Roland Lawrence Bennett
State Bar No. 224123, Corning (December 22, 2019)
Bennett was summarily disbarred upon receipt of the finality of his conviction of two counts of knowingly and maliciously dissuading a witness from attending or giving testimony at trial (Cal. Penal Code Section 136.1(a)(1)).
The offense is a felony involving moral turpitude per se.
Michael Wayne Champ
State Bar No. 95784, Pueblo, Colorado (January 10, 2020)
Champ was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with two counts of professional misconduct. The State Bar Court determined he had actual notice, but did not attend, nor did he move to have the default subsequently entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of both counts charged: failing to report a judgment entered against him in writing to the State Bar within 30 days and failing to support the law by not paying the court reporter fees as agreed in a settlement.
Champ had three prior records of professional discipline when he was disbarred.
Peter John Coleridge
State Bar No. 170037, Martinez (January 10, 2020)
Coleridge was disbarred by default after failing to participate, either in person or through counsel in his disciplinary proceeding, despite receiving adequate legal notice and opportunity to do so. He did not move to have the default subsequently entered against him set aside or vacated.
The State Bar Court judge found that admitted factual allegations supported a finding that Coleridge was culpable of all seven counts of professional misconduct charged,
The wrongdoing, which related to two separate client matters and a disciplinary investigation, included: failing to release a client’s papers and property despite multiple requests to do so, as well as two counts each of failing to provide legal services with competence, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and failing to participate in the State Bar investigations of the alleged misconduct.
Tony M. Diab
State Bar No. 277343, Newport Beach (January 10, 2020)
Diab was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the proceeding in which he was charged with professional misconduct. He had participated in an earlier status conference setting the trial date in the matter, but did not appear for trial, nor did he seek to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of the 13 counts charged, all of which related to a single client matter. The wrongdoing included: failing to communicate a settlement offer, failing to notify his clients of funds received on their behalf, failing to deposit the clients’ funds in a trust account, failing to promptly pay the clients funds to which they were entitled, and two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to inform his client of significant case developments.
He was also culpable of several counts involving moral turpitude — including one count of misappropriating $375,000 of the client’s funds for his own use and four counts of making material misrepresentations to his client and to a State Bar investigator.
Edward Luis Esposito
State Bar No. 166089, Newport Beach (January 10, 2020)
Esposito was disbarred by default. The State Bar Court judge concluded that all legal notice requirements had been satisfied, and that no motion to have the default order set aside or vacated had been filed within the requisite timeframe.
Esposito was found culpable of violating the conditions of a disciplinary order imposed earlier by failing to: timely contact the Office of Probation to schedule an initial meeting, submit proof of attending and completing the State Bar Ethics School, and submit a final written report by its due date.
Esposito had been disciplined by the State Bar twice previously for professional misconduct.
Gilbert Ralph Geilim-Morales
State Bar No. 117508, Beverly Hills (January 10, 2020)
Geilim-Morales was disbarred after being found culpable of six counts of professional misconduct related to two separate client matters: failing to maintain a proper accounting of client funds, failing to maintain client funds in trust, and failing to notify the State Bar of the termination of a disbarred member, as well as two counts of engaging in moral turpitude by misappropriating client funds. He was also convicted of the offense of injuring his spouse in a domestic violence incident (Cal. Penal Code Section 273.5), which the State Bar Court judge concluded also involved moral turpitude.
The misconduct in both client matters basically came to light through mismanagement of client settlement funds, which Geilim-Morales failed to hold in trust for the clients and their lienholders. But the complaints in the cases revealed a scheme in which a disbarred attorney who worked for Geilim-Morales wrote himself “bonus” checks from the trust account, causing the balance to dip to impermissible levels.
Geilim-Morales claimed that due to physical and emotional problems, he basically abandoned his law practice for about three years — and during that time, the disbarred attorney prepared the trust fund checks and simulated his signature without his knowledge.
Both men testified at trial, and the State Bar Court judge found they both lacked credibility. The court found, however, that Geilim-Morales “knowingly and intentionally turned a blind eye” to the management of his law practice and trust account, when a total of 88 checks were written and 67 checks totaling more than $293,000 — all allegedly without his knowledge or consent. Finding him culpable of misappropriating large amounts of money, it noted that Geilim-Morales “himself personally profited” from the arrangement.
In the conviction referral matter, Geilim-Morales’s wife had obtained a domestic violence restraining order against him as part of dissolution proceedings after he injured her in a battery. He violated the order — entering her residence in the early morning hours and again battering her and destroying property there. At trial, Geilim-Morales testified he had been arrested for domestic violence six times during a two-year period, but claims his wife was equally abusive to him.
The court, however, found that his criminal conduct “involved a serious breach of a duty owed to another and a flagrant disrespect for the law and for societal norms.”
While acknowledging that an attorney’s conviction for domestic violence does not involve moral turpitude per se, it found that it existed in the instant case, noting that “norms” have changed. “While in the past, domestic violence may have been overlooked or even condoned, today there is less tolerance for, and more societal awareness of, domestic violence,” the opinion noted. “This matter involved cruel behavior by an attorney that deviated from societal norms and which resulted in serious injury to the attorney’s wife.”
In aggravation, Geilim-Morales committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and demonstrated a pattern of misconduct that harmed the administration of justice, the public, his spouse, and his clients. He also demonstrated a lack of candor and failed to make restitution to his clients.
In mitigation, he was allotted limited weight for evidence by five character witnesses who were not taken from a range in the community and some weight for performing pro bono services to help the Latino immigrant community.
Fergus Mahony Ginther, Jr.
State Bar No. 170744, Newport Beach (February 8, 2020)
Ginther was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding after appearing at the initial status conference in the case. He did not respond to the petition for disbarment or move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of all six counts of professional misconduct with which he had been charged. The wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to render an appropriate accounting to the client, improperly withdrawing from representation, charging an unconscionable fee, and aiding in the unauthorized practice of law.
State Bar No. 225838, Las Vegas, Nevada (January 10, 2020)
Greco was summarily disbarred after pleading guilty to three felony counts in Nevada: burglary (Nev. Rev. Stat. Section 205.060), forgery (Nev. Rev. Stat. Section 205.090), and offering a false instrument for filing or record (Nev. Rev. Stat. Section 239.330).
The crimes are felonies involving moral turpitude per se under both Nevada and California laws.
Michael Joseph Gulden
State Bar No. 243383, West Hollywood (January 10, 2020)
Gulden was disbarred by default. Four days before his disciplinary proceeding was to begin, he left a voicemail and an email message with the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar signaling that he did not intend to appear for trial. He did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of all 30 counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged. The wrongdoing included: failing to promptly release clients’ papers and property after being requested to do so; two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from representation, failing to render appropriate accountings of client funds, violating court orders, and commingling personal and client funds in his trust account; and three counts each of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to promptly pay clients settlement funds, failing to communicate significant case developments to clients, and failing to respond to clients’ reasonable status inquiries.
Several of the counts of misconduct involved moral turpitude — including two counts of signing client names on settlement checks without their authorization and two counts of making false and misleading statements to clients, as well as three counts of misappropriating client funds.
There were an unstated number of additional investigations or disciplinary matters pending against Gulden when he was disbarred.
Terri Raynell Hanley
State Bar No. 199811, Benicia (January 10, 2020)
Hanley was disbarred by default after she failed to appear at the trial of the charges related to violating her disciplinary probation, and a default was entered against her.
She filed a motion to set aside the default, but failed to recite facts in a declaration that would support setting aside the default, and thereafter, did not seek to have it set aside or vacated.
Hanley was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct: failing to comply with the rules of court by not filing a declaration of compliance ((Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and making a misrepresentation to the court by falsely stating in an untimely declaration that she had earned all fees paid to her when in fact she had not refunded $750 in unearned fees.
Hanley had one prior record of discipline, and there was an additional disciplinary investigation pending against her when she was disbarred.
William A. Kent
State Bar No. 52111, Irvine (February 7, 2020)
Kent was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, and a default was entered, which he did not seek to have set aside or vacated. His signature on a return receipt indicated he had received the State Bar’s motion and intent to recommend a disbarment if he failed to act.
He was found culpable of five acts of misconduct related to a single client case, including failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond promptly to reasonable client inquiries, and improperly withdrawing from representation, as well as two counts involving moral turpitude based on making material misrepresentations to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel for the State Bar in its early investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
State Bar No. 288864 San Jose (February 7, 2020)
Lu was disbarred by default after he failed to appear, either in person or through counsel, at his disciplinary proceeding. The State Bar Court judge determined that the notice of disciplinary charges had been properly served on him and that reasonable diligence was used to notify him of the matter. He did not move to set aside or vacate the default order entered against him.
He was found culpable of 10 counts of professional misconduct — 9 of them related to client cases. His wrongdoing included failing to respond a client’s reasonable inquiries, as well as two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to render appropriate accounting of client funds, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and improperly withdrawing from employment,
An additional count of misconduct: failing to update his address on State bar records within 30 days of moving, as required.
Donald Martin Wanland, Jr.
State Bar No. 122462, El Dorado Hills (December 18, 2019)
Wanland was disbarred after appealing the hearing judge’s disbarment recommendation.
He had been convicted of one felony count of willful attempted tax evasion (26 U.S.C. Section 7201), 28 felony counts of concealment of property subject to levy (26 U.S.C. Section 7206(4)), and three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file tax returns for three calendar years (26 U.S.C. Section 7203). He was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for his offenses.
The State Bar Court had concluded that federal law did not provide controlling authority as to whether the offense of concealing property subject to levy, not committed in the practice of law or against a client, involves moral turpitude. The matter was referred to the Hearing Department for a determination of whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions established that. The hearing judge ultimately found that moral turpitude was involved.
On appeal, the State Bar Court panel sought guidance from the California Supreme Court’s most recent definition of moral turpitude as “a deficiency in any character trait necessary for the practice of law (such as trustworthiness, honesty fairness, candor, and fidelity to fiduciary duties) or involving such a serious breach of a duty owed to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law of for societal norms that knowledge of the attorneys conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession” (In re Lesansky, 25 Cal. 4th 11, 16 (2001)).
In the underlying matter, Wanland had worked as a civil litigation attorney for approximately 10 years before he became embroiled in IRS disputes involving collection efforts of his unpaid taxes. In related misconduct that ultimately led to his convictions, he also hid assets in a partnership bank account, provided false information on IRS forms, and was dishonest during IRS tax collection efforts.
Specifically, during three years, Wanland received more than $1 million in ordinary income, but made only four tax payments totaling $40,000. During that time, he owed the IRS a total of more than $900,000.
When the IRS sent him a form seeking information about his income and liabilities, he submitted a statement of an account jointly shared with his wife revealing only $9 and cash on hand of $1,200. About 18 months later, he submitted a second IRS statement listing that account’s balance as “minimal/unknown” and cash on hand of $600. However, during a six-year period spanning those IRS statements, he had deposited at least $1.9 million of his law practice proceeds into the partnership account. He also spent about $191,000 from the account during that period to cover the balance on a credit card.
In aggravation, Wanland had two prior records of discipline, engaged in a pattern or repeatedly committing serious criminal conduct, and demonstrated indifference toward the consequences of his misconduct.
Moises Alcides Aviles
State Bar No. 226569, Riverside (February 8, 2020)
Aviles was suspended from the practice of law and placed on probation for one year after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to return unearned advanced fees. Both instances of wrongdoing occurred in a single client matter.
In the underlying matter, Aviles was retained for $1,500 by a client seeking to obtain U.S. citizenship, who then paid an additional $700 as a form filing fee.
However, Aviles then did no work on the case for the next six months and failed to file the form on the client’s behalf. The client then terminated his representation, demanding return of the filing and attorney fees. A week later, the client again demanded return of the full $2,200 he had paid; Aviles claimed he had worked 4.5 hours, so owed the client nothing in unearned fees. He offered the client $700 for the filing fee, but the client rejected it.
The State Bar Court judge found Aviles’ testimony to be credible, though noted: “He is not detail-oriented and made minor conflicting statements.” Four of the remaining counts charged were dismissed.
In aggravation, Aviles committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct by failing to accept responsibility for it.
In mitigation, he stipulated to a number of facts and was allotted some mitigating weight for having practiced law discipline-free for 14 years and for evidence offered by two character witnesses who had only a general understanding of the charges in the case.
Juan Miquel Bernardo
State Bar No. 276675, Portland, Oregon (January 10, 2019)
Bernardo was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing 10 acts of professional misconduct related to two client cases.
His wrongdoing included: failing to respond to a client’s reasonable inquiries, violating a court order, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to render an appropriate accounting after terminating services, failing to keep his client reasonably informed of significant case developments, and making a material misrepresentation to his client — an act involving moral turpitude; as well as two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigations of the misconduct alleged.
The fact patterns in both client cases were substantially similar. Bernardo agreed to represent the individuals — one pursuing a personal injury action, the other a pending civil matter. He then took no meaningful action on the cases and ignored the clients’ requests for information and clarification, as well as failing to respond to State Bar investigators seeking responses.
Both clients ultimately lost the right to pursue their causes of action due to Bernardo’s inaction. The client with the civil case sued him in small claims court to recoup his legal fees and costs.
In aggravation, Bernardo committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed both clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a pre-filing stipulation and was given nominal weight for having practiced law discipline-free for four years — though the State Bar Court judge noted that mitigation was “existing in name only, not relevant or substantial.”
Daniel Lee Cornelious, Jr.
State Bar No. 285836, Santa Ana (February 7, 2020)
Cornelious was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters.
The wrongdoing included: failing to respond to a reasonable client inquiry, requiring a client to withdraw a State Bar complaint as a condition of receiving a refund of the flat fee paid, and failing to promptly return a client’s file after terminating representation, as well as two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to return unearned advanced fees.
In aggravation, Cornelious committed multiple acts of misconduct, showed indifference toward rectification by delaying or failing to issue client refunds, and engaged in misconduct with a highly vulnerable client who had been evicted and suffered from extreme financial difficulties.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided evidence of numerous awards and certificates he’d received for civic service and charitable work.
David Thomson Egli
State Bar No. 93776, Riverside (February 7, 2010)
Egli was suspended from practicing for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing 10 acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters.
His wrongdoing included: improperly withdrawing from representation, failing to respond to a client’s reasonable inquiries, and failing to render an appropriate accounting to a client; two counts each of failing to promptly return unearned advanced fees and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged; and three counts of failing to provide legal services with competence.
In aggravation, he committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, caused significant harm to a client who lost her home in foreclosure due to his inaction in her case, and had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
Brian Campbell Fenn
State Bar No. 262700, Anaheim (December 22, 2019)
Fenn was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in another jurisdiction related to three matters.
Fenn owned an immigration law practice with offices in both California and Arizona — though he lived in California and visited the Phoenix office infrequently. The Arizona office was staffed by two paralegals and the president of a management firm who held himself out as an attorney, though he was not licensed. Fenn did not supervise their work.
All the acts of misconduct occurred in the Phoenix office, where clients were interviewed by the non-attorney staffers and paid several thousands of dollars in fees; the agreements executed provided that no fees would be refunded if the clients chose to terminate representation. In two of the cases, the clients did not qualify for the relief requested, but when they requested a refund of the fees they paid, Fenn refused.
Fenn eventually entered into an agreement for discipline with the Arizona State Bar, which found him culpable of several violations of the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct — including failing to perform legal services diligently, failing to communicate with clients, charging unreasonable and illegal fees, improperly terminating employment, and failing to perform duties related to non-lawyer assistants.
The California State Court judge determined that the culpability of professional misconduct in Arizona also warranted imposing discipline in the state of California.
In aggravation, Fenn committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, engaged in a pattern of misconduct by failing to communicate with clients, and significantly harmed one of the clients who was ultimately unable to secure a provisional waiver in her immigration case.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and submitted evidence of performing community services, as well as letters from eight individuals — all of whom attested to his good character.
Douglas Crawford Gillies
State Bar No. 53602, Santa Barbara (December 22, 2019)
Gillies was suspended for six months and placed on probation for two years after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct: maintaining an unjust action and pursuing a legal action in bad faith — wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.
Gillies and his wife purchased a residence after obtaining a bank loan, executing an adjustable interest rate promissory note; a deed of trust was recorded to secure the loan. A second bank eventually purchased the first bank’s mortgage servicing rights and obligations, and shortly afterward, Gillies defaulted on the loan and a foreclosure sale was set.
Gillies then filed a series of civil actions challenging the foreclosure — three superior court actions, two federal court cases, and appeals in all of them — as well as four Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions attempting to seek a stay of the other proceedings. In every lawsuit, he alleged the same or similar claims, despite the repeated court rulings that the claims were barred or lacked merit. The California State Bar court judge found the filings to be “meritless litigation to hinder or delay the lawful foreclosure on the property,” and found Gillies culpable of both counts charged.
In aggravation, Gillies committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed the administration of justice and the bank, which paid more than $140,000 in fees and costs to defend its actions. He also showed indifference toward his rectifying his behavior by refusing to accept the adverse findings of all the courts involved, and showed a lack of candor in his trial testimony — some of which was “neither credible nor believable.”
In mitigation, he had practiced law for approximately 27 years without a record of discipline.
Jeffrey L. Harris
State Bar No. 281778, Los Angeles (January 10, 2020)
Harris was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of four of the ten counts of professional misconduct with which he had been charged.
The wrongdoing, which related to three client matters, included: failing to perform legal services with confidence, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and two counts of failing to render a proper accounting of client funds.
All three clients hired Harris to help with marriage dissolutions.
The first was an uncontested matter that he promised would be resolved within six months. However, after filing the initial petition and proofs of service, he did not successfully file any additional pleadings for three years. Either the documents were never filed, or were rejected for deficiencies, though Harris did not inform the client of the status and did not respond to her requests for information. The client and her estranged husband had to re-sign the required paperwork three times before the dissolution was eventually finalized.
In the second matter, the client became dissatisfied with Harris’s services after a couple years and asked for his file, a refund of fees paid, and an accounting. That accounting did not reflect any costs or fees incurred in the matter, though Harris stated at trial that he had paid a $435 filing fee that the client owed according to their agreement.
The third client paid Harris a flat fee of $4,000 to represent her in a dissolution action. About a year later, the client requested an accounting and statement of services, anxious to settle the matter without additional rancor and expense. She made five such requests before eventually receiving the accounting.
In aggravation, Harris committed multiple acts of misconduct. He was also allotted aggravating weight for repeated indifference and lack of insight into his wrongdoing. Most tellingly, at the beginning of the opinion, the State Bar Court judge noted a number of inconsistencies in the stipulation and testimony Harris offered, concluding: “In general, the court does not find the Respondent to be a credible witness.”
In mitigation, he was allotted limited weight for entering into a stipulation of facts that were easy to prove, and moderate weight for testimony and declarations offered by nine individuals — all of whom attested to his good character.
Ligia Isela Hernandez
State Bar No. 146771, Pico Rivera (February 7, 2020)
Hernandez was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after an original contested disciplinary proceeding in which she was found culpable of two of the four counts of professional misconduct charged: failing to avoid interests adverse to a client and failing to report a civil judgment entered against her to the State Bar as mandated.
In the underlying matter, Hernandez represented a business client in various legal and administrative matters — including a breach of contract claim against a vendor. During the course of the case, the client agreed to loan Hernandez $25,000, repayable in one year with a 14% interest rate. Hernandez prepared an unsecured promissory note to memorialize the loan; it was written in English — a language the client did not read or speak. She did not advise him in writing that he could seek the advice of an independent lawyer to review the transaction, as required.
Hernandez did not repay the loan as agreed, but later tendered a check for $25,00 which was returned for insufficient funds.
Shortly after that, the client terminated the representation — subsequently suing Hernandez in superior court. The court awarded the client $49,115, including $10,000 in punitive damages after entering a default against Hernandez, who did not report the judgment to the State Bar within 30 days as required.
In aggravation, Hernandez committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her client.
In mitigation, she had practiced law for nearly 23 years without a record of discipline, entered into a pretrial stipulation of facts and documents, and was given limited mitigating weight for letters from 13 individual who attested to her good character but did not all indicate a familiarity with the charges against her, as well as moderate mitigation for evidence of performing community service that lacked specificity about time and extent.
Byron M. Johnson
State Bar No. 304897, Long Beach (February 7, 2010)
Johnson was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct related to mismanagement of his client trust account.
He was culpable of two counts each of commingling personal funds with client funds and failing to hold personal and client funds separately, as well as repeatedly issuing checks from the account with insufficient funds — an act involving moral turpitude, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
Over approximately eight months, Johnson made 24 deposits of his personal funds into his client trust account, issued 49 checks and withdrawals from the account to cover personal expenses, and issued 14 checks and withdrawals from the account when there were insufficient funds to cover them.
Although both the bank and the State Bar issued several notifications about the insufficient fund activity, he continued to issue the checks and did not respond to the State Bar’s inquiries about the matter.
In aggravation, Johnson committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation.
Imran A. Khaliq
State Bar No. 232607, Menlo Park (January 17, 2020)
Khaliq was suspended for two years and placed on probation for three years after appealing the hearing judge’s recommendation of disbarment and challenging the finding of moral turpitude related to his criminal conviction.
In the underlying matter, Khaliq, who was involved in a volatile relationship with a girlfriend, assaulted her one night, causing black eyes, cuts, and other minor injuries. He was found guilty of the misdemeanor of causing a domestic violence injury (Cal. Penal Code Section 273.5(a)).
One month before the assault, he had become irritated when the injured woman left a note professing her love at his house — assuming she did so to antagonize another girlfriend who sometimes stayed there. That day, he played what he called a “prank” by sending inappropriate language and requests that appeared to come from another man; he did so in an attempt to catch her in a lie and to test her allegiance to him. Also around that time, in preparation for a report, he wrote to a deputy probation officer that he had never had a history of being violent with other women, which was an untrue statement.
After the conviction became final, the matter was referred to the State Bar’s Hearing Department to determine whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
The panel on appeal agreed that with the culpability determination, including the finding of moral turpitude. In doing so, it looked at the totality of circumstances — including the “prank” predating the assault, and Khaliq’s misstatements to the probation officer — and found moral turpitude as evidenced by “the breach of duty owed to others, disrespect for the law and societal norms, and undermining of respect for the legal profession.
However, the panel found less aggravation and more mitigation than the hearing judge, and recommended suspension rather than disbarment as the appropriate discipline.
In aggravation, Khaliq caused significant financial and emotional harm to another person. However, the panel gave minimal rather than significant weight to Khaliq’s lack of insight or remorse.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for 10 1/2 years without a record of discipline, was allotted moderate weight for showing remorse and for some evidence of performing community service, as well as minimal weight for not causing harm to a client through his misconduct. The panel also reevaluated the evidence of good character offered, and increased the weight allotted by the hearing judge from “limited” to “substantial.”
James Gun Kim
State Bar No. 249408, Norwalk (December 22, 2019)
Kim was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case: failing to comply with a court order, failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep his clients informed of significant case developments, and failing to report court-imposed sanctions to the State Bar as required.
In the underlying matter, Kim was retained to file an application for asylum for a client who had been detained and placed in removal proceedings. After the initial application was denied, Kim did not file a written brief in support of the appeal and it was dismissed. He filed a petition to review the decision, but again failed to file an opening brief, and the petition was dismissed — with the court directing Kim to immediately notify his client of the dismissal. He did not do so, and was subsequently sanctioned after the appellate commissioner found his explanations for failing to inform the client lacked credibility; he did not inform the State Bar about the sanctions that were imposed.
In aggravation, Kim committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his highly vulnerable client, who incurred additional expenses in hiring new counsel, as well as delays in his proceedings.
Robert Allen Koenig
State Bar No. 129465, Westlake Village (December 22, 2019)
Koenig was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct in another jurisdiction as well as failing to timely inform the California State Bar of being licensed in another jurisdiction and failing to report that he had been disciplined there.
In the underlying matter, Koenig, who was licensed in California, Nevada, and Colorado, was listed as a managing partner of a multijurisdictional practice firm in a Nevada firm, though he did not practice from that office and only minimally supervised those who worked there. He eventually disassociated with the firm after it filed a complaint under his name without his permission.
The Nevada State Bar subsequently found Koenig had violated state laws by failing to monitor the office personnel there; he was fined $1,000 and issued a letter of reprimand. The California State Bar Court judge found the misconduct in Nevada also warranted professional discipline in this state.
In a separate investigation, the California State Bar also found Koenig culpable of failing to notify it of the license to practice in Nevada in 1987, nor of the license to practice in Colorado he had obtained in 1994.
In aggravation, Koenig committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and had been disciplined three times by the Nevada State Bar.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and presented 11 declarations from friends and attorneys attesting to his good character, as well as 15 additional declarations from individuals describing his civic service and charitable work.
Rita Mae Lingwood
State Bar No. 214145, Citrus Heights (January 10, 2020)
Lingwood was suspended from practicing law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after she appealed the recommendation from the hearing judge below recommending disbarment.
On appeal, she was found culpable of failing to avoid interests adverse to a client and of violating state law.
In the underlying matter, Lingwood prepared a trust agreement and durable power of attorney for her neighbors; she served as a trustee of the trust and attorney-in-fact on the power of attorney. Concerned that the trust was losing money, she arranged to make a loan from the trust to herself, secured by her real property, to guarantee a return on investment. She sent the clients’ daughter an email first, asking for her agreement that the loan would be a prudent investment.
Lingwood then executed a promissory note for $60,000 payable to the trust and wrote a check for $30,000 to herself from the trust account. That same month, she wrote a second check to herself to complete the loan. She did not inform the surviving client or the two trust beneficiaries about the transactions.
The client’s daughter then emailed Lingwood, stating that she objected to the loan arrangement. The daughter hired an attorney, who demanded that Lingwood repay the $60,000 immediately. She was unable to do so, as she had spent most of that money — but agreed to refinance her real estate to make the repayment. In the meantime, she made monthly payments of $600 to the trust. About a year after initially making the loan, Lingwood repaid the balance in full.
Both the hearing judge and the panel on appeal found Lingwood culpable of entering into an unfair business transaction. They noted that the trust settlor had become mentally incompetent, so Lingwood owed the beneficiaries a fiduciary duty. Specifically, the transaction terms were not favorable to those to whom she owed a fiduciary duty, the loan was unsecured when executed, she did not advise the clients in writing that they could seek advice about the transaction from an independent attorney, and the trust settlor and beneficiaries did not consent to the transaction in writing.
The panel also found that withdrawing the $60,000 from the trust account without seeking permission from the fiduciaries expressly violated the Probate Code (Cal. Prob. Code Section 16004). It dismissed the charges of misappropriation and misrepresentation involving moral turpitude — finding them unsupported by clear and convincing evidence — and recommended suspension instead of disbarment as the proper discipline.
The panel also disagreed with the hearing judge’s findings of several aggravating factors, and found none.
In mitigation, Lingwood had practiced law discipline-free for 15 years, entered into a stipulation as to facts and culpability, presented nine witnesses and four declarants who attested to her good character, and offered some evidence of performing community service.
Scott Nicholas Orona
State Bar No. 129594, San Diego (January 11, 2020)
Orona was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct: being convicted of a criminal act and submitting false information on a form filed with a court — wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Orona pled guilty to possessing a firearm while the subject of a protective order (Cal. Penal Code Section 29825(b)), a misdemeanor. The statute requires a restrained individual to relinquish all firearms and ammunition within 24 hours of being served with the order, and to notify the court within 48 hours of how the disposal took place.
Orona, who was the subject of a temporary restraining order that had been extended twice, completed the California Judicial Council’s mandatory TRO response form (Form CH-120), indicating he did not own or control any guns or firearms — and signed it under penalty of perjury.
However, when Bureau of Firearms investigators later came to search his residence, they retrieved two pump-action shotguns, a semi-automatic rifle, a semi-automatic pistol, a revolver, several thousand rounds of ammunition and a magazine from his bedroom. They also found seven firearms, gun shells, and ammunition in Orona’s brother’s bedroom in the residence, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a hall closet.
In aggravation Orona committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 20 years without a record of discipline, and provided reference letters from seven individuals — all of whom attested to his good character.
Derik Justin Roy, III
State Bar No. 264052, Huntington Beach (January 10, 2020)
Roy was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years.
In a consolidated matter, the Hearing Department of the State Bar Court considered whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions involved moral turpitude or other conduct warranting professional discipline.
Roy earlier pled guilty to two misdemeanors: driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code Sections 23152(a and b)). Six months later, he pled guilty to committing child abuse and endangerment (Cal. Penal Code Section 273a(b)) — also a misdemeanor.
In the first case, Roy spent the day drinking heavily, driving home early in the morning the next day. While a few houses away from his own, he crashed into a fire hydrant, which spewed a great quantity of water. Roy walked to his house and summoned police, but told the dispatcher inconsistent stories about how and why the incident occurred. He told investigating officers that he had 10 beers to drink, though the total was much higher — and also claimed his car had been stolen, which was not true, signing a fabricated stolen car report under penalty of perjury. He was enrolled in a First Offender Program as part of probation conditions, but was kicked out for missing too many classes.
Seven days after he pled guilty to the first conviction, Roy was again drinking heavily during the day at his girlfriend’s house — then took her child out for a walk to get ice cream, without the mother’s consent. The child was barefoot and wearing only a nightgown. During the walk, Roy sometimes carried her and at one point, walked into approaching traffic with her on his shoulders. Several passersby were so concerned that they called 911; one of the observers followed them, fearing for the child’s safety. Arriving officers arrested Roy, who resisted them. After pleading guilty, he again received probation conditions — including attending the Child Abuser’s Program, but he failed to comply with it.
The two matters were consolidated for trial; Roy arrived two hours late the first day, and failed to appear on the second day.
The State Bar Court judge found the convictions involved moral turpitude, noting that Roy’s behavior “reflects a flagrant disregard for societal norms,” and that he also “demonstrated extensive levels of deception, which cannot be absolved by the fact he was intoxicated.”
In aggravation, Roy committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference toward rectifying his wrongdoing by failing to comply with the terms of his criminal probation and by his disrespectful actions in court.
Michael Sean Devereux
State Bar No. 225240, Los Angeles (January 10, 2010)
Devereux was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, and failing to refund unearned advanced fees to his client.
The wrongdoing was related to a single client matter in which he accepted $4,875 as a retainer to file and prosecute a civil case alleging libel, stalking, invasion of privacy, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He met with the client and reviewed some relevant documents a few days later, and eventually interviewed a couple witnesses, but was mostly unresponsive to the client’s queries about the status of the case.
Three years after being retained, Devereux informed the client that her claims were then barred by the statute of limitations.
He eventually refunded unearned fees to the client totaling $682.50.
In aggravation, Devereux committed multiple acts of misconduct that substantially harmed his client, who was forced to forfeit her claims.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law 12 years discipline-free prior to the misconduct, and was given limited mitigating credit for family problems suffered after his parents died within months of one another.
Steven James Foster
State Bar No. 130975, Los Altos (February 7, 2020)
Foster was placed on probation for one year.
He had earlier stipulated to committing professional misconduct in Colorado: obtaining a loan from a client without first obtaining the client’s written consent and without advising of the possibility of seeking independent counsel in the transaction. As a result, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered that he be publicly censored.
The matter was referred to the California State Bar Court to determine whether the Colorado proceedings lacked fundamental constitutional protections, and whether Foster’s wrongdoing there also warranted imposing professional discipline in California.
In the instant reciprocal disciplinary matter, Foster separately stipulated to culpable conduct, but argued — as he has done previously in both the State Bar Court and federal court — that California’s reciprocal discipline statute (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Section 6049.1) violates his due process rights by precluding him from litigating his constitutional claims in federal court.
Both the hearing judge below and panel on appeal rejected this argument as meritless and moot — underscoring that because he earlier stipulated to all facts establishing culpability, he is bound to them both at trial and on review. In aggravation, Foster had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he was allotted nominal weight for stipulating to facts that were easily provable.
Charles Joshua Katz
State Bar No. 68459, Millbrae (February 7, 2020)
Katz was placed on probation for one year after a disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of violating several conditions attached to a private reproval order previously imposed on him by the State Bar Court.
Specifically, he failed to contact the Office of Probation within 30 days of his discipline order; failed to timely submit a written quarterly report, final report, and final Client Funds Certificate; failed to balance his client trust account; and failed to provide proof of successfully completing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.
In aggravation, Katz had a prior record of discipline, and also received limited weight for committing multiple acts of misconduct, which were relatively minor offenses.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a comprehensive stipulation of facts and admission of documents, presented good character testimony from four attorneys — all of whom knew him well and were generally aware of the charges against him, demonstrated remorse for his wrongdoing and submitted evidence of performing pro bono and community service work.
Jerome Alan Kaplan
State Bar No. 49142, Beverly Hills (January 10, 2020)
Kaplan was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct: acting as an attorney without authority to do so.
In the underlying matter, a corporate client hired Kaplan’s firm to defend it in a lawsuit with a supplier and to sue an insurer for refusing to pay out on a theft claim. The supplier suit settled, and the entry of judgment was stayed with the proviso that the client must pay the supplier “from the first proceeds of any recovery, an additional sum up to a total of $80,000.”
The other lawsuit was settled in mediation, with the insurer agreeing to pay the client $135,000. The client signed two checks — one for $55,000 and one for $85,000 — which were jointly payable to Kaplan’s firm, and awaited its share of payment. The firm did not forward payment, contending that its cost exhausted one check amount, nor did it pay the supplier as agreed in the settlement terms. The supplier then sought an order directing the client to turn over the $80,000 to the supplier.
Though the client did not authorize Kaplan or his firm to take any further action on its behalf, the firm did so — opposing the initial application, opposing a motion to enforce the settlement, and prosecuting an appeal in the matter.
In aggravation, Kaplan caused significant harm to his client, who was exposed to $15,320 in attorney fees.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for 40 years discipline-free, produced seven letters from a range of individuals attesting to his good character, and also offered evidence of performing pro bono and community service work.
— Barbara Kate Repa