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Disbarred and reinstated, two face new misconduct charges

Two lawyers who were disbarred and later reinstated have appealed new misconduct charges to the State Bar Court’s review department and come away with quite different results — one likely will be disbarred for a second time and the other will receive a 60-day suspension if the Supreme Court accepts the review judges’ recommendations.

Judge Madge Watai, who wrote both decisions, recommended that ALVIN GILBERT TENNER [#37046], who turns 69 this month, be disbarred for committing 21 acts of misconduct in four matters. In a recommendation filed about six months earlier, Watai recommended that RONALD ROBERT SILVERTON [#28775], 73, of Pacific Palisades receive a two-year stayed suspension, three years of probation and that he lose his license for 60 days. Both recommendations are pending before the California Supreme Court.

Silverton, the better-known of the two, was convicted in 1972 of conspiring to violate the insurance code and soliciting to commit a grand theft. As a result, he was disbarred in 1975.

He was readmitted to the bar in 1992, on his fourth attempt, ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the bar’s board of governors three times and made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the Los Angeles County bench.

Exactly one year after his readmission, the bar filed misconduct charges against him; they were dismissed, but the review department reinstated three of five counts and sent the case back to the hearing department for trial.

Before that trial was held, the bar charged Silverton in 2001 with more misconduct that was consolidated with the earlier charges. A hearing judge determined that he twice failed to avoid interests adverse to a client and twice charged an unconscionable fee.

Both Silverton and the State Bar appealed; the bar sought his disbarment and Silverton sought a reduction in the recommended discipline. The review department accepted most of the hearing judge’s recommended discipline, but increased the probation from two years to three. Silverton has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

It also upheld some of the judge’s findings and reversed others. The decision involved three personal injury cases, in which Silverton offered to negotiate reductions in his clients’ medical bills and keep any resulting savings as an additional fee. In two of the cases, the review judges said the practice amounted to collecting an unconscionable fee. In the same two cases, they also concluded that Silverton did not ensure that his agreements with the clients were fair and reasonable to them.

At the same time, the judges found that Silverton did not have a pecuniary interest distinguishable from a usual contingent fee, and they reversed the hearing judge’s finding that his interests were adverse to his clients. They also said that Silverton acted in good faith and his clients were not harmed.

Although they considered his prior disbarment an aggravating factor, the judges said recommending a second disbarment would “be manifestly unjust, particularly in light of the fact that (Silverton’s) prior record of discipline is very remote in time.”

No such leniency was shown to Tenner, a civil litigator from Northridge who was disbarred in 1986 and reinstated in 1992. Unlike Silverton, Tenner did not participate in the disbarment proceedings and he was charged with misconduct that included moral turpitude.

Tenner was first disbarred for endorsing checks without his clients’ consent and for moral turpitude. At that time, he had been disciplined three previous times for misconduct that included client abandonment, misappropriation, misrepresentation, forgery, commingling funds and failing to pay client funds.

When he petitioned for reinstatement, he admitted that he violated his probation by continuing to drink alcohol until 1985 and that he lied about his rehabilitation. He was reinstated in 1992.

Six years later, he began committing misconduct, the review department said, and by 2002, the bar filed two separate cases against him. A hearing judge found that he committed 21 counts of misconduct in four cases, including failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, release client files, maintain respect for the court, report judicial sanctions or return unearned fees, and he abandoned clients and committed acts of moral turpitude.

Although the hearing judge concluded that the import of Tenner’s prior discipline should be diminished because it was remote in time, the review department rejected that finding because of its serious nature.

“The combined record before us of (Tenner’s) past and present misconduct amply demonstrates his unfitness to continue to practice,” Watai wrote.

The bar court also likely will see Silverton again: a three-day trial has been set for Nov. 30 on a new set of charges, similar to those in the case just decided by the review department.

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