State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California April2008
Top Headlines
MCLE Self-Study
Ethics Byte
You Need to Know
Trials Digest
Contact CBJ

Attorney suspended in odd sham wedding case

A Valencia lawyer accused of helping to arrange a sham wedding for a minor as a way to circumvent a court order was suspended for nine months and placed on three years of probation. RICHARD ADAM MARCUS [#183140], 40, also was given a stayed three-year suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Dec. 30, 2007.

The State Bar Court review department upheld, for the most part, a hearing judge’s findings that Marcus helped plan and arrange a sham Bahamian marriage to emancipate a 16-year-old girl in order to circumvent a valid custody order. At the same time, he pursued a frivolous appeal seeking to overturn the order “he was blatantly violating,” wrote review Judge JoAnn Remke.

Finding that Marcus committed acts of moral turpitude, Remke wrote, “We find the ‘game plan’ to use the marriage of a 16-year-old girl as a tactic to circumvent an order from a court, only to be revealed at the most opportune moment, is as unseemly as it is unethical.”

The case stemmed from a custody dispute between the grandparents of two girls and their father after the mother died. The grandparents were appointed temporary guardians but the guardianship of one girl was terminated after she decided to live with her father. Temporary guardianship of the second girl remained in place pending trial. (The grandparents were represented by Melodye Hannes, who was disbarred in November 2006.)

Marcus became co-counsel with Hannes in 2001.

The grandparents’ petition for guardianship was denied by the court, but the judge granted a stay to allow the girl to finish high school without having to move and to allow the grandparents to appeal. In exploring options to avoid returning the girl, who was 16, to her father, Marcus and Hannes considered emancipation through marriage as a backup to an appeal.

After conducting limited research, Marcus determined the girl could marry in the Bahamas with the consent of her grandparents; he believed Bahamian law did not differentiate between the powers of a permanent and a temporary guardian. After consulting with the bar’s ethics hotline, Marcus believed he had an obligation to inform the girl of the marriage option. (The hotline does not provide legal advice, but Marcus claimed he had received advice from someone manning the phones.)

When the girl decided to marry her boyfriend, Hannes drafted consent forms signed by the grandparents, who were purported to be her legal guardians. She accompanied the girl to the Bahamas.

Marcus moved to further stay the judgment denying guardianship and appealed the judgment to the Court of Appeal. He did not believe the girl’s emancipation by marriage would moot the appeal. He didn’t disclose the marriage to the court or to the girl’s father who, when he learned about it, moved to annul the marriage and to dismiss the grandparents’ appeal.

The court dismissed the appeal, sanctioned Hannes and Marcus $13,004 and referred them to the State Bar. In a published opinion, the court wrote that the attorneys’ “obstructive tactics call for the exercise of this court’s inherent power to impose the ultimate sanction of dismissal.”

The bar court review department agreed with the hearing judge’s decision that Marcus committed acts of moral turpitude by arranging the marriage to circumvent a court order and simultaneously pursuing an appeal of the order, and by concealing the marriage from the superior and appellate courts.

Contact Us Site Map Notices Privacy Policy
© 2023 The State Bar of California