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More trouble for lawyer whose assets were seized

A Sherman Oaks attorney whose business assets were seized last year to partially reimburse the State Bar for money it gave to clients he allegedly cheated has been placed on interim suspension. The action was taken against ROBERT W. SPEER [#60040], 56, as a result of June 2002 convictions for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit-and-run and carrying a concealed weapon. The interim suspension took effect Feb. 16, 2003.

Speer made headlines in December, when Orange County Superior Court Judge John M. Watson ruled that bar officials could seize his business accounts to partially reimburse the Client Security Fund for client claims it paid out against Speer. The decision marked the first time since the Client Security Fund was established in 1972 that a court ordered it to be reimbursed with an attorney's money.

The fund is supported by a $35 per lawyer assessment that is part of all active lawyers' annual bar dues.

By March, the fund had paid out more than $367,000 to 37 of Speer's former clients, whose settlement funds were received by Speer but never were given to the clients. The payments ranged from $800 to $50,000. More claims are pending.

At the time the judge ruled the bar could seize Speer's accounts - his client security fund and two business accounts - they contained just over $262,000. About $43,000 of that money was used to reimburse the Client Security Fund.

Speer, a personal injury attorney with a high-volume practice, is accused by the bar of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients. The Orange County Court assumed jurisdiction over his practice in October 2001, ordering the bar to remove all client files and records from Speer's office and freezing his client trust account and other business accounts.

The court appointed a receiver to take possession and control of the frozen bank accounts.

More than 1,000 files were seized; the State Bar has attempted to return those files to the clients.

In March 2002, the order became final and the court assumed complete jurisdiction over his practice.

Speer petitioned the court to return the funds from one of his business accounts, but the request was denied.

The drunk driving arrest occurred in October 2001, when authorities said Speer hit another car and while fleeing from that accident, hit a second car. He drove off the side of the road, where witnesses held him until he was arrested. A gun was found in his fanny pack.

The drivers of the two cars were injured, but not seriously, police said.
Speer pleaded no contest and was ordered into a rehabilitation program. He was to be released last month.

Speer faces possible disbarment as a result of charges filed against him by the bar. He was placed on involuntary inactive enrollment in April 2002 when the State Bar Court found that he posed a substantial risk of harm to clients.

At that time, the court considered charges filed on behalf of 14 clients. The bar alleges that many of their cases were settled without the client's permission, their signatures were forged on settlement checks, they did not receive settlement funds and their doctors were not paid.

The charges against Speer were abated while he underwent court-ordered rehabilitation as a result of the criminal convictions. A status conference was scheduled for last month.p>

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