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Criminal defense attorney suspended for abandonment

A northern California criminal defense attorney who has bounced between active and "not entitled" status with the State Bar several times in recent years was suspended in May for failing to perform legal services for two clients.

RICHARD ERIC HOVE [#53780], 55, of Hayward also made headlines twice in the past two years for defending a client in a capital murder case while he was not entitled to practice and for representing two clients in related murder trials, a conflict of interest which led a federal appeals court to order a new trial for a man serving a life sentence.

Hove's most recent troubles are the result of abandoning two clients.

According to the State Bar Court, Hove was retained in 1999 by Monica Stapleton, whose ex-boyfriend had been arrested for allegedly defrauding a company out of millions of dollars. She and the boyfriend had a joint Charles Schwab bank account which had been frozen under a temporary restraining order.

Stapleton wanted her name removed from the bank account and was concerned about her potential tax liability as well as whether she would be contacted by authorities as part of their investigation. She paid Hove $500 for a preliminary investigation of her tax and criminal liability, and he agreed that if the tax matter was beyond his expertise, he would refer Stapleton to another lawyer. Hove said he'd been too busy to look into the matter when Stapleton contacted him several days later, but promised to do so quickly. Over the next two weeks, however, he did not return approximately 10 phone calls from Stapleton. After that time, Hove's and Stapleton's versions of what happened differ.

Hove claims he contacted Stapleton in Arizona, where she was visiting her parents, and told her she was not under investigation and that the "innocent spouse" issue was not applicable to her as far as tax liability was concerned. The court found that Hove never contacted Charles Schwab or consulted with a tax expert.

Stapleton says she never talked with Hove while she was in Arizona, but hand-delivered a letter to his office when she returned home. When he did not respond, she sent another letter, firing him and asking for a refund. Hove says he did not receive either letter.

The bar court found that Hove should have refunded Stapleton's $500 fee and that he failed to perform legal services because he did not advise his client about her tax liability resulting from the joint bank account. In addition, he did not cooperate with the bar's investigation. Hove was hired in 1997 by another client who was under investigation by the FBI for copyright infringement relating to copyrighted games he sold at his business. The client, Michael Chaddon, paid a $5,000 flat fee, but there was no retainer agreement.

Hove contacted the U.S. Attorney handling the matter and was told no decision had been made about charges, but the prosecutor agreed to notify Hove in advance of any filing. In subsequent conversations and a letter, the U.S. Attorney told Hove to contact her if he wished to discuss a pre-indictment resolution. He never responded, and did not inform his client about the offer, the court said.

When Chaddon sought a refund of his money, Hove told him about the work he'd done and explained Chaddon could be indicted until the statute of limitations expired, so they should pursue a "wait-and-see" strategy.

In early 1999, Sony sued Chaddon for trademark counterfeiting and copyright infringement, and Chaddon hired a civil attorney for a $4,000 retainer. During the summer months, the new attorney tried six to 12 times to phone Hove, but he did not return the calls. Chaddon indicated to the new lawyer that he also could not reach Hove.

Meanwhile, according to the bar court, the federal prosecutor said she was prepared to send the case to the grand jury and asked Hove to contact her if he wished to discuss a pre-indictment resolution. She told Hove she was authorized to resolve the case for Chaddon's guilty plea to one count of criminal copyright infringement, a misdemeanor, and gave him a deadline of Sept. 1 to respond.

Prior to that date, however, Chaddon and Hove had a falling-out. Hove never responded to the U.S. Attorney and never told her or the civil attorney that he no longer represented Chaddon. When Chaddon was indicted, he hired a new lawyer and sought a refund of his advance fee. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and obtained a fee arbitration award of $5,150, which Hove paid.

The bar court found that Hove abandoned Chaddon, failed to advise him of significant developments in his case and did not cooperate with the bar's investigation. The Supreme Court ordered him suspended for two years, stayed, and placed him on two years of probation with an actual 75-day suspension and a requirement that he make restitution to Stapleton. He also must take the professional responsibility exam.

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