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Bar names foreclosure lawyers under scrutiny

Alarmed by complaints about the number of lawyers preying on vulnerable homeowners, the State Bar last month identified 16 attorneys who are under investigation for misconduct related to loan modification.

“In my 21 years in attorney discipline, I have not seen a crisis of this magnitude. It is truly unprecedented,” said Interim Chief Trial Counsel Russell Weiner, who is waiving investigation confidentiality in favor of public protection. The waiver, allowed by statute, is rarely used, but Weiner said the seriousness of the problem demanded a strong reaction by the bar in order to protect consumers. This is the first time the names of more than a few lawyers being investigated have been made public.

“The number of attorneys using their law licenses to essentially take money from unwary, but trusting, consumers is astounding,” Weiner added. “There are literally thousands of victims who have lost money they could not afford to lose. Under the circumstances, the need for public information and protection is paramount.”

Those attorneys being named by the State Bar have allegedly taken fees for promised services and then failed to perform those services, communicate with their clients or return the unearned fees, Weiner said. Some attorneys misrepresented the services they could provide. “It appears these attorneys may have significantly harmed their clients who were already facing great financial pressure and the possible loss of their homes.”

About one-quarter — almost 800 cases — of the active investigations in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OTC) are related to foreclosure complaints. The office has experienced a 58 percent increase in active investigations over 2008 due in large part to the huge increase in complaints against attorneys offering loan modification services.

“We are moving decisively with proceedings against those lawyers,” said State Bar President Howard Miller.

“The profession as a whole has a responsibility here, and we must meet it. And as a part of that we also must expand our pro bono efforts to help clients who have been harmed by lawyer misconduct.”

Last March, the State Bar created a special team of investigators and lawyers to handle the growing number of complaints received about attorneys offering loan modification services. OTC found that many of the offending attorneys are associated with firms that use telemarketers or phone banks to sign up clients without regard to the facts of the individual case or whether or not the client can be helped, Weiner said.

In many cases, the attorneys work with untrained non-attorney staff engaging in the unlawful practice of law by offering legal advice to prospective clients. OTC also is investigating the non-attorney staff for possible referral to law enforcement.

In recent months, OTC has obtained the resignation of three attorneys who were offering loan modification services. Those attorneys chose to give up their licenses to practice law rather than face disciplinary charges and possible disbarment. In addition, OTC lawyers are preparing to put some attorneys on inactive status pending the filing of formal disciplinary charges

Weiner warned consumers to be careful when seeking legal representation related to loan modification. “Consumers should not be comforted by advertisements that claim the attorney is a member of the State Bar of California,” he said, noting that all attorneys practicing in California on a regular basis are members.

“Such membership does not mean the attorney has any special knowledge, experience or expertise in the area of loan modification. In fact, it appears that many of the attorneys offering these services have little or no prior experience in the area of loan modification.”

The following attorneys have received a significant number of complaints related to the loan modification services they were hired to perform. They are entitled to a full and fair hearing on any charges that may be filed in the future. No discipline may be imposed unless and until the State Bar proves allegations of misconduct by clear and convincing evidence.

  • David Arase, [#233705], Costa Mesa, Arase Law Firm and National Housing Assistance
  • Stephen Burns, [#113371], Los Angeles, Legal Group Network
  • Robert Buscho, [#122556], Fullerton, United Law Group
  • Nicholas Chavarela, [#251632], Santa Ana, Rodis Law Group and America’s Law Group
  • Steven Feldman,[#103676], Mission Viejo, Feldman Law Center
  • Eric Johnson, [#224065], Culver City, Avantgarde Group
  • Paul Lucas, [#163076], Aliso Viejo, Lucas Law Center
  • Brandon Moreno, [#233750], Santa Ana, U.S. Foreclosure Relief Corp.
  • Jeffrey Nemerofsky,[#213014], Laguna Niguel, U.S. Advocacy Law Group and U.S. Financial Products
  • Gregory Paiva, [#207218], Ontario, Law Offices of Gregory Paiva
  • Adrian Pomery, [#249664], Orange, U.S. Foreclosure Relief Corp.
  • Ronald Rodis, [#181873], Newport Beach, Rodis Law Group and America’s Law Group
  • Mark Shoemaker, [#134828], Long Beach, Advocates for Fair Lending
  • Marc Tow, [#78429], Newport Beach, Marc Tow and Associates
  • Michael Yellin, [#255050], Los Angeles, A Fresh Start Loan Modification
  • Sean Rutledge, [#255938], Irvine, United Law Group.

The bar also reiterated an earlier ethics alert that warns attorneys of the perils of associating with dishonest foreclosure consultants. The Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern attorneys’ ethical obligations, specifically prohibit lawyers from:

  • paying a referral or marketing fee to a foreclosure consultant or other person for referring distressed homeowners to the lawyer;
  • directly or indirectly splitting fees earned from a distressed homeowner client with the foreclosure consultant or any other non-lawyer;
  • aiding a foreclosure consultant or anyone else in the unauthorized practice of law or forming a partnership or joint venture with a foreclosure consultant or other non-lawyer if any of its activities would involve providing legal services;
  • contacting in person or by telephone a distressed homeowner referred by a foreclosure consultant or someone else unless the lawyer has a family or prior professional relationship with the homeowner;
  • filing a lawsuit without good cause or motions in a lawsuit that are simply intended to delay or impede a foreclosure sale; and
  • failing to perform legal services with competence.

The ethics alert can be found at

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