A Santa Rosa lawyer and two-time city council
candidate resigned from the State Bar in July after pleading no contest to charges of
stealing more than $90,000 from a client. ELVETA LOUISE FRANCIS [#93320], 57,
had been disciplined by the bar a month earlier for failing to comply with probation
conditions attached to a 1998 private reproval. The Supreme Court accepted her resignation
Francis was accused of one count of grand theft for draining her
client trust account of funds she was holding for Gerald Steeves, whom she represented in
a divorce action. She faces up to four years in state prison.
Steeves had sold his home and gave Francis the proceeds
$94,054 to hold in trust. According to Sonoma County prosecutors, Francis spent the
entire amount between June 1995 and January 1997.
Prosecutors said when Steeves queried Francis about the money, she
was evasive so he hired a new attorney. The new lawyer tried unsuccessfully to contact
Francis, who eventually admitted she had been taking the money in small increments.
She reportedly told the other lawyer that she had even bought lottery
tickets, thinking she could repay her client with her winnings. She also said she suffered
from depression and was unable to work.
Francis ran for a seat on the Santa Rosa City Council in 1986,
narrowly missing election, and ran again unsuccessfully in 1988.
Francis has a record of discipline with the State Bar. She was
privately reproved in 1998 for failing to avoid interests adverse to a client. When she
failed to attend ethics school or provide proof of passage of the professional
responsibility exam, conditions attached to the reproval, she was ordered suspended June 7
for one year and was placed on two years of probation. The suspension was stayed, but
Francis license was lifted for 60 days and she was ordered to take the professional
Steeves is eligible to receive up to $50,000 from the bars
Client Security Fund, which reimburses clients who are victimized by their attorney.
Francis has made some restitution to him.