This is the property of the Daily Journal Corporation and fully protected by copyright. It is made available only to Daily Journal subscribers for personal or collaborative purposes and may not be distributed, reproduced, modified, stored or transferred without written permission. Please click "Reprint" to order presentation-ready copies to distribute to clients or use in commercial marketing materials or for permission to post on a website. and copyright (showing year of publication) at the bottom.

September 2018

| Sep. 3, 2018

Discipline Report,
Discipline

Sep. 3, 2018

September 2018

Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations, and public reprovals in California.

DISBARMENT

Charles Leroy Dupree, IV State Bar #156840, San Francisco (July 21, 2018)

Dupree was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, at his disciplinary proceeding. He did not respond to the State Bar's attempts to notify him of the proceedings and or email--and the telephone number and alternative number on record for Dupree were both disconnected. The State Bar accompanied the motion for entry of a default order with a supporting declaration of reasonable diligence by taking additional steps to give him notice. Dupree did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.

He was found culpable of one count of professional misconduct: failing to file a declaration of compliance as mandated by the California Supreme Court in an earlier discipline order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

Dupree had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.

Stefan Ghaemi State Bar #281280, San Diego (July 11, 2018)

Ghaemi was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, despite receiving adequate legal notice. He did not move to have the default order set aside or vacated.

He was found culpable of five acts of professional misconduct, most related to a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return the client's papers and property after terminating employment despite repeated requests to do so, failing to return unearned advanced fees to the client, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.

He was also found culpable of failing to update his State Bar membership address within 30 days of moving as required (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §6002.1).

There was another disciplinary matter pending against Ghaemi when the disbarment recommendation was issued.

Khuong Dinh Nguyen State Bar #151457, El Monte (July 21, 2018)

Nguyen was disbarred after he stipulated to committing 11 acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters. He was found culpable of: two counts each of failing to render an accounting of client funds, aiding another person in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to promptly pay clients funds to which they were entitled, and misappropriating clients' settlement funds--misconduct involving moral turpitude; and three counts of failing to notify clients of receipt of funds received on their behalf.

The fact patterns in both client cases were similar. Using the pseudonym "Alan Martin," a non-lawyer operated a pre-litigation personal injury law office in the name of Nguyen's law firm and on his behalf, but without supervision from him or any other attorney. "Alan Martin" met with and advised clients and negotiated with insurance claims adjusters--all without legal supervision. With Nguyen's knowledge and authorization, settlement checks received were deposited into his client trust account, and several checks were then issued to the nonlawyer. None of the clients were notified when the settlement checks were received; some of the medical lienholders went unpaid.

More than $46,000 in settlement funds was misappropriated through Nguyen's intentional failure to maintain portions due the clients and his intentional abdication of control of those funds to a nonlawyer.

In aggravation, Nguyen committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to both clients and the administration of justice, failed to make restitution to one of the clients, and had a prior record of discipline.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and presented evidence of his faith-based community work.

Jordan Tonya Peters State Bar #173936, Lincoln (July 27, 2018)

Peters was disbarred after a contested disciplinary proceeding. In the underlying matter, she pled nolo contendere to felony manslaughter while intoxicated, she had rear-ended a car stopped at a traffic light. The other driver was critically injured; the passenger died. Her sporadic driving before the accident set off a chain of events that caused an additional three-car collision in which two more people were injured. A Standard Sobriety Test administered at the scene of the fatal crash indicated Peters was impaired. A preliminary alcohol screening test showed a blood alcohol level of 0%; chemical testing of a blood sample revealed positive results for Neurontin, and several other prescription drugs.

After a trial and post-trial briefing, the hearing judge below found the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction involved moral turpitude and did not find compelling mitigation, so recommended disbarment.

Peters appealed, arguing she should not be found culpable of moral turpitude because she did not know she was addicted to Neurontin and felt impaired the day of the collision. The State Bar Court panel affirmed the finding of moral turpitude. It first recited that the test for moral turpitude is "whether the facts and circumstances surrounding her criminal conduct show either a deficiency in in any character trait necessary for the practice of law (such as trustworthiness, honesty, fairness, candor, and fidelity to fiduciary duties" or involve "such a serious breach of a duty to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law of for societal norms, that knowledge of the attorney's conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession."

The panel found Peters' conduct established moral turpitude under both conditions of the test. It noted her "deficiencies in honesty and candor" as evidenced by her failure to be transparent about the number of Neurontin pills she had ingested in the hours before the collision--well over the prescribed dosage, and in being disingenuous about her actual impairment with her probation officer. It also found her felony criminal conviction conclusive proof she drove while intoxicated and caused a death and opined that was both a "serious breach of duty to society" and demonstrated "a flagrant disrespect for the law."

In aggravation, Peters caused significant harm to the public: a death, injuries to three other individuals, destruction of one car and damage to at least two others.

In mitigation, she was given credit for having practiced law for 19 years; the panel noted, however, that she did not demonstrate that her substance abuse problems were resolved, so it could not find that the misconduct would not recur. Peters was also allotted some mitigating weight for seeking treatment for longstanding depression and prescription drug abuse, and limited weight for cooperating with the State Bar by stipulating to some easily provable facts. And finally, she received moderate mitigating weight for evidence of her good character as attested by six witness--none from the legal community, for her years of pro bono and community work, and for her remorsefulness and recognition of wrongdoing.

SUSPENSION

Benjamin Lawson Adams State Bar #294295, Taylors, South Carolina (July 30, 2018)

Adams was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of his conviction of committing a lewd act on a minor under age 14 (Cal. Penal Code §288(c)(1)). The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude.

Leticia Aguirre State Bar #178077, Montebello (July 30, 2018)

Aguirre was suspended in the interim pending final disposition of her conviction of being an accessory to a felony (Cal. Penal Code §32), which is categorized as a felony involving moral turpitude.

Nareg L. Bardakjian State Bar #276240, Glendale (July 30, 2018)

Bardakjian was suspended from practicing law in the interim pending the final disposition of his conviction of grand theft (Cal. Penal Code §489(a)), a felony involving moral turpitude.

Dennis Earl Braun State Bar #152816, Los Angeles (July 13, 2018)

Braun was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years. The State Bar's Office of Probation had moved to revoke the disciplinary probation imposed earlier, and properly served Braun with notice of the proceeding related to it, but he did not participate.

The factual allegations in the motion and its supporting documents were treated as admissions. Braun was found culpable of violating several probation conditions--including failing to timely contact the Office of Probation to schedule an initial meeting with his probation officer, failing to file one quarterly written report and filing another report month late, and failing to attend the State bar Ethics School and present evidence of passing its exam.

In aggravation, Braun committed multiple acts of misconduct and had been disciplined for professional misconduct twice before. The State Bar Court judge also noted that Braun's failure to participate in the instant proceeding is a significant aggravating factor, establishing that he "fails both to appreciate the seriousness of the charges against him and to comprehend the importance of fulfilling his duty as an attorney to participate in disciplinary proceedings."

Terence Tyrone Hallinan State Bar #39953, San Francisco (July 16, 2018)

Hallinan was suspended from the practice of law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam--one of the terms imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.

Jacques Bernard LeBoeuf State Bar #163579, El Cerrito (July 21, 2018)

LeBoeuf was suspended from practicing law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years. In a contested disciplinary proceeding, he was found culpable of failing to timely file a compliance declaration as required in an earlier California Supreme Court order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In the terms of that order, LeBoeuf was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years, with the additional condition he comply with Rule 9.20 by notifying clients, co-counsel, and opposing counsel or adverse parties of the suspension imposed by a specific date. Shortly after the order was issued, he received an email from his counsel, notifying him that the order had been entered and informing him he had to remove his office website from the Internet during the 90 days he was suspended from practice. That same month, a State Bar probation deputy also uploaded a courtesy reminder to his online profile notifying him of the duty to comply with Rule 9.20 by the date specified; the deputy also emailed notifying LeBoeuf of the upload.

After he failed to file the declaration by the date due, the probation deputy sent LeBoeuf a letter informing him that his failure to file could cause additional discipline. He subsequently completed a declaration, but erroneously mailed it to the State Bar's San Francisco location as opposed to its Los Angeles office; the court rejected his later motion seeking an extension of time to file because it had not received a filed, conformed copy of the declaration at issue.

On appeal, LeBoeuf argued his failure to file the declaration by the date due was not willful because he was unaware of his duty to comply with Rule 9.20 since he failed to read his discipline order closely and because his severe psychiatric condition at the time prevented him from acting willfully.

The State Bar Court rejected both arguments, underscoring that his "neglect and lack of diligence in complying with Rule 9.20 does not obviate a willful failure to comply with the affidavit requirement." It added: "Instead of dealing with his discipline requirements, respondent hid his head in the sand."

In aggravation, LeBoeuf committed multiple acts of misconduct and had a prior record of professional discipline.

In mitigation, he stipulated as to admission of documents and facts, albeit easily provable facts. He was also allotted mitigation credit for suffering from extreme emotional difficulties due to major depressive and anxiety disorders, now being successfully treated, which had a demonstrated nexus to his misconduct.

Scott Allan Maasen State Bar #185735, Scottsdale, Arizona (July 21, 2018)

Maasen was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct related to several client matters in Arizona, where he was also licensed to practice law.

The California State Bar Court determined the disciplinary proceeding in Arizona provided fundamental constitutional protection and also warranted the imposition of professional conduct in this state. Specifically, it found Maasen's wrongdoing in Arizona also violated California's strictures on professional misconduct--including one count of failing to promptly return unearned advanced fees; two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to promptly return clients' papers and property; and three counts of failing to respond to clients' reasonable case status inquiries.

In one matter, Maasen was hired to represent a client in a civil DUI case, understanding that he would request continuances of the DMV hearing for as long as possible to delay a possible license suspension. Upon receiving results of the client's blood alcohol tests, however, Maasen concluded there was no good faith basis to continue the hearing, though he did not inform the client. He sent an associate to appear at the DMV hearing, where the client's license was suspended. Over four months, the client repeatedly requested that Maasen explain his change in legal tactics and to return his file and provide an accounting, but received no response. After the Arizona State Bar began an investigation, he provided the file and accounting.

In another case, Maasen was hired to enforce an order of protection against his ex-wife. The client clarified he wanted his ex-wife arrested and ultimately jailed. The client subsequently acquired video evidence of his ex-wife stalking him, but the city attorney declined to prosecute the case. Maasen's only action was to act as an informational conduit to the police and city attorney. The client, frustrated by the lack of activity on the case and subsequent lack of communication, terminated the representation. Maasen failed to participate in the fee arbitration proceeding ordered by the Arizona State Bar.

In a third client case, Maasen was hired to represent a client on criminal charges and to modify an order of protection issued against him. After Maasen negotiated a modification, the criminal case was dropped. After Maasen failed to respond to multiple requests seeking clarification of the legal effect of the amended protective order, the client hired new counsel. Again, Maasen ignored repeated requests for an accounting and the client's file--and tendered them only after the Arizona State Bar instigated an investigation.

And in a fourth case, Maasen was hired to represent an incarcerated minor with mental disabilities in a sex crimes case involving 10 felony counts. Maasen's associate, a certified criminal law specialist, initially worked on the case, but when he left the firm, Maasen took over the case without becoming familiar with the file. He advised the client to plead guilty, which he did--and was sentenced to lifelong probation and registration as a sex offender. The client subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief; the court appointed counsel to assist him, and the plea was subsequently vacated based on the client's mental incompetence. A review of jail logs showed that Maasen had placed only three two-minute calls to the client over a six-month period. In aggravation, Maasen committed multiple acts of misconduct, and caused significant harm to the administration of justice and to his clients--one of whom was highly vulnerable.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practice law in Arizona for approximately 17 years without a record of discipline.

Victor S. Palacios State Bar #55986, Van Nuys (July 21, 2018)

Palacios was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to keep the clients reasonably informed about significant matters in their case.

Palacios was hired to represent a mother and her two minor daughters -- all of whom were injured when their car collided with a vehicle owned by the county and operated by a sheriff's deputy. Approximately 11 months after being retained, Palacios sent a demand letter to the county on behalf of his clients. The claim was rejected, as not filed within six months of the accident--and the rejection notice Palacios received informed him the only recourse was to "apply without delay" for leave to file a late claim.

He failed to seek leave to file the late claim, and did not inform the clients that their claims had been rejected. Four months later, Palacios filed a civil claim against the county, which responded with a demurrer. Palacios failed to appear at a hearing on the demurer, which was granted; he subsequently failed to amend the complaint or respond to its ultimate dismissal.

After the client complained to the State Bar, which started an investigation, Palacios sent a letter informing the clients that the county had denied their claims more than three years earlier and the court had dismissed their case about 17 months earlier.

In aggravation, Palacios committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, significantly harmed his clients, and had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and an extensive trial stipulation on both facts and culpability. He was allotted mitigation credit for physical difficulties caused by health maladies, but only a limited amount, since the material misconduct began before his health suffered and concluded after it had improved.

Earle Arthur Partington State Bar #45731, Honolulu, Hawaii (July 16, 2018)

Partington was suspended from practicing law pending his passage of the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated by the California Supreme Court in an earlier disciplinary order.

Timothy Patrick Peabody State Bar #134131, Newport Beach (July 30, 2018)

Peabody was suspended from the practice of law in the interim, pending final disposition of his conviction of the felony of offering security with an untrue statement or omission of a material fact (Cal. Corp. Code §25401).

The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar (OCTC) requested that the State Bar Court classify the offense as one involving moral turpitude as a matter of law. The State Bar Court, however, took judicial notice of the fact that in at least one prior opinion, the offense had been classified as a crime that may involve moral turpitude. It ordered the OCTC to file a supplemental brief clarifying and citing supporting authority for its position.

Carlos Joel Perez State Bar #285936, South Gate (July 9, 2018)

Perez was suspended in the interim following his convictions of the felony of an assault of with a deadly weapon of a police officer (Cal. Penal Code §245(c)) and the misdemeanor of resisting arrest (Cal. Penal Code §148(a)(1)). Both offenses may involve moral turpitude, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding them.

Gary Stephen Redinger State Bar #74041, San Bernardino (July 2, 2018)

Redinger was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.

Michael Richards State Bar #229790, Santa Cruz (July 30, 2018)

Richards was suspended from practicing law in the interim pending final disposition of his convictions of the felonies of evading a peace officer (Cal. Veh. Code §2800.2) and obstructing or resisting an executive officer in the performance or duties (Cal Penal. Code §69), and the misdemeanor or resisting arrest (Cal. Penal Code §148(a)(1)). All the offenses may involve moral turpitude--to be determined by the State Bar Court.

Stephen Henry Verchick State Bar #46097, Woodland Hills (July 21, 2018)

Verchick was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to comply with conditions attached to the public reproval order imposed earlier.

Specifically, he failed to timely submit two quarterly reports and a final written report to the Office of Probation, and proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as required.

In aggravation, Verchick committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of professional discipline.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation acknowledging his misconduct.

Steven Alan Weinkauf State Bar #91421, San Francisco (July 23, 2018)

Weinkauf was suspended in the interim following his conviction of stalking (Cal. Penal Code §646.9(a)) with an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon (Cal. Penal Code §12022(b)(1)). The offense is a felony that may involve moral turpitude. The Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar was ordered to submit an update on finality within 120 days.

Frederick James Wood State Bar #121994, Atascadero (July 21, 2018)

Wood was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years following a contested disciplinary matter in which he was found culpable of four counts of professional misconduct stemming from a single client matter.

The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries about the status, improperly withdrawing from employment, and failing to timely return the client's papers and property despite several requests to do so.

In the underlying matter, Wood was retained to represent a married couple, Virginia residents, who were in a dispute with their tenants at their California rental property. No retainer agreement was executed, though Wood was paid approximately $3,000 in legal fees. For several months, he pursued the matter diligently--communicating with the clients, opposing counsel, and insurance carriers involved.

He failed, however, to respond to a second set of interrogatories opposing counsel sent; then stopped communicating with the clients and counsel and stopped appearing at scheduled court hearings and was sanctioned for that failure. The clients ultimately hired substitute counsel.

In aggravation, Wood committed multiple acts of misconduct and caused significant harm to his clients.

In mitigation, he had practiced law for more than 28 years without a record of discipline.

Karen Kerry Yianilos State Bar #102050, San Diego (July 2, 2018)

Yianilos was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination--one of the conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.

PROBATION

Lisa Michelle Bassis State Bar #87845, Los Angeles (July 21, 2018)

Bassis was placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of misrepresenting her status as the attorney of record for a client when her representation had been terminated years earlier. The misconduct involved moral turpitude.

Bassis was hired to file a petition in federal court after an incarcerated client's state habeas corpus efforts were exhausted. In preparation, she needed access to the documentation underlying both the original criminal case and state habeas corpus efforts. As she met with difficulty in obtaining it, she undertook to research the tolling periods that might extend the filing date -- consulting with three other attorneys experienced in habeas corpus matters. None contested the interpretation that the filing period had been extended by an additional tolling period; circuit court opinions on the matter conflicted.

A flurry of filings and appeals ensued, complicated by the client, "who had a history of acting in pro per in his own habeas corpus efforts." Bassis advised him that her services had concluded and returned his files to him.

The former client ultimately sought relief from the dismissal of his petition based on complaints of Bassis' incompetence--eventually claiming abandonment. An evidentiary hearing was held on the veracity of the allegations of misconduct. Bassis was not a party to that proceeding, nor was she represented by counsel; subpoenaed to testify, she was excluded from otherwise attending that hearing.

Shortly before the hearing date, however, she learned of the former client's allegations and sought prison mail logs to refute them. As the deputy attorney general handling the evidentiary hearing was unable or unwilling to supply them, "she took matters into her own hands," and sought to obtain them directly from prison officials. In response to the officials' requests for authorization, Bassis represented that she was still acting as attorney for the prisoner and provided a copy of an authorization he had signed when she was originally retained to represent him, years earlier.

In mitigation, Bassis had practiced law for more than 34 years without a record of discipline, caused no actual harm by her misconduct, and entered into an extensive stipulation of facts, assisting the State Bar in prosecuting the case. She was also allotted limited mitigation credit for testimony of her good character and community service, which was offered only by two attorney witnesses rather than references taken from a range within the community.

#348787


Attachments


For reprint rights:

Email jeremy@reprintpros.com for prices.
Direct dial: 949-702-5390

If you would like to purchase a copy of your Daily Journal photo, call (213) 229-5558.

Send a letter to the editor:

Email: letters@dailyjournal.com