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Trevor lawyers face disbarment

By Nancy McCarthy
Staff Writer

The State Bar charged three Trevor Law Group attorneys with 36 counts of misconduct last month in a petition to the State Bar Court seeking their disbarment.

The notice of disciplinary charges alleged that Damian S. Trevor, Shane C. Han and Allan C. Hendrickson committed a variety of ethical violations, including filing unjust actions, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, making misrepresentations and forming a sham corporation to serve as plaintiff in litigation carried out with a corrupt purpose.

The three men were placed on inactive involuntary enrollment May 24, and have been prohibited from practicing since then.

“This represents the next step in the process before the State Bar Court,” said Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos. “This office has completed its investigation and we’re ready for a trial on the merits.”

The 78-page complaint against the trio is similar to the petition filed to place the men on inactive enrollment and describes their decision in 2002 to file lawsuits under the Unfair Competition Law “in order to generate attorney fees and income for themselves.” The suits were based on “technical, regulatory violations” posted by the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services on their web sites, the bar alleged.

The lawyers created Consumer Enforcement Watch Corp. as a plaintiff organization, and “at all relevant times, CEW was the alter ego of the Trevor Law Group and was controlled by the Trevor Law Group,” according to the charges. They filed 28 lawsuits, 24 on behalf of CEW, naming thousands of California businesses, most of them auto repair shops and restaurants. All the suits but three named 30,000 Does.

The suits were filed, the bar alleged, “for a fraudulent purpose in that they intended to use the UCL law to extract money for their own benefit.”

Fee agreements with CEW provided that either 70 percent or 90 percent of any recovery would go to the Trevor group, and the remainder to CEW, but the complaint charges that no money went to CEW.
The bar alleged that once the suits were filed, the Trevor lawyers threatened defendants with audits or reviews of their business records, subpoenaed defendants for depositions with the intent to pressure them into settlements, refused to grant time extensions, sent out settlement letters containing false or misleading statements, and required settlement agreements to be confidential “in order to conceal the details of the settlement from the courts and to maintain complete control over UCL settlement funds.”

The bar also accused Han of practicing law before his 2002 admission to the bar. He formed a law firm with two other attorneys in 2000, working on about 20 cases over a three-month period. Even after his partners dumped him, he continued to practice, the bar alleged. He was not licensed but held himself out as an attorney when he and Trevor formed a company called NBM, LLC. He joined Trevor and Hendrickson in the spring of 2002, working together as Trevor & Associates, the bar charged.

Trevor and Hendrickson knew Han was not licensed, bar prosecutors said, so they were charged with aiding in the unlawful practice of law.

It was Han, the charges say, who developed a game plan to file suits under Business & Professions Code §17200, commonly known as the UCL.

Meanwhile, measures to amend §17200 were approved by both houses of the legislature. SB 122, authored by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, and AB 95, written by Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, each passed their respective houses by very narrow margins and will be sent to the judiciary committees of the other houses. Escutia said the bills are intended to protect the rights of legitimate plaintiffs and at the same time prevent lawsuit abuse under §17200.

Collectively, the measures establish a process for court review of attorneys’ fees in any settlement under UCL suits or resulting from a pre-settlement demand letter, clarify joinder rules, and statutorily establish disgorgement as a remedy.

Tort reformers, who came together as a group calling itself the Coalition Against Shakedown Lawsuits, criticized the legislation as an opportunity for trial lawyers to “bludgeon settlements out of innocent victims.”

“Time and again, after 10 years of working for reasonable reform, we keep coming up against the well-heeled trial bar lobby,” said John Sullivan, president of the Civil Justice Association of California. “Sadly, they turned this opportunity to improve 17200 for consumers and business owners into another opportunity to feather their nests on the back of California consumers and working families.”

The coalition was particularly unhappy with the disgorgement provision, saying it will provide increased settlement values for lawyers who threaten suits under the UCL. Rather than offering upfront protection for defendants in these suits, the bills call for court review after a defendant has incurred legal costs, the coalition said.

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