California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 2002
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DISCIPLINE

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CAUTION!

More than 174,900 attorneys are eligible to practice law in California. Many attorneys share the same names. All discipline reports are taken from State Bar Court documents and should be read carefully for names, ages, addresses and bar numbers.

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DISBARMENTS

MICHAEL NEWTON ALEXANDER [#105279], 45, of Rancho Cucamonga was disbarred Oct. 10, 2001, and ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Alexander did not meet a disciplinary requirement that he comply with rule 955 by notifying his clients and other pertinent parties that he was suspended from practice and then filing an affidavit to that effect with the Supreme Court. He did not file the affidavit.

He was suspended in 2000 for violating the terms of an August 1999 disciplinary order. In that matter, he failed to keep a client informed of significant events, did not respond to another

client's inquiries, and failed to properly withdraw from a case, account for funds, perform legal services competently, promptly return a client's file or cooperate with the bar's investigation.

His probation was revoked because he didn't comply with probation requirements.

In recommending Alexander's disbarment, Judge Robert Talcott wrote, "Respondent has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with the professional obligations and rules of court imposed on California attorneys, although he has been given several opportunities to do so."

THOMAS BRENT RICHEY [#109399], 47, of Fresno was disbarred Oct.10, 2001, and was ordered to comply with rule 955.

In a default proceeding, the bar court found Richey committed 27 acts of misconduct in six client matters, including misappropriating client funds, improperly maintaining his client trust fund, failing to perform competently, respond to client inquiries, return files or unearned fees and by withdrawing from employment without protecting clients' rights.

The court found that Richey significantly harmed clients, who had to call or visit his office to reach him or obtain their files. Two clients had to hire new lawyers and one lost her cause of action due to Richey's failure to act on her behalf.

In one matter, a client paid Richey a $5,000 advance fee, which Richey classified as a nonrefundable retainer. When the claim was settled for $7,500, Richey agreed to give the entire amount to the client. He deposited the money in his general business account rather than his trust account and wrote a check to the client for $3,400. After numerous demands, Richey gave the client another $500 four months later. He never paid the remainder of the settlement, and misappropriated $3,600.

Another client hired Richey to handle both a personal injury claim and a guardianship case. He did no work on the guardianship matter, and despite his assurances to the contrary, he did not file the personal injury claim within the one-year statute of limitations.

Richey did not file a wrongful termination complaint for another client and did not refund a $500 advance fee. He also took no action in a real property matter for another client, who also paid $500. Long after that client fired him and hired another lawyer, Richey sent her a letter, addressed "Dear Client," which stated he was actively pursuing her case.

Richey did not cooperate with the bar's investigation of the complaints against him.

Bar court Judge Eugene Brott recommended Richey's disbarment, noting that his misconduct included acts of dishonesty or moral turpitude. "No explanation has been offered that might render disbarment inappropriate and the court can glean none," Brott wrote. "The court has no reason to believe that respondent could or would conform his behavior to the ethical rules."

SUSPENSIONS/PROBATION

HOWARD ALLAN LIPTON [#79301], 51, of Sherman Oaks was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual two-year suspension, and was ordered to make restitution, prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Sept. 6, 2001.

Lipton stipulated to four counts of misconduct in two consolidated cases.

He misused his client trust account by writing three checks against insufficient funds, commingling personal and client funds in the account and paying personal bills from the account, and by failing to maintain client funds.

He settled a personal injury claim for $15,000, but did not disburse any funds to his client or a lienholder, and allowed the balance to fall below the required amount. About six months after the settlement check was deposited in Lipton's trust account at Alliance Bank, his client signed and submitted to the bank a form alleging that his (the client's) signature on the check was forged. As a result, the bank on which the check was drawn had to refund $15,000 to Alliance Bank. Alliance was unable to recover the funds from Lipton's trust account and sued Lipton. That case and other civil matters eventually settled with a stipulation for judgment in the amount of $220,000, with Lipton assigning his attorney fees from other matters to the bank.

Lipton also stipulated to committing an act of moral turpitude.

Lipton has a record of four previous disciplines, including a public reproval, three suspensions and a probation revocation.

He offered extensive mitigation, including severe financial pressures and depression. His wife had a brain seizure, filed for divorce and had Lipton evicted from their home, their son receives psychiatric treatment and Lipton himself had serious health problems. He recognizes his wrongdoing, is extremely remorseful and cooperated with the bank to resolve his debts.  

JOSEPH MEIR RIBAKOFF [#146573], 45, of Long Beach was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on four years of probation with an actual 60-day suspension and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 6, 2001.

Ribakoff stipulated to misconduct in two cases.

In the first, he represented a client in several legal matters relating to an apartment building partnership. The client paid Ribakoff $5,000 and asked him to initiate formal litigation to dissolve the partnership. His check for the filing fee was returned, however, and the court ordered him to pay within 20 days or the filing would be voided.

When the client demanded a meeting because she was frustrated about the lack of progress, Ribakoff promised to repay the advance fee at a rate of $500 a month and to continue the case on a contingency basis. When the court scheduled a notice to show cause hearing, Ribakoff did not notify the client. The court issued another return check notice.

The client hired a new attorney and asked for a return of unearned fees. Although Ribakoff finally paid the filing fee, the client obtained a small claims judgment against him for $5,048, which he did not pay.

Ribakoff stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, refund advance fees or keep his client informed of developments in her case.

In the second matter, he was paid a $3,000 advance fee to handle an ERISA claim for a client and his wife. He told the client the complaint had been filed when it was not, and then did not respond to three requests by the client for a copy of the complaint. The client eventually learned no complaint was filed when he visited the court.

He demanded a refund of his fee and complained to the State Bar.

Nine months after Ribakoff said he filed a complaint, he did file a complaint, but in the wrong county. When the court issued an order to show cause, Ribakoff filed a declaration identifying himself as counsel for the clients, although he was no longer their attorney.

He stipulated that he failed to provide competent legal services, refund an unearned fee or respond to client inquiries. His misrepresentations to his client and the court were acts of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar's investigation, he had financial hardship at the time of the misconduct and suffered from a serious undiagnosed medical condition. Because he had no medical insurance, he was unable to obtain care and was distracted from the performance of his legal duties.

STEPHEN M. WEISS [#110150], 54, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on 30 months of probation and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 6, 2001.

Weiss received a $1,000 advance fee to represent a woman and her son in an arbitration proceeding involving a personal injury claim. Although he received notice that a motion for summary judgment had been filed, Weiss did not adequately inform the client he would not file an opposition to the motion or appear at the hearing, and that she should hire another lawyer to represent her. The motion was granted and the case dismissed by the arbitrator, but Weiss did not tell the client.

When the client received a refund from the arbitration service and asked Weiss why, he said he did not know. He also did not respond to a letter from the client regarding the status of her case and asking for a refund. He did not respond to a State Bar investigator looking into the matter.

Weiss stipulated that he failed to communicate with his client, provide an accounting of the advance fee or cooperate with the bar's investigation.

He has a record of prior discipline - a private reproval in 1996 for failing to perform legal services competently.

In mitigation, he was experiencing severe family problems at the time of the misconduct.

NICOLA CIMMARRUSTI [#129429], 45, of San Diego was suspended for one year, stayed, actually suspended for 15 days and until he makes restitution, attends ethics school and the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension. If the suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation; if it exceeds 90 days, he must comply with rule 955. He also was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Sept. 7, 2001.

In a default proceeding, the bar court found that Cimmarrusti violated the terms of an agreement in lieu of discipline (ALD) by failing to attend ethics school or make restitution to a client. He had represented a client in a divorce action and submitted documents that were rejected by the clerk for errors and inaccuracies. He did not resubmit the documents or perform further services on his client's behalf.

He entered into an ALD with the State Bar, admitting that he failed to competently represent his client and agreeing to refund $150 and attend ethics school.

BRUCE MALCOLM BROWN [#135036], 40, of Duluth, Minn., was placed on two years of probation with an actual two-year suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation, make restitution, take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Sept. 20, 2001.

Brown stipulated to two counts of misconduct in a bankruptcy matter for a mother and her son in Arizona. The clients believed Brown was a licensed Arizona attorney but he was not, and he was suspended from practice in California at the time.

Neither Brown nor his firm filed a bankruptcy petition and he did not refund a $790 advance fee.

He stipulated that he improperly held himself out to practice law when he was not entitled, and he failed to refund an unearned fee.

In a second matter, Brown responded to two complaints against his firm and America Bankruptcy Center Inc., identifying himself as corporate counsel for the bankruptcy center. At the time, he was not licensed in Arizona and was suspended from practice in California. He stipulated that he practiced law in a jurisdiction where he was not entitled.

In mitigation, Brown suffered from a bipolar disorder for which he received treatment. In addition, it was his intent to work with a licensed Arizona attorney in his firm.

He has a record of two prior disciplines, in 1995 and 1996, for misconduct that included failure to refund unearned fees, return client files, communicate with clients or perform legal services competently, and for committing acts of moral turpitude.

JACK RAYMOND COONEY JR. [#63980], 57, of Pleasanton was suspended for five 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 Sept. 20, 2001.

Cooney stipulated to four counts of misconduct.

He misappropriated more than $7,000 from a client for whom he settled a personal injury claim for $12,000. He did not pay the client her share of the funds, nor did he pay her doctor bills, and he did not respond to a letter requesting an accounting for the funds. He made full restitution after receiving notification he was being investigated by the State Bar. He failed to participate in the bar's investigation.

He also misappropriated more than $7,500 from two other clients for whom he received settlement funds totalling $16,200. Although he paid them $2,000 and paid their doctor bills, he did not give them what they were owed. He made restitution as a condition for settling the bar's investigation and he deposited funds into his client trust account to satisfy a lien by the clients' former attorney. (The clients dispute the lien and have directed Cooney not to pay it.)

Cooney has no record of discipline, he was struggling with serious family issues that resulted in financial, emotional and health problems, and he demonstrated remorse.

IONE YOUNG GRAY [#74491], 54, of Los Angeles was suspended for five years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with a four-year, six-month actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE. Credit towards the actual suspension will be given for an interim suspension which began April 29, 1997. The order took effect Sept. 20, 2001.

Gray was convicted in 1997 of two counts of making false statements on a loan application and two counts of fraudulent use of a Social Security number, all felonies involving moral turpitude. The convictions were the result of knowingly making material false statements in documentation she submitted in support of two loan applications. She provided a false name and Social Security number and misstated her monthly earnings.

While suspended for nonpayment of bar dues, Gray accepted three cases for clients. She made three court appearances, filed a complaint and motions, and requested a continuance of a trial date. She stipulated that she committed acts of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, she made her loan payments on time and the bank suffered no monetary loss as a result of her actions. There was no order of restitution.

CHARLES T. HINDLEY [#55738], 77, of San Bernardino was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a one-year actual suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. Credit will be given for an interim suspension which began Oct. 27, 1999. The order took effect Sept. 20, 2001.

Hindley was convicted in 1999 of one count of receiving stolen property. Unidentified individuals stole trash and other discarded papers belonging to a law firm engaged in civil cases with one of Hindley's clients.

The items were given to Hindley's client, who stored them in plastic bags in a space in Hindley's office. There was no indication Hindley knew of the burglary, although he helped the client move the bags from one location to another.

In mitigation, Hindley has no record of discipline in more than 25 years of practice, and he cooperated with the bar's investigation. At the time of the misconduct, he was under the care of physicians who prescribed eight different drugs for his hypertension. The medication adversely affected his decision making.

CRAIG MICHAEL LYTLE [#84430], 59, of Hermosa Beach was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 60-day suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 20, 2001.

Lytle represented a client in a medical malpractice claim on a contingency fee basis, filing a complaint in 1997. He then failed to respond to discovery requests or to numerous client phone calls, and did not appear at two case management conferences or an order to show cause hearing. As a result, the case was dismissed, but he did not inform his client.

When the client finally terminated Lytle in February 1999, he did not release her file for a month. The client learned her case was dismissed 11 months later.

Lytle stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, respond to client inquiries or keep a client informed of significant developments in her case. He also did not cooperate with the bar's investigation.

In another matter, he used his client trust account to pay personal expenses and bounced at least six checks, acts of moral turpitude.

Lytle was disciplined twice previously, both public reprovals. In one matter, he failed to maintain client trust records or render an accounting and he improperly withdrew from employment. In the other case, he failed to pay court-ordered sanctions.

In mitigation, he had family problems at the time, and the issuance of checks against insufficient funds was partly due to a stop-payment order placed on a check written to Lytle which he had deposited. He cooperated with the bar's investigation.

WAYNE WINROW [#153632], 50, of Richmond was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on 30 months of probation with an actual 75-day suspension, and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 20, 2001.

Winrow stipulated to misconduct in four cases.

He did not inform one client that her claim against a transit agency was rejected or of a resulting six-month statute of limitations. He took no further action on the case. He also did not respond to requests for the client's file from her new attorney.

Hired to file a divorce petition by another client who paid a $1,000 retainer, Winrow drafted a petition but did no further work. He did not return numerous phone calls from the client and refunded the fee only after the client complained to the State Bar.

He also practiced law while on inactive status for failing to pay an arbitration award, making three court appearances, filing pleadings and negotiating with opposing counsel.

In mitigation, no client was harmed as a result of the unlicensed appearance matters, Winrow cooperated with the bar's investigation, he demonstrated good character with a wide range of references, and he has performed significant pro bono work.

JOHN ROBERT FUCHS [#82932], 55, of Los Angeles was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation, and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 21, 2001.

Fuchs stipulated that he maintained an unjust action by pursuing a lawsuit against former clients for fees and costs, despite entering into a settlement and agreement releasing them from any further claim.

The clients originally were represented in a civil action by another attorney on a 33 1/3 percent contingency basis. That attorney then joined Fuchs' firm, which demanded a 40 percent contingency fee and said it would not advance costs. Although the clients declined to enter into the agreement, trial was set to begin a short time later, so they agreed to the arrangement.

Fuchs tried the case and won a judgment of $575,000, including $100,000 in attorney fees and $21,000 in costs.

After trial, a dispute arose between the clients and the firm over fees, payment of costs and allegations of legal malpractice. Fuchs told the clients the firm would no longer represent them.

A new attorney received the settlement funds and met with all the former attorneys to resolve the fee dispute. They agreed to a division of funds and an exchange of mutual general releases.

Fuchs signed a settlement and release agreement in order to induce the clients to give him $151,500 of the settlement funds. The agreement released the clients from all further claims pertaining to payment of Fuchs' firm's lien for attorney fees and costs.

Two weeks later, Fuchs demanded the clients pay him an additional $93,831.74, or he would file suit.

Six days later, he sued and pursued the lawsuit for more than a year. The clients won summary judgment; Fuchs appealed both summary judgment and the judgment after trial. The court affirmed the summary judgment against the Fuchs firm, reversed the judgment in favor of the clients and remanded the case for the trial court to enter a judgment against Fuchs for nominal damages and a determination of reasonable attorney fees.

In mitigation, Fuchs has no record of discipline, he had family and financial problems and he presented references attesting to his good character.

JOHN BECKERICH BARRIAGE [#120462], 42, of Torrance was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 22, 2001.

Barriage wrote more than 40 checks against his client trust account to pay personal and business expenses. He stipulated that he commingled client and personal funds in the account.

In mitigation, he has no record of discipline and he cooperated with the bar's investigation.

JOHN DALE BIRD [#133628], 59, of Grand Terrace was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and was ordered to make restitution within a year and comply with rule 955. If he does not make restitution, probation will be extended for four years. The order took effect Sept. 22, 2001.

Bird stipulated to eight counts of misconduct in four consolidated cases.

In a matter that began as a divorce in 1991, Bird held the proceeds from his client's pension fund in his client trust account. After the client died in 1997, Bird continued to hold the pension funds by order of the court.

Bird then sued his late client's wife, who administered the estate, for more than $17,000 in fees and costs. He signed the name of another lawyer as attorney of record, but the other lawyer had not prepared or reviewed the complaint. Judgment was entered against the wife in the amount of $19,066.25. Bird wrote a check against his trust account - containing the pension funds - to the marshal's office. He also assigned his interest in the action to his sister, who was his office administrator. His sister, in turn, assigned to Bird her interest in a piece of property in Illinois, in the amount of $19,066.25.

In the meantime, Bird divorced his wife and was ordered to pay $10,724 in spousal support. The marshal released the funds from the $19,066 he was holding from the other case. Bird objected that the money was for his law office and could not be used to pay a personal judgment. He stipulated, however, that he assigned his interest in the funds to his sister to avoid attachment, failing to comply with a court order. His action amounted to moral turpitude.

Unaware that the pension funds had been levied by the marshal, an attorney from the original case moved for a hearing on distribution of the money. The court ordered Bird to disburse more than $20,000 from the estate. Bird's sister claimed she was entitled to the funds.

Bird was found in contempt, sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.

Bird stipulated that filing suit against his late client's wife, which resulted in a levy on his trust account, constituted a bad faith violation of court orders involving the pension fund. His violation of the orders amounted to moral turpitude. By not maintaining funds in his trust account, he wilfully disobeyed court orders.

Bird also did not pay spousal support to his ex-wife, was sentenced to 100 days in county jail and was ordered to pay fees to his ex-wife's lawyer. Two writs - totaling more than $40,000 -  were issued against him for spousal support and attorney's fees. He did not pay either.

In two other matters, he did not respond to clients' inquiries about their cases or refund unearned fees.

In mitigation, Bird has no prior record of discipline. He relied on advice of counsel in filing suit to receive payment of his fees because he was worried about the ability of creditors and the IRS to attach his client's pension funds.

In his own divorce case, he has been subjected to large financial liabilities, including a tax bill of more than $100,000. He was unable to make his spousal payments because of cash flow problems.

ALLAN M. GOLDBERG [#158820], 52, of Canoga Park was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation, and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect Sept. 22, 2001.

Goldberg was arrested in 1998 on suspicion of driving under the influence. Three days later, he was arrested again following an automobile accident in which three people were injured. He was convicted for the first arrest of driving under the influence with one prior. On the second arrest, he was convicted of DUI and causing injuries to more than one person, a felony, driving with a license suspended for a prior DUI, a misdemeanor, and two counts of possession of a controlled substance, a felony.

In mitigation, Goldberg cooperated with the bar's investigation and he demonstrated remorse about his actions.

JAMES McCONE [#163918], 43, of Los Angeles 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 Sept. 22, 2001.

McCone handled a civil case which ended with a $35,000 judgment against his client. At the time the judgment was entered, McCone and the client agreed McCone would be paid a flat fee of $5,000 plus costs.

A few months later, McCone told the client he had filed a notice of appeal. A year later, the court dismissed the appeal because no briefs had been filed. McCone did not notify the client the case was dismissed and he did not return the client's phone calls.

He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently or keep his client informed of significant developments in his case.

In mitigation, McCone cooperated with the bar's investigation.

JOHN MICHAEL McKENNA [#91174], 52, of Tustin was suspended for six months, stayed and placed on probation for two years. The order took effect Sept. 22, 2001.

McKenna represented a client on a contingency fee basis in a real estate action against her realty company. He filed a complaint, but did not return his client's phone calls, respond to an inquiry about the status of her case, return her file or appear at two hearings. His failure to perform resulted in the dismissal of the case.

McKenna was publicly reproved in 2000 for failing to maintain records of client funds in his possession and for sharing fees with a non-lawyer.

DANNY JOHN MEEHAN [#49644], 56, of Kaneohe, Hawaii, was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with an actual one-year suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. Credit toward the actual suspension will be given for a period of interim suspension which began Nov. 30, 2000. The order took effect Sept. 22, 2001.

Meehan pleaded guilty in 1998 to possession of cocaine, a felony, and possession of a device for smoking a controlled substance. He had been arrested after a citizen reported a man loitering near a park. When police searched his car, they found a handgun, a rifle and small amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine in the trunk of his car. One of the weapons was loaded. Meehan was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he was arrested.

As a first-time offender, Meehan agreed to participate in a drug diversion program, but he did not complete the program and served six months in the county jail. He has complied with his probation since.

In mitigation, Meehan has no record of discipline since his 1971 admission to the bar, has complied with his probation even though he resides in another state, has been clean and sober since 1998, regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and is a volunteer for a local swimming program for the mentally challenged.

RICHARD GERARD PRANTIL [#147764], 43, of San Diego was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual four-month 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 Sept. 22, 2001.

Prantil substituted in to a divorce case after the dissolution was complete. At the time the judgment was entered, the wife's claim for interest in the couple's property was to be released.

Almost four years later, Prantil demanded and received $10,000 from a title company for the release of the claim, without his client's knowledge. He filed a false and misleading document with the court, committing an act of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, he has no prior record of discipline, he cooperated with the bar's investigation and he provided references attesting to his good character.

DIXON RICHARD WOLCOTT [#58667], 55, of Mission Viejo was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 22, 2001.

Wolcott stipulated to misconduct in two cases.

He was hired to handle an appeal of a criminal conviction and was paid $2,500 by the client's mother. At one point, Wolcott told the mother he had completed the appeal brief and planned to file it three days later. In fact, he never filed the appeal and did not respond to subsequent letters from the mother or return the client's file for almost two years.

He failed to perform legal services competently, refund an unearned fee or promptly release a client file.

In the second matter in which he represented a criminal defendant, he failed to appear for two court hearings or respond to 20 pages from his client and moved without telling her his new address. The client eventually was referred to the public defender's office. Wolcott refunded only $20 of her $1,000 fee.

He stipulated that he withdrew from employment without protecting his

client's interests and failed to return an unearned fee.

In mitigation, he has no record of prior discipline and he had health problems at the time of the misconduct - he suffered a stroke, which had a disabling effect on his ability to practice.

STEVEN JACOB BARKIN [#91575], 49, of North Hollywood was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation and was ordered to make restitution. The order took effect Sept. 30, 2001.

Barkin stipulated to three acts of moral turpitude. He received settlement funds for six clients, but did not pay their medical bills, totaling more than $13,300, and instead misappropriated the money.

He also was suspended for four years in 1996 for failing to return client phone calls, promptly pay out client funds, deposit client funds in a trust account, return client files or cooperate with the bar's investigation.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar's investigation.

STEPHEN JAMES BUCHANAN [#142640], 58, of Los Angeles was suspended for 30 days, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to make restitution and take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Sept. 30, 2001.

Buchanan stipulated to misconduct in two matters. In the first, he failed to properly maintain his client trust account by issuing several checks against insufficient funds.

In the second case, he entered into a contingency fee agreement with a client in a personal injury case which he settled for $2,000. Buchanan or someone else issued a check to the client for $666, which was cashed at a check-cashing service by someone other than the client.

A new attorney asked Buchanan to explain why the client had received no funds. The client sued for breach of contract and general negligence. Buchanan offered to settle for $1,500 but the client demanded $4,500 to $5,000.

Buchanan stipulated that he failed to promptly pay out client funds.

ELLA SMITH CHATTERJEE [#149923], 49, of Newport Beach was suspended for one year, stayed, and actually suspended for 45 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension. If the suspension exceeds 90 days, she must comply with rule 955; if it exceeds two years, she must prove her rehabilitation. She also was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Sept. 30, 2001

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Chatterjee failed to perform legal services competently, keep a client informed about significant developments in a case or cooperate with the bar's investigation.

In a bankruptcy matter, Chatterjee collected all the information she needed but did not file the petition until after the client complained to the State Bar. She did not tell the client the petition was filed, nor did she inform the client that a meeting of creditors was scheduled. Chatterjee did not appear at the meeting, and the petition was dismissed. Chatterjee did not inform the client.

In mitigation, she practiced law for more than eight years without any discipline.

The previously ordered probation of MARCELLO MARIO DIMAURO [#59302], 56, of Glendale was extended for six months, effective Sept. 30, 2001.

DiMauro was placed on probation in September 2000, but did not file a quarterly probation report or a report from a certified public accountant. The misconduct involved overdrafts from his client trust account; the insufficient funds were a result of poor bookkeeping and failing to wait the requisite period of time for deposited checks to clear. In three separate matters, 27 checks were written against insufficient funds.

DiMauro also was privately reproved in 1987.

In mitigation, he had family problems at the time of the misconduct.

GLEN JOHN DRYER [#141682], 43, of Kamuela, Hawaii, was suspended for one year, stayed, actually suspended for 90 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate his suspension, and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Sept. 30, 2001.

Dryer was suspended for a year and a day by the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2000 for misconduct relating to his handling of a criminal case. His client was scheduled to appear for trial Sept. 9, 1998, but Dryer withdrew from representation, saying he was retiring, on Aug. 26.

Although the client did not agree to Dryer's withdrawal, Dryer advised him to contact the public defender's office for representation. He did not advise the client to seek a continuance of the trial, nor did he return his file and papers to prepare for trial.

The client appeared for the trial but Dryer did not. The court discharged Dryer, continued the trial and referred the client to a public defender.

Dryer did not respond to or appear before the Hawaiian disciplinary office and was disciplined for failure to protect client interests, obey court orders, respond to a disciplinary authority or cooperate with an ethics investigation.

He also was suspended in a second matter for two years. He represented a client in two workers' compensation cases, but did not pursue the cases with diligence, keep his client informed about developments or make efforts to expedite the litigation. He also did not respond to disciplinary authorities or cooperate with an ethics investigation.

The State Bar Court in California determined that his misconduct in Hawaii also would subject him to discipline in California and recommended his suspension.

BRUCE GARY FAGEL [#103674], 55, of Beverly Hills was suspended for 90 days, stayed, placed on four years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Sept. 30, 2001.

Fagel stipulated that he misled the court during the course of a medical malpractice case stemming from alleged negligence during the birth of a child. The child's father agreed to settle the case for $1.35 million, but the mother, who was the child's legal guardian, did not.

Fagel then sent the couple a petition which required both of their signatures, as well as a proposed disbursement of settlement funds in which he listed estimates of costs for which he had not received final billings. The couple did not return either document.

Nonetheless, Fagel submitted a petition to court, bearing his signature, and told the court he would submit an original with the required signatures prior to a hearing. The petition asked the court to approve a settlement purportedly reached between his clients and the defendant. Fagel filed the petition without his clients' knowledge, and he lacked standing to do so.

In a supporting declaration, he estimated costs in the case at more than $15,000, although the actual costs to that date were about $1,500. He did not make clear to the court that the higher amount was an estimate for other experts still reviewing the case.

When the clients said they did not accept the settlement, Fagel scheduled a settlement conference with a private judge, although he did not have the clients' authority to do so. Despite some changes in the proposed settlement, including an offer by Fagel to reduce his fee by $50,000, the clients again rejected the settlement.

The clients terminated Fagel. A short time later, he petitioned the court to have an independent guardian appointed for the child to provide an independent evaluation of the settlement. Fagel based the request on a claimed conflict of interest between the parties and various counsel. In fact, the only conflict was between him and his clients. He lacked standing to seek an independent guardian and the court denied the petition.

The case eventually was settled over the objections of the child's mother.

In mitigation, Fagel has no record of discipline, the clients were not harmed and he provided character witnesses. He also undertook remedial actions to improve client communications.

INTERIM SUSPENSION

POOYA DAYANIM [#187620], 28, of Beverly Hills was placed on interim suspension Aug. 31, 2001, following a conviction for possession of a false identification document with intent to defraud.

He was ordered to comply with rule 955.

CLARIFICATIONS

Attorney HIAN DAVID SCHMERIN [#31847}, 67, of Pico Rivera was placed on interim suspension last year and resigned from the State Bar Oct. 10. He should not be confused with HENRY DAVID SCHMERIN, 36, a non-attorney who owns of Wrightwood Laboratories in Las Vegas.

A story in the September issue about a pending lawsuit, Ruiz v. Santa Maria, indicated no Latino had ever been elected to the city council under an at-large electoral system. Since the suit was filed, two Latinos have been elected to the council and another was appointed.