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Attempt to avoid disbarment by resigning is thwarted

An Ontario attorney who faces disbarment was thwarted in his effort to resign instead when the State Bar Board of Governors voted unanimously last month to reject the resignation. The State Bar Court had recommended that JOHN RAYMOND LaBRUCHERIE [#141051], 48, be disbarred because he failed to comply with rule 9.20 (former rule 955) of the California Rules of Court.

LaBrucherie was disciplined last year after stipulating to seven counts of misconduct in two client matters. He was suspended for a year and until the bar court granted a motion to terminate the suspension and he was ordered to comply with former rule 955.

As part of the rule, a disciplined attorney must notify his or her clients, opposing counsel, courts, administrative agencies and others of his or her suspension, disbarment or resignation and submit an affidavit to the State Bar Court attesting that the appropriate notifications were made. Failure to comply is grounds for disbarment.

When LaBrucherie did not submit the required affidavit, the bar filed a notice of disciplinary charges on Aug. 10, 2006. LaBrucherie did not respond and his default was entered. The bar court recommended his disbarment March 9.

In making the recommendation, Judge Richard Honn wrote, LaBrucherie "has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with the professional obligations and rules of court imposed on California attorneys although he has been given opportunities to do so."

Although LaBrucherie did not participate in the disbarment proceeding, he submitted his resignation a month later.

Resignations with discipline pending are routinely forwarded to the Supreme Court in the belief that such a practice saves resources by avoiding lengthy disciplinary proceedings while at the same time allowing lawyers to avoid the stigma of disbarment. In addition, acceptance of a resignation provides greater public protection because resignations are processed quickly and an attorney with misconduct issues is then precluded from practicing. About 100 lawyers resign every year with charges pending.

The bar board has the authority to recommend that resignations be rejected. In LaBrucherie's case, Chief Trial Counsel Scott Drexel urged rejection of his resignation because, he said, "it would be unjust to provide the benefits of resignation to an attorney who waited to resign until his disciplinary proceeding had been completed." He added that LaBrucherie submitted his resignation "in order to avoid the humiliation or adverse consequences of disbarment."

Drexel said LaBrucherie did not participate in either the disbarment proceeding or the underlying disciplinary proceeding, in which the bar court found that he committed misconduct in two client matters, including failing to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients or cooperate with the bar's investigation, and he improperly withdrew from representation and committed acts of moral turpitude by making misrepresentations.

He handled a civil matter involving a disputed debt, but took no action and a default judgment was entered against his client. He didn't notify his client or move to set aside the default, but rather continually assured his client he was working on the case and the client was not responsible for the disputed debt. The client eventually learned from a collection agency that a money judgment had been entered against him; with interest it amounted to $58,864. When the client tried to contact LaBrucherie, he learned the office was closed.

A default judgment was entered against LaBrucherie's client in another civil case, where again he took no action despite assuring the client he was working on his matter. When the client learned about the default, LaBrucherie told him not to worry because he would take care of it. He later said he would "cancel" the abstract of judgment recorded against the client and another time said he would vacate the judgment. At one point, he incorrectly told the client the judgment had been vacated.

Twice the client attempted to refinance his home and discovered there was a lien against his property; LaBrucherie promised to resolve the matter.

For more than five years, LaBrucherie made misrepresentations to his client about the work he was doing on his case.

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