Brian Joseph Baker
State Bar No. 257228, Fresno (March 26, 2021)
Baker was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in the consolidated proceeding in which he was charged with violating a court order and with failing to comply with several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary proceeding.
The State Bar Court judge determined Baker had actual notice of the proceeding, and did not move to set aside or vacate the default order entered against him in the case.
He was found culpable of both counts charged. His wrongdoing included failing to file a declaration of compliance setting out the duties of disciplined lawyers (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20)
He was also culpable of failing to comply with several specific probation conditions — including failing to timely schedule and meet with his assigned probation officer; failing to submit the requisite medical waiver, failing to submit two quarterly written reports, two quarterly self-help group meeting reports, two quarterly mental health reports, and five monthly lab reports; and failing to submit a declaration that he had reviewed the Rules of Professional Conduct and Business & Professions Code as required.
Amy Louise Butters
State Bar No. 212072, Ogden, Utah (March 26, 2021)
Butters was disbarred by default after she failed to file a response to the notice of disciplinary charges against her. The State Bar Court judge determined she had actual notice of the proceeding related to the alleged misconduct, but neither appeared nor moved to set aside the default order ultimately entered against her in the case.
She was found culpable of failing to comply with probation conditions set out in an earlier disciplinary order. Specifically, she failed to meet with her assigned probation officer, failed to submit quarterly written reports to the Office of Probation, and failed to submit evidence of reading the Rules of Professional Conduct and specific Business & Professions Code as required.
Butters had two prior records of professional discipline at the time she was disbarred.
Benson C. Lai
State Bar No. 201296, San Francisco (March 24, 2021)
Lai was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding — nor did he move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated. The State Bar Court judge found all procedural requirements had been met in the case, as well as an adequate factual basis for disciplinary misconduct.
Lai was found culpable of eight counts of professional misconduct arising from two client matters. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to comply with at least 16 court orders, withdrawing from employment without the court’s prior permission, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to appear at show cause hearings and to pay court-ordered sanctions, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct he was alleged to have committed. In addition, while attempting to investigate the case, the State Bar learned Lai was also culpable of failing to update his business address.
There were two additional disciplinary matters pending against Lai when he was disbarred.
Matthew David Pearson
State Bar No. 227390, Sacramento (March 24, 2021)
Pearson was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding. The State Bar Court judge found that all procedural requirements for service and notice had been met, and that Pearson had not moved to have the default order ultimately entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of violating a court rule (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) by failing to file a declaration of compliance enumerating the duties of a suspended attorney as required in a disciplinary order that had been imposed earlier.
State Bar No. 202731, La Habra (March 24, 2021)
Reyes was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. He did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
He was found culpable of violating a court rule (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) by failing to file a declaration of compliance enumerating the duties of a suspended attorney as required in a disciplinary order that had been imposed earlier.
Reyes had one prior record of discipline at the time he was disbarred.
Ivan Barry Schwartz
State Bar No. 153264, San Diego (March 24, 2021)
Schwartz was disbarred. The appealed the determinations of the hearing judge below, who found him culpable of three counts of professional misconduct related to his pro hac vice admission to a Colorado court. Specifically, he was found culpable of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to obey a court order, and misrepresenting facts in a court motion — an act involving moral turpitude. Disbarment was the recommended discipline.
On appeal, the State Bar Court panel dismissed the count alleging violation of a court order for lack of proof, but found him culpable of the remaining counts and affirmed the discipline of disbarment.
The current disciplinary matter relates to Schwartz’s representation of his father, who was sued in Colorado in his capacity as the trustee of a trust. Schwartz initially affiliated with a Colorado attorney and filed a motion for pro hac vice admission so that he could appear as an attorney in that state. That motion was denied based on Schwartz’s prior record of professional discipline in California, which was disclosed to have understated the findings of culpability to which he had stipulated and had been adjudicated. The Colorado attorney who had affiliated with Schwartz filed for and was granted a withdrawal from the case.
Schwartz subsequently drafted and attempted to file pleadings, negotiated with opposing counsel, and appeared telephonically on behalf of the trust — all of which the Colorado judge found to be unlicensed practice since Schwartz’s pro hac vice motion had been denied. The Colorado Supreme Court publicly censured him for the misconduct.
In aggravation, Schwartz had been disciplined by the California State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously, and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant case.
In mitigation, he submitted evidence from 11 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities who vouched for his good character and was allotted limited weight for entering into a stipulation that was not extensive and contained easily proven facts, but no admission of culpability.
Juan Miquel Bernardo
State Bar No. 276675, Portland, Oregon (March 26, 2021)
Bernardo was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to violating a court rule (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) by failing to timely file a declaration of compliance as required in a disciplinary order that had been imposed earlier.
In aggravation, Bernardo had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.
The State Bar Court judge noted the recommendation of discipline on the lower end of the possible range was “consistent with the principles of progressive discipline” and underscored that Bernardo’s misconduct “is not indicative of his ability or willingness to conform to ethical norms” and “will serve to emphasize the seriousness of his duties to comply with all aspects of court orders.”
Willem Galen Gentry
State Bar No. 149413, Encino (March 26, 2021)
Gentry was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to one count of assault with intent to produce great bodily injury (Cal. Penal Code Section 245(a)(4)). The offense is a felony.
After Gentry’s conviction became final, his case was referred to the State Bar Court for a hearing and determination of whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the crime involved moral turpitude or other conduct warranting professional discipline.
In the underlying matter, Gentry was attempting to enter the parking lot of a fast food restaurant, proceeding in the wrong direction, when his car collided with another’s vehicle. The two drivers argued while seated in their cars; Gentry then left his vehicle and punched the other driver, who was still seated in the driver’s side of his car. The two continued to argue, and after Gentry spit in the other man’s face, the man approached Gentry — menacing him while a plastic tool, which he swung like a bat. The two fought for several minutes. Gentry was subsequently treated for a laceration to his head and a concussion; the other man suffered lacerations to his face and a broken leg, requiring surgery.
The State Bar Court judge determined that the criminal assault did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve conduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Gentry caused significant physical harm to another individual.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for nearly 28 years, and demonstrated remorse for his misconduct and recognition of the wrongfulness of his action as attested in letters from his former treating psychiatrist and an attorney friend, as well as his voluntary enrollment in anger management classes.
Lee Allan Hess
State Bar No. 76764, Westlake Village (March 26, 2021)
Hess was suspended for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing 11 counts of professional misconduct, 10 of them related to a single client matter and one to client trust account mismanagement.
His wrongdoing in the client case included: failing to hold client funds in a trust account, failing to maintain the requisite balance in that account, failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries, improperly withdrawing from representation, and two counts each of failing to promptly disburse the client’s settlement funds and release the client’s file after being requested to do so, as well as one count of misappropriating client funds held in trust — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In addition, Hess was culpable of failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged in the client case and failing to cooperate in its inquiries related to an insufficient balance in his client trust account per a bank report.
In the underlying client matter, Hess was hired to represent a client in a personal injury matter that eventually settled for $25,000. He received a check for the full amount and deposited it into his client trust account, notifying the client he would be scheduling an arbitration date. However, several weeks later, Hess suffered a stroke and went on medical leave.
After Hess did not respond to the client’s subsequent request for status information, she hired new counsel to handle the case and collect the settlement money and case file.
After the State Bar began an investigation into the matter, Hess sent a check for $20,000 to the new counsel; the client had agreed to allow him to keep $5,000 of the settlement amount as a payment for services rendered. However, the settlement check was returned for insufficient funds. One month later, Hess provided a negotiable cashier’s check for $20,012 — the remaining settlement amount plus bank expenses.
In aggravation, Hess committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 41 years before the instant misconduct, suffered extreme mental disabilities due to suffering a stroke at the time of his misconduct, and was also awarded moderate mitigating weight for four letters from the general community and two from the legal community — all attesting to his good character.
Matthew Ian Horgan
State Bar No. 267963, Union, Oregon (March 24, 2021)
Horgan was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct.
He was culpable of aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, knowingly assisting in unauthorized practice, and submitting false statements to a court — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
An individual who was not an attorney established a business that purported to offer legal services, including help with estate planning and bankruptcy matters. For approximately eight years, Horgan assisted the business owner by providing some legal advice and services to clients — while allowing the owner to interview and accept clients and set fees.
Two clients — one seeking help with administering a trust, the other pursuing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy — both received incorrect legal advice in their cases from the business owner, who they assumed was a lawyer, causing them to lose claims and funds. In addition, over a seven-year period, Horgan filed at least 18 declarations with the bankruptcy court, falsely claiming he had agreed to accept compensation from debtors, when he knew the money was directly paid to the business in question.
In aggravation, Horgan committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed the clients involved.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, and presented evidence of performing a substantial amount of pro bono work, as well as letters from eight individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to his good character.
Craig Allyn Jue
State Bar No. 118093, San Juan Capistrano (March 24, 2021)
Jue was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
His wrongdoing included failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
In the underlying matter, Jue was retained to represent a client in a civil business dispute. During the course of representation, he received numerous discovery requests as well as various motions including a motion to compel discovery, but did not respond nor did he appear at the scheduled hearing on the motions. The court sanctioned Jue jointly and severally with his client for those transgressions.
Jue also failed to respond to subsequent discovery requests in the case. Though he did file a motion for relief from sanctions and appointment of new counsel, he did not appear in court for the hearing on that motion, nor did he appear for the hearing eventually set on opponents’ motion for summary judgment. The court granted the summary judgment.
Jue had not informed his client about the numerous motions and hearings, but when the client learned of the summary judgment and sanctions orders, he immediately hired new counsel; the judgment was ultimately vacated.
Jue did not respond to any of the four inquiry letters the State Bar investigator sent while attempting to ferret out information about the allegations of his wrongdoing.
In aggravation, Jue committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his client.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 25 years without a record of discipline.
Julienne Maribao Lee
State Bar No. 231752, Los Angeles (March 24, 2021)
Lee was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to commingling client and personal funds in her client trust account. The record reflected that over a five-month period, she issued 20 withdrawals from the account to pay for personal expenses.
In mitigation, Lee entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 13 years, expressed candor and cooperated fully in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct, and provided letters from eight individuals spanning the legal and general communities who were aware of the details of Lee’s wrongdoing and vouched for her good character.
Daphne Lori Macklin
State Bar No. 117189, Sacramento (March 24, 2021)
Macklin was suspended from practicing law for three years and placed on probation for five years after she stipulated to failing to comply with several conditions attached to two disciplinary orders that had been imposed earlier.
Specifically, she violated conditions imposed in an order that took effect November 8, 2017 by: failing to submit a compliant quarterly written report, failing to submit proof of paying several restitution installments, failing to provide the Office of Probation with a conformed filing of fee arbitration initiation or proof of paying fees for it, failing to meet the conditions for mental health requirements, and failing to submit timely written reports of complying with those requirements.
In addition, she violated a second disciplinary probation order that took effect on January 25, 2019 by failing to contact the Office of Probation to schedule a meeting and to meet with her assigned probation deputy, failing to review or submit a declaration signifying her review of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Business & Professions Codes, failing to submit a compliant written quarterly report, and failing to submit a compliant mental health waiver as required.
In aggravation, Macklin had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice previously.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, paid all the client restitution amounts due before the State Bar instituted its investigation, and provide letters from 10 members of the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to her good character.
David Gillespie Malveaux
State Bar No. 224220, Las Vegas, Nevada (March 24, 2021)
Malveaux was suspended for three years and placed on probation for four years after he stipulated to pleading guilty to two violations related to driving while intoxicated: the felony of driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(a)) with enhancements for driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .15% (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23578) and three or more DUI offenses within 10 years (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23540), as well as the misdemeanor of driving with a suspended license due to DUI conviction (Cal. Veh. Code Section 14601.2(a)) — also with enhancements for driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .15% (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23578) and three or more DUI offenses within 10 years (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23540).
In the underlying matter, police officers observed Malveaux speeding while driving and pulled him over; he showed signs of intoxication and failed to pass field sobriety tests. A records check at the scene revealed Malveaux had been driving with a suspended license and had previous DUI convictions. And in an inventory of his car, officers found two opened and partially empty bottles of brandy. He was booked, fined, and sentenced.
The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions at issue did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Malveaux committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, had two prior records of discipline, and was assigned additional aggravating weight for failing to report his felony conviction to the State Bar within 30 days of its finality.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, presented evidence of performing pro bono legal services, and was allotted minimal mitigating weight for four character reference letters submitted.
Caroline Christina Mullaney
State Bar No. 165964, Myrtle Beach (March 24, 2021)
Mullaney was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to pleading guilty to several criminal misdemeanors stemming from three separate DUI incidents in Tennessee.
In September, 2015, a Nashville police officer responded to a call of a disorderly person at a bar. Upon arrival, he found Mullaney intoxicated and seated inside a vehicle, claiming she was unable to locate her car keys. She refused to stay outside the vehicle as requested, and ultimately was forcibly restrained, during which time she kicked an officer several times. Officers found an open bottle of wine in the car during an inventory search. Mullaney entered a plea agreement and pled guilty to a single misdemeanor charge: resisting arrest (Tenn. Code Ann. 39-16-602).
Some months later, in December, 2015, officers spotted Mullaney driving erratically. They approached when her vehicle came to a stop, but she rolled up the car window and sped away — at times reaching a speed of 90 miles per hour. Officers eventually blocked her car and physically removed her from the driver’s seat, handcuffing her hands behind her back. She refused a blood test, a state law requirement, but a test under warrant at a nearby hospital indicated a blood alcohol concentration of .17 percent. Mullaney pled guilty to evading an arrest with a motor vehicle (Tenn. Code Ann. 39-16-603) and driving under the influence of alcohol — 1st offense (Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-401).
In December, 2016, a Nashville police officer responded to a report of domestic violence, where he observed Mullaney leave the residence in question and get into her car — ignoring the officer’s commands to stop, swerving to nearly hit him, and speeding away for one-quarter of a mile, until traffic impeded her progress. When officers attempted to arrest her, she resisted until they pulled her from the vehicle and handcuffed her.
Mullaney refused a blood draw, though a hospital test later indicated a blood alcohol concentration of .12 percent. Her driver’s license had been revoked for the prior DUI conviction at the time of the incident. Mullaney pled guilty to resisting arrest (Tenn. Code Ann. 39-16-602); driving under the influence — second offense (Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-401); as well as two counts of assaulting an officer, causing bodily injury (Tenn. Code Ann. 39-13-101).
The California State Bar Court judge determined the facts and circumstances surrounding the offenses did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Mullaney committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation and was allotted “little weight” for having practiced law discipline-free for 22 years, as the judge noted that: “with three separate incidents over the course of two years, respondent cannot show the conduct is unlikely to recur.”
Gevork Oganesyan, aka George Oganesyan
State Bar No. 293466, Los Angeles (March 24, 2021)
Oganesyan was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing six acts of professional misconduct related to a single client.
His wrongdoing included: failing to keep his client reasonably informed of significant case developments, failing to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to his client upon constructively terminating employment, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to provide an accounting of the client fees tendered and held, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and doing so knowingly — an act involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Oganesyan formed a corporation purporting to perform tax mediation services. He was paid an advanced fee of $3,500 by a client couple seeking help through a tax relief program. A clause in the executed agreement stated it did “not create or reflect an obligation . . . to provide general legal services . . . and it is not intended to and does not create any attorney/client relationship” between the clients and the corporation’s attorneys.
For several months, the clients’ case was handled by an attorney affiliated with Oganesyan’s firm — who then notified the clients he would be taking time off to deal with a personal matter.
Oganesyan then personally received the clients’ emails, though they expressed increasing frustration over his unresponsiveness. In fact, he had been involuntarily suspended from practice for failure to pay State Bar dues, though he did not notify the clients of that reality — and continued to work on an Offer in Compromise (OIC) with the IRS on the clients’ behalf and advise on other tax-related matters, often signing his email messages identifying himself with the honorific “Esq.” and including his State Bar number.
In the course of representation, the IRS requested additional information from Oganesyan, though he did not inform the clients of this fact, nor did he attempt to elicit the information from them. The IRS denied the OIC due to this failure, though it later agreed to reopen the case based on the clients’ claim they had been defrauded by Oganesyan, who had held himself out as entitled to practice law while suspended.
When the State Bar began to investigate the matter, Oganesyan explained that he and his office performed “tax services, and not legal service” — asserting that the State Bar ethical guidelines and practice rules would thus not apply to his situation. He claimed this belief was reinforced in an earlier call to the State Bar Ethics hotline.
In aggravation, Oganesyan committed multiple acts of misconduct and exhibited bad faith and dishonesty in the contract offered to clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation.
State Bar No. 182109, Roseville (March 12, 2021)
Singh was suspended from practice for six months and placed on probation for one year after pursing an appeal.
The hearing judge in the initial discipline case found him culpable of four counts of professional misconduct: engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, maintaining an unjust action, failing to pay court-ordered attorney fees, and failing to maintain respect due the courts by filing and pursuing a frivolous appeal.
The State Bar Court panel on appeal agreed with all culpability findings, but did not include the count charging disrespect of the courts in its determination, as that count duplicated the facts relied upon to establish culpability in other counts.
Following his contentious divorce proceeding, Singh filed a petition for a civil harassment restraining order against his ex-wife’s attorney, claiming she had threatened him and interfered with his law practice. A court of appeal ultimately dismissed his appeal from the judgment and post-judgment order as frivolous — underscoring that: “the only rational conclusion is that Singh knew he had no basis for appeal, but filed it anyway in order to delay having to pay the attorney award.” That award totaled nearly $27,000 — which Singh paid shortly before the oral argument in the instant case was held.
In addition, during the pendency of the appeal of the harassment ruling, Singh was suspended from practicing law due to his prior misconduct. He stipulated, however, that while suspended, he filed three court documents and sent one letter to a court of appeal — all of which identified him as an attorney in their captions and letterhead.
In aggravation, Singh had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, caused significant harm to the administration of justice by pursuing frivolous proceedings, and was also assigned limited aggravating weight for failing to accept responsibility for his misconduct by expressing remorse or showing an insight into its serious consequences.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing by entering into a stipulation related to facts and admission of documents. He was also allotted moderate mitigating weight for performing pro bono and community service work, which was substantial, but not recent or clear in scope.
In recommending that Singh’s discipline involve actual suspension, the panel noted: “We are concerned, as was the hearing judge, that he ‘used the courts as a means of intimidating those he had disputes with through his litigation.’”
State Bar No. 315032, Los Angeles (March 24, 2021)
Yadegari was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing a single act of professional misconduct: a taking analogous to theft involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying incident, Yadegari was shopping at a department store when another customer placed her luxury purse on the floor and walked away. Yadegari picked up the purse, concealed it with an item of clothing, and left the store. She says that once home, she realized the bag was not hers, but believed her mother’s assurances that she would return the purse to the store the next day. About a week later, Yadegari and her mother were shopping at the same store, when personnel there recognized Yadegari from surveillance footage and began an investigation.
When police interviewed the mother and daughter at their home, Yadegari said she took the purse at her mother’s request and direction; the mother retrieved the purse from a closet, and gave it to police. Both women were charged with one count of grand theft of property exceeding $950 (Cal. Penal Code Section 487(a)) — though Yadegari secured a court-approved civil compromise requiring a payment of $2,276, mental health counseling, and community service. She satisfied the conditions, and the case against her was dismissed without entering conviction.
In mitigation, Yadegari entered into a prefiling stipulation and provided letters from 11 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to her good character.
Hyunsoo Kenneth Ahn
State Bar No. 197144, San Francisco (March 26, 2021)
Ahn was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct involving commingling personal and client funds in his client trust account.
Over an eight-month period, Ahn deposited personal funds into the account five times; and in an eleven-month span, he issued several checks and made numerous withdrawals — all impermissible uses of the account.
In aggravation, Ahn committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 19 years and entered into a pretrial stipulation in the case.
Zulu Abdullah Ali
State Bar No. 252998, Riverside (March 26, 2021)
Ali was placed on probation for one year after contesting the hearing judge’s recommendation of 30 days of actual suspension. Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found him culpable of two counts of violating court orders in two separate client matters.
After its independent review of the record, however, the panel found the mitigating circumstances in the case outweighed the sole aggravating circumstance — warranting a downward departure from the usual applicable discipline standard.
In both client matters, Ali filed emergency petitions in the Ninth Circuit for review and stay of execution on behalf of clients facing deportation.
In one case, the court order stated that within 21 days, the petitioner was required to move for voluntary dismissal or show cause why it should not be transferred to another court. Ali initially filed no response, and later defended that he assumed the court would transfer the case on its own motion. While the court ultimately vacated the dismissal entered and transferred the case, it explicitly castigated Ali for repeatedly filing petitions in the wrong circuit, then failing to respond to court orders — warning that he could face sanctions if the conduct continued.
In the second case, the court issued a similarly-worded order, noting that the emergency petition was filed in the wrong venue. Ali subsequently claimed he was not culpable of violating the court order because he relied in good faith on a precedent in which the court kept a case in the interest of justice, despite the improper venue. The panel on panel found this defense “neither credible nor persuasive” — underscoring that the precedent was decided on the same day as the emergency petition was filed, making it implausible that Ali actually relied upon it, nor did he cite the case in his petition.
In aggravation, Ali had a prior record of discipline. The panel on appeal rejected the hearing judge’s finding of additional aggravation for significantly harming the administration of justice.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation as to facts and culpability, and presented good character evidence from nine individuals, as well as evidence of participating in numerous community service activities.
Tamara Shari Benefield
State Bar No. 225276, Beverly Hills (March 26, 2021)
Benefield was placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to three separate client matters.
Her wrongdoing included: receiving advanced fees from a third party without first obtaining the client’s informed written consent, seeking an agreement requiring a former client to withdraw a disciplinary complaint with the State Bar, and two counts of failing to provide clients with an accounting of the advanced fees they had paid.
In one case, Benefield was hired by an individual to represent two relatives — one involved in a family law matter, the other in the probate of an estate. The individual signed a fee agreement consenting to a fee of $500/hour and paid a total of $25,000 in advanced fees for the representation. Neither client gave informed written consent. About six weeks after being retained, Benefield advised the relative she intended to substitute out of both matters. Though Benefield sent the relative a check for $15,060, she did not provide an accounting of calculations from the total advanced fees paid until eight months following the initial request for a refund. Prior to this case, Benefield had received three separate warnings from the State Bar regarding the duty to render appropriate client accountings.
The second client case also involved Benefield’s failure to return a final accounting and refund after her services were terminated, despite several requests from the client.
And in the third case, a former client filed a complaint about Benefield with the State Bar after a fee dispute erupted following termination of their attorney/client relationship. The two ultimately reached a settlement concerning the fee dispute. However, the agreement Benefield drafted contained an impermissible condition: requiring that the former client withdraw “all claims and complaints with the California State Bar or any other entity or organization” to which she had presented the allegations against Benefield.
In aggravation, Benefield committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 14 years without a record of discipline, and submitted testimony from seven individuals — all of whom attested to her good character, as well as evidence of performing substantial community service. She also had suffered medical difficulties during the time of the misconduct, which are now abated.
Victor Rene Cannon
State Bar No. 159841, Van Nuys (March 26, 2021)
Cannon was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to failing to comply with conditions set out in a disciplinary order, a reproval, that had been imposed earlier.
Specifically, he failed to submit proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam and of attending the State Bar Ethics School and submitting proof of passing its final test as required.
In aggravation, Cannon had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and presented letters from 19 individuals taken from a range in the community — all of whom attested to his good character.
— Barbara Kate Repa
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