California Bar Journal
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Lawyer disbarred after theft, sex abuse convictions
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A Riverside County attorney convicted in January of more than 30 counts of cheating and molesting clients during a two-year period has been disbarred. LINGARAJ BAHINIPATY [#177510], 60, of Encinitas lost his license to practice March 11, 2001, and was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court. Bahinipaty was sentenced in February to 22 years and four months in state prison after being convicted of 31 counts of grand theft, sexual abuse and other crimes against almost 30 former clients.

In disciplinary proceedings before the bar, the State Bar Court found that he committed 33 acts of misconduct, including misappropriating more than $40,000 of client funds and multiple acts of moral turpitude.

In two of those matters, Bahinipaty told his clients he is a medical doctor, although he is not licensed in California and in fact was ordered in 1998 by the state Med-ical Board to stop representing himself as a physician. He told clients he needed to perform physical examinations in order to determine if malpractice claims were warranted.

One of the clients hired him to handle a personal injury case already filed, a medical malprac-tice case and a slip and fall. Initially, she was represented by another attorney in two of the matters, but Bahinipaty falsely told her the other lawyer had insisted Bahinipaty replace him.

While in his office for an evening meeting, Bahinipaty told his client he had to perform a medical examination of her breasts, reiterating that he is a doctor. He fondled the woman and took pictures.

When the slip and fall settled for $5,000, Bahinipaty or someone else signed his client's name on a release form and endorsed the check, both without his client's knowledge. A month later, after spending most of the money, he told the client the settlement offer had been withdrawn.

Another client with a malpractice case paid a $10,000 advance fee, but Bahinipaty filed an in pro per complaint and signed the client's name on the form. When the defendant answered, Bahinipaty substituted back in, but he did not appear at a deposition or respond to discovery requests.

The client learned that Bahinipaty had been arrested on the grand theft and sexual abuse charges, hired a new lawyer and asked for an accounting of the advance fee. Bahinipaty responded, "It's all gone."

Another client hired Bahinipaty to represent him in a malpractice claim, paying almost $15,000 in advance fees. Bahinipaty took no depositions, presented no expert testimony, as required in malpractice cases, did not prepare a trial brief or properly question jurors or his own witnesses.

He had settled a personal injury case for the same client and kept the $10,500 settlement, and explained he was keeping those funds to pay the malpractice case fees. In fact, he owed the clients $7,000. In sum, he kept $21,200 in advance fees for work he never performed.

In other cases, Bahinipaty received and cashed settlement funds without notifying his clients. In one matter, he falsely told a client he was holding the funds subject to renegotiation of a hospital bill. He also wrote at least eight checks against insufficient funds.

In recommending that Bahinipaty be disbarred, Judge Nancy Roberts Lonsdale called his misconduct "reprehensible," and noted it occurred in the course of his law practice and involved deceit and overreaching.

The criminal case covered much of the same ground but involved crimes against even more clients. Prosecutors said Bahinipaty's problems started two decades ago in Canada, where he once practiced medicine and was convicted of insurance fraud and molestation. The molestation conviction later was overturned on appeal.

He also got into trouble in San Diego, where he was found in contempt by a federal judge for forging documents.

"This is a pattern that has followed him from country to state to county," said Judge James Hawkins, who presided over Bahinipaty's trial. In imposing the stiff sentence, Hawkins said he could find no circumstances warranting probation or a lighter sentence.

Instead, he criticized Bahinipaty for violating a position of trust and committing sophisticated crimes against vulnerable people.

Bahinipaty, who defended himself at trial, said some of his former clients who testified against him lied on the witness stand. While acknowledging, "I'm no angel," he admitted he did not always return client phone calls. However, he denied molesting any clients, insisting he examined them for medical reasons. He was acquitted of five of the 37 counts charged.