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30 years later, Silverton is disbarred a second time

In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court disbarred a Pacific Palisades attorney for the second time, rejecting a State Bar Court review department recommendation for a lesser discipline. RONALD R. SILVERTON [#28775], 74, was ordered off the rolls June 23.

Silverton has a long record of discipline, starting more than 30 years ago. He was first disbarred in 1975 after felony convictions for conspiracy to obtain money by false pretenses and to present a fraudulent insurance claim as well as for soliciting another to commit or join in the commission of grand theft.

On his fourth attempt at reinstatement in 1992, he won back his license, but less than two years later began a series of client transactions that resulted in State Bar charges of misconduct. While his cases wound through the discipline system, he ran three times for the State Bar Board of Governors on a platform seeking the dismantling of the discipline operation and the elimination of MCLE requirements.

The cases that led to the second disbarment stemmed from Silver-ton’s compromise of medical bills in a way that was more advantageous to him than to his clients. In one matter, he kept more than three-fourths of the reduction in the medical bills, and in three cases, the bar court’s review department found that the arrangement constituted an unconscionable fee.

The review department recommended that Silverton be suspended for two years, stayed, and be placed on three years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension. It found that he reasonably believed he could negotiate postsettlement agreements at arm’s length and that his clients were not harmed.

Silverton appealed the findings to the Supreme Court, which rejected his petition but took the unusual step of setting a hearing on its own motion to consider whether to increase the discipline.

In writing for the majority, Justice Marvin Baxter noted that when the State Bar sought Silver-ton’s disbarment, it relied on standard 1.7(a), which provides that if an attorney has a prior record of discipline, subsequent punishment should be greater than what was imposed earlier unless the prior discipline was both remote in time and “so minimal in severity that imposing greater discipline in the current proceeding would be manifestly unjust.”

Although the review department acknowledged the standard, it recommended a lesser degree of punishment, saying a second disbarment would be “manifestly unjust.” It also said Silverton’s original misconduct was remote in time.

The Supreme Court attached little importance to the length of time between Silverton’s original misconduct and his later actions, noting that although 19 years elapsed between the two, he was ineligible to practice for all but 22 months of that period. Further, the court said, the review department did not find that Silverton’s prior misconduct was so minimal in severity that imposing greater discipline would be unjust.

The court also rejected Silverton’s argument that the standards are not binding. “When an attorney has previously been disbarred, disbarment is the appropriate sanction for subsequent professional misconduct unless the exception set forth in standard 1.7(a) is satisfied or the attorney can otherwise establish ‘grave doubts as to the propriety’ of disbarment in the particular case,” Baxter wrote. Silverton failed to prove any extraordinary circumstances that would justify a lesser sanction than disbarment, the court concluded.

The court reserved its strongest criticism for Silverton’s “lack of insight into the wrongfulness of his actions.”

“In our opinion ordering Silverton’s first disbarment, we found it ‘significant’ that he had ‘failed to show any remorse and has devoted his efforts chiefly to an attempt to show that there was a complete lack of evidence in the trial court pointing to his guilt of the crimes of which he was convicted,’” Baxter wrote. “Now, 30 years later, it appears little has changed.

“Absent a finding that the prior offense was remote in time and relatively minor or that other extraordinary circumstances warranted leniency, the sanction that is ‘most likely to protect the public, the courts and the profession’ and ‘deter . . . from future wrongdoing’ an attorney who has previously been disbarred . . . is disbarment.”

“I think it’s a bad decision,” said David Claire, Silverton’s attorney. “It’s kind of hard to believe. This is a case that was thrown out by the State Bar Court the first time it was tried; they didn’t think there was any violation at all. I’m very disappointed in the way it turned out.”

In a recent letter to the Bar Journal, Silverton complained the bar brought charges against him because he was part of a committee to eliminate the discipline system.

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