as required. Some probation reports also were incomplete.

Inactive since 1996, Williams is trying to build up two business ventures but has had difficulty keeping fulltime employment due to his problems with the State Bar.

The bar court found that "nothing would be accomplished" by an endless round of probation violation cases, and said restitution could be completed more easily by Williams' return to active practice. The court conditioned that return on his completion of ethics school, taking the MPRE and undergoing a fitness hearing.

ANGELA F. WALLACE [#134188], 38, of Los Angeles was suspended for five years, stayed, and placed on five years of probation with a two-year actual suspension and until she makes restitution of more than $200,000. She was ordered to take the MPRE, comply with rule 955 and prove her rehabilitation. The order took effect Sept. 30, 1999.

Wallace stipulated to seven counts of misconduct in six consolidated cases.

In early December 1993, an individual identifying himself as Max Wolf hired Wallace, signing a fee agreement and executing a power of attorney in favor of Wallace. He presented identification and was in possession of Wolf's bank books and other documentation.

The real Max Wolf died a couple of days later. Subsequent to his death, a notarized letter on Wallace's letterhead signed by "Wolf" requested that Wallace be given permission to close Wolf's savings account.

The bank issued a cashier's check to Wolf which was deposited in Wallace's client trust account. It was endorsed, "Max Wolf, for deposit only."

About a week later, two other banks issued checks payable to Max Wolf. They were endorsed "Max Wolf for Angela Wallace, for deposit only," and deposited in her trust account.

Together, the three checks totalled $206,939.09.

Wallace subsequently transferred and disbursed assets at the direction of the impersonator, writing 16 checks totalling more than $175,000.

She commingled funds, allowed the misappropriation of client funds and committed acts of moral turpitude.

The person who complained to the State Bar about Wallace is the executrix of the estate. Testimony was introduced at trial indicating that the executrix, her husband and others had conspired to steal the proceeds of the Wolf estate and dupe Wallace into helping them. Although the bar acknowledged the testimony, it did not stipulate to its veracity.

In another matter in which Wallace represented a defendant in a lawsuit, she failed to file and serve a response to the complaint and a default judgment was issued against her client in the amount of $124,784.70. She made no move to set aside the default, although she told her client she would do so.

Wallace failed to perform legal services competently or refund her client's advanced fees. She also failed to perform competently when she did not appear at another client's status conference and the case was dismissed.

She failed to communicate with another client after receiving settlement funds.

In mitigation, she has no record of discipline since her admission to the bar in 1988.