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Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California February2008
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Court rules discipline costs can be collected retroactively

A federal appeals court has ruled that a disbarred attorney must pay disciplinary costs that were assessed against him prior to the passage of legislation that gave the State Bar authority to enforce cost awards. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the bar correctly applied the statute retroactively in its effort to collect more than $21,000 from San Francisco attorney MIGUEL GADDA [#64832], 64, who was disbarred in 2003.

The appellate panel upheld the district court’s dismissal of Gadda’s lawsuit.

Gadda had an immigration practice with a caseload of 500 to 600 cases. Clients were seen at his office on a first come, first served basis, often waiting several hours for a 10- to 20-minute appointment.

Immigration judges who testified at Gadda’s trial before the bar said he frequently missed court appearances and often seemed unprepared. He often hired other attorneys to appear for him and between 1998 and 2000, he worked mostly at home, due to illness, coming to his office two days a week.

A State Bar Court hearing judge found that Gadda committed 17 acts of misconduct in eight client matters and a trust account matter. Five of his clients were deported in absentia due to his actions.

When the judge recommended his disbarment, Gadda sought review, arguing that because he practiced immigration law only, the State Bar had no jurisdiction over him. He also contended that the disciplinary proceeding was an attempt by the state to regulate the practice of law in federal courts.

The review department acknowledged that neither the Supreme Court nor the State Bar Court could restrict Gadda’s federal practice. However, it said it was through his California license, granted by the Supreme Court, that he was eligible to practice in California. It recommended his disbarment in 2002, and the Supreme Court issued a final order in February 2003.

Gadda did not challenge a cost order that he owed the bar $21,845. When the bar sent him a letter in 2005 asking that he pay his court costs, he filed suit, challenging both the disbarment and the bar’s ability to collect costs.

Prior to the 2003 legislation, which was enacted after Gadda’s disbarment, the bar could collect costs from disciplined lawyers only as a condition of reinstatement or return to active membership. It was the bar’s practice to collect cost awards only when disciplined lawyers applied for readmission. However, the legislation, which amended the Business and Professions Code, gave the bar the ability to enforce cost orders as money judgments.

The court of appeal said the bar’s attempt to collect Gadda’s costs “is a retroactive application of the statute,” and that the legislation intended that the statute “be retroactively applicable to disbarred attorneys such as Gadda.”

The court also rejected Gadda’s arguments that the legislation violated federal due process rights.

Gadda also was disbarred by the Board of Immigration Appeals, the federal Northern District court and the Ninth Circuit. He was suspended and placed on probation by the bar in 1990 for similar misconduct.

He has not paid any portion of the cost award.

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