|A Los Angeles immigration lawyer who allegedly abandoned clients facing
deportation will be tried this month in State Bar Court for numerous charges of
misconduct. JAMES R. VALINOTI [#164075] faces nine counts of failing to
perform legal services competently for nine different clients. He also faces seven counts
of improperly withdrawing from cases without protecting his clients' interests and four
counts of failure to communicate with clients, as well as charges of failure to return
client files and advanced fees, collecting unconscionable fees, and moral turpitude.
trial is scheduled to begin May 17.
Valinoti has no record of discipline since his 1993 admission to the bar and currently
In virtually every matter, Valinoti, 35, allegedly either did not make scheduled
appearances before the Immigration and Naturalization Service or was unprepared when he
did appear, leaving his clients vulnerable to deportation. Four of the clients were
ordered deported, although they eventually were able to reverse those orders.
According to the bar's complaint, in one matter in which Valinoti charged a client a
flat rate of $2,900, he made two court appearances, both lasting only a few minutes, and
was unprepared for both.
Prior to the first hearing in November 1995, which Valinoti missed, the client gave him
$500 as an advanced fee. He required her to pay more money before the next hearing, so she
gave him another $270.
Valinoti arrived an hour late for a January 1996 hearing, was unprepared, and could not
provide some documents the court had previously requested, the bar charges. At the
conclusion of the hearing, Valinoti demanded and was given another $400 by the client.
At the next hearing in March 1996, the bar alleges, Valinoti was again unprepared,
again was admonished by the court, and another hearing date was set for September. The day
of the March hearing, the client paid him another $1,000.
In August, Valinoti demanded that the client give him another $1,650 before he would
perform any further services, the bar alleges. She paid him $350 at that time.
Valinoti failed to appear at the September hearing, and the client was advised by the
court to hire a new lawyer.
The complaint alleges that between January and March, Valinoti did not meet with his
client despite her repeated attempts to contact him. There also was no communication
between March and August, and Valinoti did not show up for at least five appointments
arranged by his office. Between August and September, he missed three more appointments.
The bar also charges that Valinoti did not return his client's files or unearned fees,
and that, in fact, he charged an unconscionable fee, given the amount of work he did for
The client, the complaint alleges, "was a recent immigrant from Mexico, was
unfamiliar with the laws and legal procedures of this country, and did not speak nor
understand English well. (Valinoti) was more sophisticated than his client."
Further, it says, Valinoti "did not obtain any results for (the client); at the
end of (his) employment, (the client) was in a worse situation and status as she had been
before she hired him."
In a 1994 matter, Valinoti represented an elderly Syrian woman who was facing
deportation. She did not speak, read, write or understand English, and understood nothing
of the legal system.
Valinoti appeared at two hearings in May and June, but the bar charges that he failed
to appear at a November hearing where the client waited outside the courtroom. As a
result, she was ordered deported.
The complaint alleges that Valinoti had no contact with the client after June, and did
not return her phone calls after she received the deportation order.
In other cases, the bar says, he did not file required documents, did not tell clients
about scheduled hearings, and in one instance misrepresented the truth to the court.
Valinoti denies the charges.