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Second disbarment looms for Beverly Hills attorney

If the State Bar has its way, a southern California attorney who was disbarred and reinstated may win the dubious distinction of becoming the second lawyer in the state to be disbarred twice. RONALD R. SILVERTON [#28775], 71, of Pacific Palisades faces 25 counts of misappropriating funds from clients and has a second case on appeal before the State Bar Court's review department. In that matter, a hearing judge found that he collected unconscionable fees and entered into fee agreements with clients whose interests were adverse to his.

Ronald Silverton
Silverton

Silverton, who has run for the bar's board of governors three times and also made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the Los Angeles County bench in 2000, was charged last summer with misusing his client trust account by writing checks to clients or other parties when there were no funds on deposit for that particular client, and taking fees in excess of what he was owed. He faces a total of 27 counts, of which 25 involve moral turpitude.

"He faces 25 counts of misappropriation, any one of which would be sufficient to disbar him," said Larry DeSha, a bar attorney who is prosecuting Silverton. "We're expecting his disbarment." The total amount of the misappropriation charged is $113,325.

Silverton was disbarred in 1975 after convictions for perjury, subornation of perjury, conspiring to violate the insurance code and soliciting to commit a felony. He served nine months in prison and his first conviction was reversed on appeal.

According to a profile in the 1980 book, "The Baby Brokers: The Marketing of White Babies in America," Silverton began an adoption service in 1972, while he was suspended and facing disbarment. The agency told pregnant women from Europe that they would receive free medical services in exchange for housework at a Caribbean hotel patronized by potential parents. Silverton, who was dubbed "silver-tongued Silverton" by reporters, was convicted of felony conspiracy to violate adoption laws (later reduced to a misdemeanor).

He was readmitted to the bar on his fourth try in 1992 after spending the intervening years managing a law firm. Within a year, Silverton faced new disciplinary charges, which eventually were dismissed.

Then in 1997, he was charged with five counts of misconduct as a result of his handling of two personal injury cases. In both, his clients agreed that if Silverton could negotiate a reduction of any medical lien, he would keep the difference as an additional fee. While negotiating a reduced lien is standard procedure, the client is ordinarily entitled to any funds resulting from a lower bill, according to the charges.

One case was dismissed and a hearing judge found that Silverton was not guilty of the charges in the second. The review department reversed portions of the findings, and in 2001, more charges were added involving another client.

Last May, a hearing judge found that in two matters, Silverton entered fee agreements with his clients which allowed him to retain, as additional attorney fees, any money resulting from his negotiation of reduced medical bills. In one of the cases, he negotiated a reduction of $2,491, keeping $1,910 for himself in addition to his share of the contingency fee.

The bar court found that he charged an unconscionable fee and entered into business transactions with clients with whom he had an adverse interest. Silverton appealed the ruling to the review department. The bar also appealed the judge's recommended two-year stayed suspension with a 60-day actual suspension as too light.

The first count of the newest charges virtually replicate those in the other matter: he entered into a fee agreement with a client which authorized him to compromise any medical bill and keep the savings as an additional fee. In that client's case, it took Silverton 30 minutes to negotiate two medical bill reductions which gave him an additional fee of $2,196, or an additional 20 percent of the recovery, according to the charges. He collected 53.3 percent of the total recovery.

Each of the other 25 counts charge Silverton with misappropriating client money. In some cases, he paid himself funds marked as fees for a particular client when there was no money on deposit for that client. He also is charged with taking fees in excess of what he was entitled to, allowing the balance in his trust account to fall below what was owed to other clients, at least once to a negative balance, and in one instance paying $2,100 to a client for whom no funds were on deposit.

If Silverton is disbarred again, it will not be without a fight. He has appealed the newest charges to the Supreme Court, arguing the events were too old to charge. However, he closed his office a year ago and DeSha said he believes Silverton is not practicing.

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