Aug. 3, 2020
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
Paul H. Bickenbach
State Bar No. 59145, Torrance (August 14, 2020)
Bickenbach was disbarred after a trial consolidating three disciplinary matters: two misdemeanor criminal convictions of inflicting a corporal injury on an intimate partner (Cal. Penal Code Section 273.5(a)) — an offense involving moral turpitude, and two client cases charging 15 counts of professional misconduct.
In the first conviction matter, police responded to the scene after Bickenbach repeatedly slapped his then-wife after she had asked him for money to pay for parking. He admitted to investigating officers that he was “out of control,” but also told them he should get a break because he was an attorney. He subsequently pled no contest to the charge of inflicting corporal injury. At his current disciplinary trial, his former wife also testified to many other instances of emotional and physical abuse — several of them involving attempted strangulation or smothering.
In the second criminal matter, Bickenbach and a romantic partner agreed that he would provide a place for her to stay in exchange for her help around the house. A few months later, however, their relationship deteriorated. After returning home from having dinner and drinks, the couple argued and eventually tussled. The woman, who had previously had a brain aneurysm, suffered additional injuries after Bickenbach grabbed her “around or near her neck.” When police officers arrived to investigate, Bickenbach repeated numerous times that he was an attorney who had helped defend police officers accused of excessive force, and suggested his case involved a “bad arrest” and could be dismissed.
And in the first client matter, Bickenbach was retained to help a client remove three liens on some real property. Their fee agreement required the client to deposit $3,250 in Bickenbach’s client trust account and to be billed monthly at an hourly rate of $325, with the fees to be paid from that account; the agreement also provided the account’s monthly balance must be kept at $3,250. About two weeks later, however, the client terminated Bickenbach and demanded full refund of the retainer she had paid. He at first made excuses, but eventually tendered three separate checks as purported refunds; the first two were returned for nonsufficient funds; the client did not attempt negotiating the third check, fearing she would incur additional bank fees if that check was also returned.
The second client matter involved a substantially similar fee agreement, though Bickenbach withdrew from representing the client after their relationship broke down. Despite the client’s requests, he did not refund any of the unearned fees.
Both clients asserted that Bickenbach became mocking and defensive in exchanges with them — in one case blaming the client, a Black woman, for “being too sensitive owing to her race and gender.”
In the client trust matters, six of the 15 counts charged were dismissed as redundant or duplicative. However, Bickenbach was found culpable of the remaining charges: commingling personal and client funds, failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds, and failing to cooperate with the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged; as well as two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and misappropriating client funds — an act involving moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Bickenbach committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients, and failed to make restitution to them.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for nearly 30 years without a record of professional discipline and submitted evidence through a character witness of performing substantial pro bono services.
In recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court judge noted that “the same underlying attitudes” affected both Bickenbach’s attorney/client relationships and led up to his criminal convictions involving violence, and underscored his “inability to acknowledge” the similarities.
Del L. Hardy, aka Delmar L. Hardy
State Bar No. 108926, Reno, Nevada (August 14, 2020)
Hardy was summarily disbarred following his convictions of three counts of making and subscribing a false tax return (26 U.S.C. Section 7206(1) and one count of corruptly interfering with the due administration of internal revenue laws (26 U.S.C. Section 7212(a)). Both offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.
Jared Anthony Husband Harris
State Bar No. 299300, San Francisco (August 14, 2020)
Harris was summarily disbarred after pleading no contest to one felony count: committing a forcible act of sexual penetration by a foreign object (Cal. Penal Code Section 289(a)(1)(A)).
The State Bar Court judge noted that the offense is a form of rape, which involves moral turpitude as a matter of law.
Larry Christopher Hinkle
State Bar No. 225302, Camarillo (August 14, 2020)
Hinkle was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with three counts of professional misconduct involving two correlated matters.
After a default was entered against him in the matter, he filed a motion to have it set aside. He appeared for a status conference, but subsequently failed to file a response as required and did not move to have the default then entered set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of all counts charged: failing to report judicial sanctions, as well as two counts of failing to obey court orders.
There were additional disciplinary matters pending against Hinkle when he was disbarred.
Donald William McVay
State Bar No. 103882, Rancho Santa Fe (August 14, 2020)
McVay was disbarred by default after failing to appear at the trial in which he was charged with five ethical violations related to two prior disciplinary probation orders.
He filed a motion to have the default subsequently entered against him set aside or vacated; the Office of Chief Trial Counsel opposed the motion, and the State Bar Court denied it.
McVay was then found culpable of all counts charged: failing to obey a court order and two counts each of failing to comply with conditions of probation and misrepresenting in writing that he had complied with all applicable rules and conditions of probation — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
The probation conditions he violated included twice failing to contact the Office of Probation to set initial meetings and failing to file timely written quarterly reports, as well as failing to submit several reports on his underlying criminal probation.
McVay had two prior records of professional discipline at the time he was disbarred.
Peter Suk Park
State Bar No. 152619, Newport Beach (August 14, 2020)
Park was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel, and a default was entered against him. He did not seek to have that order set aside or vacated.
Park was subsequently found culpable of 15 of the 19 counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged.
His wrongdoing included advising a client to deposit funds into a business account rather than a trust account, failing to advise a client in writing of the right to seek independent legal advice about a joint business transaction, and two counts of misappropriating client funds — misconduct involving moral turpitude. He was also found culpable of three counts of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, as well as four counts each of failing to support the laws and constitution and deliberately misrepresenting that he was entitled to practice law in California when he was not authorized to do so — an act that also involves moral turpitude.
Park had two prior records of discipline at the time he was disbarred.
Wayne William Suojanen
State Bar No. 193627, Aliso Viejo (August 14, 2020)
Suojanen was disbarred by default. He had been charged with two counts of professional misconduct: holding himself out as entitled to practice law when he was not authorized to do so and actually engaging in the unauthorized practice of law — an act involving moral turpitude.
He acknowledged that he had received the notice of disciplinary charges filed against him, but did not respond to it, nor did he move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of both counts charged.
Suojanen had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.
Robert Lee Waldman
State Bar No. 120397, Irvine (August 14, 2020)
Waldman was disbarred by default after failing to participate in his consolidated disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate legal notice and opportunity to do so. The State Bar Court judge found that the motions for entry of default in both cases also complied with all legal requirements — and though Waldman was notified that if he did not move to have the defaults set aside, the court would recommend his disbarment, he did not do so.
The judge also found that the factual allegations in the notice of discipline charges supported the conclusion Waldman was culpable of both counts involved: violating state court rules (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) by failing to file a declaration of compliance as ordered in a previous disciplinary order and failing to comply with all probation conditions imposed. Specifically, he failed to schedule and participate in initial meetings with his assigned probation officer, failed to submit quarterly written reports, failed to report reading the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct and portions of the State Bar Act, and failed to report his compliance with criminal probation conditions that had been imposed.
Waldman had one prior record of discipline before being disbarred in the instant case.
Richard Lee Willis
State Bar No. 188239, Carlsbad (August 14, 2020)
Willis was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with three counts of professional misconduct in a single matter: representing clients with potential adverse interests without obtaining their informed written consent, continuing to represent the clients despite an actual conflict of interest between them, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
After finding that Willis had been properly served and notified of the proceedings before a default was entered, the court found him culpable of all counts charged and recommended disbarment.
Kenneth Bryan Brock
State Bar No. 158311, Lemon Cove (August 14, 2020)
Brock was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for five years after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP), to which he was accepted after being convicted of two separate violations for driving under the influence (DUI) and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
In one instance, he pled nolo contendere to charges of driving under the influence with prior DUI convictions and an admitted misdemeanor enhancement (Cal. Veh. Code Sections 23152(a) and 23578), as well as the misdemeanor of driving with a restricted or revoked license (Cal. Veh. Code Section 14601.2(a)).
In the other, he was convicted of another DUI offense: one DUI felony count with prior DUI convictions and an enhancement for a blood alcohol concentration of .15% or more (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(a) and (b)), as well as one misdemeanor count of driving on a suspended license (Cal. Veh. Code Section 14601.2(a)).
In the unauthorized practice matter, Brock was found culpable after defending a lawsuit in which he was designated as an attorney in his representative capacities as director of a corporation and general partner of a limited partnership ; he was on interim suspension at the time.
In aggravation, Brock had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation and successfully completed the ADP — a primary factor in the State Bar Court’s recommendation of the lower level of discipline imposed in the instant case.
Michael T. Chulak
State Bar No. 194744, Agoura Hills (August 14, 2020)
Chulak was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct related to 11 separate client matters.
His wrongdoing included: failing to maintain the requisite balance in his client trust account, failing to maintain confidentiality of client information, issuing checks from his client trust account to pay personal expenses, and failing to hold client funds in a trust account; two counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, misappropriating client funds — misconduct involving moral turpitude, improperly terminating his employment, and failing to release clients’ papers and property after being requested to do so; and three counts of making material misrepresentation to clients and State Bar investigators — additional misconduct involving moral turpitude.
He was also culpable of four counts each of failing to respond to clients’ reasonable case status inquiries and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigations of the misconduct alleged; five counts of failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees; and six counts of failing to render appropriate accountings of client funds.
Most of the client cases involved property disputes, and most of the misconduct occurred within a three-year period.
In aggravation, Chulak committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to several clients, and also failed to make restitution to a number of them.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 18 years discipline-free before engaging in misconduct, presented evidence of performing substantial community service, and suffered professional and financial difficulties due to staff turnover and turmoil and due to a fire near his home and office that substantially disrupted his practice.
In reviewing the totality of the misconduct before recommending two years of actual suspension, the State Bar Court judge noted: “The vast majority of respondent’s misconduct involves performance, communication and/or withdrawal issues that do not rise to the level of habitual disregard of client interests, but rise to the lack of insight, indifference toward rectification or atonement for his misconduct.”
James Paul Finigan
State Bar No. 290324, Whittier (August 14, 2020)
Finigan was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.
He was culpable of appearing as an attorney without the clients’ authority, failing to support the laws and constitution, failing to maintain the respect due to the court, making a false representation to the court — misconduct involving moral turpitude, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
In the underlying matter, Finigan attempted to file a substitution of attorney and then an exparte application to substitute in as counsel of record in a civil matter, but the court rejected both attempts. He then filed three pleadings in the case, identifying himself as “attorney of record,” but failed to serve the pleadings on opposing counsel as required by statute and court rule. Counsel emailed Finigan, reminding him of the requirement.
Finigan subsequently filed two more pleadings. Attached to the last one was a proof of service falsely declaring that he had served opposing counsel by “personal service.” Opposing counsel submitted a complaint in the matter to the State Bar.
In aggravation, Finigan committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed a lack of atonement for the consequences of his misconduct and indifference to his ethical duties.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, saving the State Bar significant time and resources.
Grady Michael Brown
State Bar No. 85997, Costa Mesa (August 14, 2020_
Brown was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to pleading guilty to three misdemeanors: driving under the influence (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(a)), driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(b)), and being involved in a hit and run accident causing property damages (Cal. Veh. Code Section 20002(a)).
In the underlying matter, Brown was driving on the interstate; while attempting to change lanes, he collided with another vehicle — though he did not identify himself or stop at the scene. A witness called police and reported Brown’s license plate number. Investigating officers found and questioned him at his home, where he was unable to successfully perform the field sobriety tests; breath tests administered there indicated blood alcohol concentration levels of .09% and .08%.
The State Bart Court judge found the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In mitigation, Brown entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 35 years, and provided attestations by six witnesses taken from a range in the community — all of whom vouched for his good character.
— Barbara Kate Repa