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Veteran lawyer, charged with 28 counts, quits bar

Facing 28 counts of misconduct in eight cases, veteran Escondido criminal defense lawyer WILLIAM STUART GEBBIE [#45212], 65, resigned from the State Bar April 17. He was charged with abandoning numerous clients after accepting thousands of dollars in fees, often in cash; in one matter, the bar accused him of charging exorbitant fees without doing any work. In another matter, Gebbie’s investigator uncovered exculpatory evidence, but Gebbie did not disclose it to his client, the prosecutor or the court and his client languished in jail for nine months before all charges were dismissed.

Gebbie, who practiced for 38 years without any discipline record, did not admit to any of the misconduct, but by resigning avoided a trial before the State Bar Court. The resignation next goes to the State Bar Board of Governors and if accepted will be forwarded to the Supreme Court.

In September 2005, Gebbie was retained to represent Donald Stephens, who was incarcerated. Stephens’ wife, Starr, paid Gebbie $10,000 as advanced attorney’s fees and paid his investigator an additional $25,000. For months, Stephens did not know what charges, if any, were filed against him and he refused to consent to any further continuances of court conferences or hearings.

Nonetheless, Gebbie waived Stephens’ right to a preliminary hearing at least nine times and was granted a continuance each time. As a result, Stephens, and his case, languished. When the client asked Gebbie for information, according to the bar charges, Gebbie avoided the case and talked instead about “his own personal life, including his marriage, his dog, his vacation or his surgery,” as well as about other clients.

Stephens finally fired Gebbie, asked for an accounting of his fee and a refund. At one point, Gebbie agreed to meet him at the courthouse but did not show up.

In another matter, he was hired to file a federal criminal appeal for Gilbert Madrid, an incarcerated client. Over a two-year period, Madrid’s wife and father called Gebbie about 72 times. According to the charges, he returned only four calls, twice to ask for more money. He visited Madrid twice in prison in 33 months. Madrid had complained to the State Bar about Gebbie, who asked him to withhold the complaint and instead advise the bar that “all was well between (Madrid) and him.” 

Gebbie never initiated any legal proceedings on Madrid’s behalf.

In another matter, Gebbie represented Paul Vallejo, who also was incarcerated. Vallejo’s wife gave Gebbie an advance fee of $7,250, in cash, but did not receive a receipt. She later ponied up another $8,000 cash and when she asked for a receipt, Gebbie gave her his business card with a notation on the back. There was no fee agreement.

The bar charged that Vallejo’s wife did not hear from Gebbie for several months, but when he finally returned three of her 18 phone calls, he assured her he was working on the case. He led Vallejo and his wife to believe a trial was imminent when in fact no trial date had been set.

The bar accused Gebbie of committing an act of moral turpitude and charging an unconscionable fee by collecting $8,000 before any criminal charges were filed.

Another criminal defendant, Richard Katz, paid Gebbie $10,000 in advanced fees and Gebbie appeared in at least 10 early disposition hearings. However, he repeatedly waived the client’s right to a preliminary hearing so the case did not progress.

For six months, Gebbie visited Katz in jail once a month for several minutes. As he did with Donald Stephens, Gebbie talked about other clients and personal matters when Katz asked about the status of his case. Katz asked the court to appoint a new attorney and subsequently was represented by the public defender.

In other matters, the bar charged that Gebbie did no work for a client seeking a divorce who paid a $7,000 fee and did not produce a client’s file for the lawyer who was handling his appeal. In that case, the court issued a bench warrant for Gebbie’s arrest.

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