State Bar No. 217380, Garden Grove (August 20, 2021)
Kyncl was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, either in person or through counsel. The State Bar Court judge determined that all procedural requirements, including reasonable diligence in notification, had been satisfied. Kyncl did not subsequently seek to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
Consequently, the factual allegations in the notice of disciplinary charges were deemed admitted, and the court found they supported the conclusion that Kyncl was culpable as charged — a total of 13 counts of misconduct related to three client matters.
His wrongdoing included: failing to notify the State Bar of his change of address as required and three counts each of failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to inform his clients of significant case developments, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, and misappropriating client funds — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
Justin Moongyu Lee
State Bar No. 187507, Los Angeles (August 20, 2021)
Lee was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at the trial of the disciplinary charges filed against him. He did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
The case had a somewhat complicated history, as Lee had originally appeared at a pretrial conference represented by counsel; the matter then remained in abatement for eight years. A recent status report in the case included a letter from Lee stating he is currently serving a 10-year sentence in South Korea, was “surprised and dismayed” to learn his California case was still pending, and wished for a default to be entered in the matter.
He was found culpable of six of the seven counts charged — all of which related to a single case. The charges included failing to maintain client funds in trust, failing to communicate significant case developments to the clients, breaching his fiduciary duty to his clients by failing to safeguard their funds, failing to disclose a potential conflict to the clients in writing, and failing to promptly pay client funds upon their request, as well as one count involving moral turpitude: misappropriating $500,000 in entrusted client funds.
There were other abated disciplinary investigations pending against Lee at the time he was disbarred.
Jessica Esmeralda Matic
State Bar No. 300872, Long Island City, New York (August 11, 2021)
Matic was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in her disciplinary proceeding.
The State Bar Court judge recommended disbarment after receiving satisfactory proof that the notice of disciplinary charges had been properly served, that reasonable diligence had been used to notify her of the proceedings, that the default order had been properly entered, and that there was a satisfactory basis for imposing professional discipline.
Matic was found culpable of failing to provide substantive responses to two letters sent to her by State Bar investigators, thereby failing to cooperate and participate in its disciplinary investigation.
State Bar No. 194482, Huntington Beach (August 20, 2021)
Park was summarily disbarred after the State Bar Court received evidence of the finality of her convictions of visa fraud (18 U.S.C. Section 1546(a)) and making, subscribing and authorizing filing a false tax return (26 U.S.C. Section 7206(1)).
Both offenses are felonies involving moral turpitude.
Ruth Ellen Ratzlaff
State Bar No. 87615, Kingsburg (August 11, 2021)
Ratzlaff was disbarred by default after she did not participate, either in person or through counsel, in the disciplinary proceeding in which she was charged with failing to comply with conditions imposed earlier in a probation order. Specifically, she failed to schedule an initial meeting with her assigned probation specialist, failed to review and submit a declaration attesting to her review of the Rules of Professional Conduct and State Bar Act as directed, and failed to file three quarterly written reports when due.
Ratzlaff had actual notice of the scheduled proceedings. After the State Bar contacted her about the charges filed, she replied by email that she did not intend to attend.
Charles Timothy Schultz
State Bar No. 112388, Riverside (August 20, 2021)
Schultz was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding. He did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
The State Bar Court judge found that all procedural requirements had been met in the case, including reasonable diligence used to notify Schultz of the instant proceeding, and that there was an adequate factual basis for disciplinary misconduct.
He was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct. The first: disobeying a court order by failing to file a declaration of compliance as required for a suspended attorney (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20). The second count was failing to comply with conditions of his disciplinary probation as required — specifically: failing to schedule and participate in an initial meeting with the Office of Probation, failing to pay and provide proof of restitution, failing to participate in fee arbitration, failing to provide proof of having reviewed the Rules of Professional Conduct, failing to file three quarterly written reports and one final report, and failing to attend the State Bar’s Ethics School.
Schultz had one previous record of discipline for professional misconduct at the time he was disbarred.
Fernando Fabela Chavez
State Bar No. 86902, San Jose (August 20, 2021)
Chavez was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years after appealing the hearing judge’s recommendation of that same discipline.
In the original case and on appeal, Chavez was found culpable of failing to comply with the notice mandates for suspended attorneys ordered by the court in his prior disciplinary case (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and of making material misrepresentations to a court — an act involving moral turpitude.
The California Supreme Court finalized its order of professional discipline in Chavez’s prior case. That order suspending him from practice became effective in April 2017, but even before it became final, he began transferring responsibility for pending cases to other attorneys and also engaged a lawyer familiar with discipline matters to advise him on complying. Chavez stipulated that he remained the attorney of record in four cases, but had not filed the requisite notices of suspension with the courts. Rule 9.20 also requires suspended attorneys to notify clients by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, which Chavez also failed to do.
The misrepresentation count was premised on the fact that Chavez completed and filed a compliance declaration that his counsel had filled out for him in advance; in fact, he had not performed the tasks attested to when he signed and filed it.
In imposing discipline, the State Bar Court judge underscored: “Compliance with Rule 9.20 is critically important because it ensures that all concerned parties learn of an attorney’s discipline and allows the Supreme Court to monitor compliance with conditions of suspension.”
In aggravation, Chavez had a prior record of discipline, which the court noted had also included culpability involving moral turpitude.
In mitigation, he entered into a detailed stipulation and presented five testifying witnesses and a declaration from an additional witness — all of whom vouched for his good character.
Ty Odell Clevenger
State Bar No. 216094, Brooklyn, New York (August 11, 2021)
Clevenger was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after a reciprocal proceeding based on his professional misconduct in Texas and Washington, D.C. He had been disciplined in both those jurisdictions.
A hearing judge for the California State Bar Court found Clevenger’s misconduct in Texas and D.C. also constituted disciplinary violations in this state. He appealed — arguing the judge misconstrued the other jurisdictions’ orders. After an independent review, the State Bar Court panel concluded that the misconduct at issue warranted reciprocal discipline in California and found, contrary to Clevenger’s assertion, that the D.C. proceeding afforded fundamental constitutional protection.
The underlying Texas and D.C. matters involved roughly similar types of professional misconduct. In Texas, Clevenger was found culpable of filing an action that “unreasonably increased the costs or other burdens of the case or unreasonable delayed its resolution.” In D.C., Clevenger filed multiple motions in a case, and continued to do so even after being explicitly warned that “the court looks with extreme disfavor upon unnecessary submissions and will not hesitate to impose sanctions upon their filings.” He was eventually sanctioned $123, 802, and an additional $30,935 jointly and severally with his client for frivolous filings, as well as facing a potential injunction barring future filings.
The panel on appeal rejected Clevenger’s claims that the hearing judge below had misconstrued the other jurisdictions’ disciplinary orders and that the D.C. proceedings lacked constitutional protections. However, it recommended an actual suspension of six months rather than one year as the hearing judge had recommended after considering the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case, as well as the fact that Clevenger had practice law for eight years discipline-free since the underlying misconduct.
In aggravation, Clevenger committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed the administration of justice and demonstrated a lack of insight into the wrongfulness of his actions.
In mitigation, he was allotted limited mitigating weight for discipline-free practice of just over seven years in California that was deemed “not a significant period of time” before the original misconduct and for character witnesses who were not taken from a wide range in the community and were not aware of the full extent of his misconduct. He was also allotted credit for having practiced law in Texas for eight years without evidence of additional misconduct.
State Bar No. 30899, Santa Rosa (August 20, 2021)
Friedman was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct related to two client matters.
In one case, he was culpable of failing to promptly release his client’s papers and property after being requested to do so, as well as two counts each of failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries and failing to perform legal services with competence. In that matter, Friedman was hired to sue his client’s tenants. A jury found in favor of the tenants, awarding them $47,685. Friedman filed a notice of appeal contesting the award in both the trial and appellate courts; his appellate appeal was dismissed due to his failure to file the cover sheet the court requested, though he did not inform the client. Friedman also filed an abuse of process lawsuit against the tenants, alleging they sought to collect on the judgment despite knowing an appeal was pending. That was met with an Anti-SLAPP motion to strike, which was granted after the court noted no opposition to it had been filed.
In the second client case, Friedman was culpable of three counts of misconduct: failing to perform with competence, failing to maintain the required balance in his client trust account, and misappropriating client funds — an act involving moral turpitude. There, he represented a client in personal injury and racial discrimination claims, accepting $1,060 in advanced fees, then failed to take action on either of the cases. He subsequently used $350 from his client trust account, erroneously believing he was entitled to the funds as his fee. He did not respond to the client’s later request for a full refund.
In aggravation, Friedman committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law discipline-free for more than 50 years.
Bernard Paul Kenneally
State Bar No. 113160, Walnut Creek (August 20, 2021)
Kenneally was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing 10 counts of professional misconduct related to a single client.
His wrongdoing included: failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to deposit entrusted funds in a client trust account, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged, failing to obey court orders, improperly withdrawing form employment, and failing to respond to numerous reasonable client inquiries, as well as two counts of failing to perform legal services with competence. He was also culpable of two counts of misconduct involving acts involving moral turpitude: making a material misrepresentation to a court and misappropriating client funds for his own use.
In one matter, Kenneally served as corporate and personal counsel for a client who owned two businesses, suing some former employees for embezzlement. The case was removed to federal court after one of the defendants filed for bankruptcy. Kenneally initially requested an extension to file an opposition in the case, but missed the deadline; he made the unsupported claim that he was unable to complete the opposition because of his client’s illness. He had earlier been sanctioned for failing to timely file separate statements of fact in the case — and was sanctioned again for failing to file the opposition. The case was eventually dismissed due to Kenneally’s failure to prosecute it.
In a second case involving the same client. Kenneally was paid $7,500 to handle a tax matter for a real estate partnership and family trust. Kenneally requested an additional $5,000, allegedly for software needed to complete the tax documentation; the client paid that amount, though Kenneally did not deposit the check into his client account, nor did he purchase the software. He ultimately failed to complete the tax returns as promised, rendering the client unable to obtain to obtain the business loans he sought.
State Bar investigators attempted to contact Kenneally through phone calls, letters, and email messages, but he failed to respond or provide the information they sought.
In aggravation, Kenneally had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case that substantially harmed his client, and failed to make complete restitution.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided evidence from eight individuals taken from the legal and general communities who attested to his good character.
David Richard Lamarre
State Bar No. 154787, Larkspur (August 20, 2021)
Lamarre was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for four years after completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP).
Lamarre had three cases involving alcohol-related offenses.
In the first, he was convicted of the misdemeanor of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(b)), an admitted allegation of a blood alcohol level of .25% (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23578), and admitted allegation of a prior conviction of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher within 10 years.
In the second case, he was convicted of the misdemeanor of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with an admitted prior conviction (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23152(a)).
And in the third consolidated case, he was convicted of the felonies of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher with three or more prior convictions within 10 years (Cal. Veh. Code Sections 23152(b) and 23550(a)) on two occasions.
Lamarre stipulated to being culpable of all four alcohol-related driving offenses.
In aggravation, Lamarre committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, cooperated with the State Bar in its investigation of his wrongdoing, had practiced law for approximately 22 years before his first conviction occurred, and submitted evidence of suffering from emotional difficulties with a causal connection to the misconduct at issue. His successful completion of the ADP was deemed an additional mitigating circumstance, entitling him to discipline on the lower range of the standards.
Marc Alan Legget
State Bar No. 132997, Beverly Hills (August 20, 2021)
Legget was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing nine acts of professional misconduct related to three client cases.
His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to promptly release a client’s papers and property after his services were terminated,and failing to promptly respond to reasonable client inquiries; as well as two counts each of failing to render appropriate accountings of client funds, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, and failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments.
In one case, the State Bar contacted Legget after receiving a complaint from one of his clients; he called and requested an extension of the deadline to respond. However, despite at least seven more communiques by telephone and email, Legget failed to submit a response or otherwise participate in the State Bar’s investigation.
In the second matter, Legget was hired to represent a client in an unlawful detainer matter, accepting $2,500 in advanced fees. Legget filed a summons and complain in the case, but the court issued an order to show cause regarding the failure to file a proof of service. The client subsequently contacted Legget several times, inquiring whether he could move back into his property. Legget eventually responded, but did not inform the client that the unlawful detainer action would be dismissed because the tenant tendered possession of the property, and that the case could be converted to a civil matter. The client attempted to communicate with Legget at least 17 more times — the last time informing him he had filed a complaint with the State Bar — but Legget did not respond, nor did he respond to numerous inquiries from the State Bar investigators seeking additional information.
And in the final matter, Legget was hired to represent a client in some business litigation — accepting $4,500 in advanced fees; their fee agreement stated he was entitled to 40% of the client’s recovery in settlement or judgment. Opposing counsel sent a formal demand to settle the case for $120,000, also making supplemental discovery requests. Legget did not inform the client of the settlement offer, nor did he inform him of the discovery request. The court ultimate continued the final status conference and trial in the case due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, Legget did not inform the client, who eventually hired new counsel. Legget failed to provide the new counsel with the case file or the accounting requested.
In aggravation, Legget committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated indifference toward his misconduct by continuing to fail to provide the requested accounting and client file — despite State Bar intervention.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law discipline-free for nearly 30 years without a record of discipline.
Alan Louis Mohill
State Bar No. 57836, Winchester (August 20, 2021)
Mohill was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to promptly distribute undisputed funds belonging to atheclient after being requested to do so, failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged, and making a false and misleading endorsement on a check before depositing it — an act involving moral turpitude.
Mohill represented a client in a pending personal injury matter involving her deceased father, substituting her in as the plaintiff. The case eventually settled for $5,000. Mohill deposited the settlement check, which was payable to him and the client, into his client trust account, signing her name as an endorsement without her knowledge or approval.
After the client made several requests for her share of the settlement that went unsatisfied, she filed a complaint against Mohill with the State Bar. He did not respond to several of the State Bar investigator’s queries and requests for information. After several months, an investigator learned while talking with the client that Mohill had moved offices.
The client was subsequently able to contact Mohill, who sent her a check for $2,500. Though she disputed the amount received, she used the amount received to pay a credit card bill and reimburse a relative who had paid her initial legal fees.
Mohill’s check was returned for insufficient funds. He eventually issued a replacement check for $3,000.
In mitigation, Mohill entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 47 years without a records of discipline, and suffered from health-related difficulties during the time of the misconduct.
Steven John Moore
State Bar No. 186179, Santa Cruz (August 11, 2021)
Moore was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing one count of professional misconduct: communicating with a juror during a trial.
Moore, an assistant district attorney, prosecuted a jury trial in which the defendant was charged with multiple counts of child molestation and faced a sentence of life in prison. After the prosecution and defense rested their presentations of evidence but before closing arguments took place, one of the jurors was excused to attend an interview for medical school out of town. Moore approached the former juror and asked for her phone number so that he could discuss her impressions of the case with him.
They subsequently spoke by telephone for 30 to 60 minutes — with the former juror giving her impressions of the witnesses who had testified. She later sent Moore a text message, stating she had found one of defense counsel’s arguments to be unpersuasive.
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 105 years-to-life in prison. Moore’s communications with the excused juror were discovered when new defense counsel filed a motion for a new trial. While that motion was denied, the court noted that Moore’s communications violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (Cal. R. Prof Cond., R. 5-320(B)). The claim of improper conduct was included in an appeal, which is still pending.
In aggravation, Moore had a prior record of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and provided letters from 11 individuals taken from the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to Moore’s good moral character and legal ability.
Robert Phillip Odle
State Bar No. 126128, Colorado Springs, Colorado (August 11, 2021)
Odle was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to being culpable of professional misconduct committed in another jurisdiction. The State Bar Court judge determined that, as a matter of law, the misconduct adjudicated in that jurisdiction also warranted professional discipline under California laws and rules.
Odle, who was licensed to practice in both Colorado and California, was hired through a nonprofit organization in Colorado to represent a woman who had been sexually and physically abused and was seeking a restraining order against a former boyfriend. The boyfriend had given her numerous glasses of wine before raping her.
Odle developed a personal interest in the client — asking her on dates, sending romantic text messages, and offering to bring her Xanax and wine before massaging her to sleep; he also erroneously told he was no longer her attorney before asking her for dates. She declined all advances.
In another Colorado matter, Odle agreed to represent a client in a dispute with a property management company — indicating he would do the work pro bono. However, after requesting various documents, he did not follow up or talk with the client for more than a year, even after the client had been contacted by a collections agency.
And in the third matter, Odle represented a client who was the sole executor and heir in a probate matter. The decedent, who had received Medicaid assistance, had owned a condo that was sold before Medicaid filed any claim on the property. Odle failed to inform the client of the potential claim, failed to respond to the client’s numerous inquiries on case status, and failed to maintain an appropriate balance in his Colorado client trust account after depositing advanced fees the client had paid into it.
In aggravation, Odle committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients — one of whom was highly vulnerable after being sexually assaulted and another who was sent to a collections agency, and also failed to report to the California State Bar that he had been disciplined in another jurisdiction.
Victor Salas, Jr.
State Bar No. 138107, Ventura (August 11, 2021)
Salas was suspended from practicing law for one year and placed on probation for one year after participating in the Lawyer Assistance Program and successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). He was given credit for the 14-month period of inactive enrollment previously imposed.
In the underlying disciplinary matter, Salas had earlier stipulated that he willfully sought to mislead a judge and failed to maintain client funds in a trust account, and was also culpable of two counts each of failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant developments, accepting fees from a nonclient, and engaging in conduct involving moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Salas had two prior records of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation — and successfully completed the ADP, which the State Bar Court judge noted was the prime motivator in recommending that the standard’s lower level of discipline should be imposed.
David Shih-Kun Sheen
State Bar No. 215625, Fremont (August 20, 2021)
Sheen was suspended from practicing law for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he successfully completed the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). He also participated in the Lawyer Assistance program.
The instant disciplinary matter involved five notices of disciplinary charges, which were consolidated.
Sheen stipulated to committing numerous counts of professional misconduct. His wrongdoing included: two counts of failing to provide clients with appropriate accountings; four counts of failing to keep clients reasonable informed of significant case developments; six counts of failing to return unearned advanced fees; eight counts each of failing to deposit client funds in a trust account and of engaging in moral turpitude; and 10 counts of failing to perform legal services with competence.
In aggravation, Sheen committed multiple acts of misconduct, caused significant harm to his clients — many of whom were highly vulnerable, and failed to make restitution.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for 15 years without a record of discipline, cooperated with the State Bar by stipulating to facts and culpability, produced evidence of extreme physical difficulties — and successfully completed the ADP.
Leland Alan Stark
State Bar No. 54621, Santa Monica (August 11, 2021)
Stark was suspended from the practice of law for nine months and placed on probation for three years after being found culpable of six counts of professional misconduct — all of them related to a single client matter.
In an amended response to his notice of disciplinary charges, he admitted culpability for failing to maintain proper client records and commingling personal and client funds. In addition, he was found culpable of failing to withdraw funds from his trust account after they had become fixed, failing to maintain client funds in a trust account, failing to promptly distribute funds owed a client, and misappropriating client funds — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Stark represented an elderly couple in a personal injury matter. Only the husband signed the retainer agreement, and he later testified that his wife “got confused easily,” so left many matters to him to handle.
The case settled, with the insurance company issuing two initial checks totaling $245,000, which Stark deposited into his client trust account. He subsequently paid himself and transferred a total of nearly $84,750 of the funds electronically to pay personal expenses. Final settlement checks, totaling $120,000, were also deposited into Stark’s clint trust account, without the clients’ endorsements. Stark was not able to produce an accounting or other paperwork related to the client funds.
As the case unfolded, contractual medical lienholders were owed $65,210, and there was an additional Medicare lien totaling approximately $4,550, which Stark eventually paid. He paid the clients the $200,000 after the notice of disciplinary charges were filed against him, but did not satisfy the contractual medical liens. The clients and Stark had differing interpretations about whether the agreed contingency fee was 33 1/3 percent or 40 percent.
An additional complication in the case: Stark and one of the medical lienholders had difficulties in their negotiations; the lienholder eventually filed a complaint with the State Bar, which was closed because the alleged misconduct was part of the investigation of the clients’ case alleging wrongdoing.
The State Bar Court judge concluded: “In weighing the credibility of the witnesses and the lack of corroboration by Stark, the court finds that Stark had exerted little or no effort in settling the contractual medical liens on receipt of the final medical payment.”
In aggravation, Stark demonstrated a continuing indifference to the reality and consequences of his misconduct, caused substantial harm to his clients who were vulnerable as elderly and injured, and was given limited aggravating weight for committing multiple acts of misconduct — some of which were redundant, as well as for some uncharged conduct: an additional act of misappropriation to which Stark testified.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and was allotted moderate weight for having practiced law for more than 45 years without a record of discipline, as the court found it was tempered by his lack of candor during the State Bar’s investigation of the wrongdoing alleged.
Troy Alvord Stewart
State Bar No. 135764, Glendale (August 20, 2021)
Stewart was suspended for 90 days and placed on probation for two years after both he and the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC) of the State Bar appealed the hearing judge’s findings of culpability on five of the seven counts of professional misconduct charged and the recommendation of three years of actual suspension.
On appeal, Stewart argued that all charges should be dismissed; the OCTC sought disbarment.
Upon independent review, the State Bar Court panel found Stewart culpable of three counts: maintaining unjust actions, failing to report sanctions imposed to the State Bar, and failing to pay the court-ordered sanctions.
In the underlying matter, Stewart represented two brothers in litigation involving a family trust. Both were named beneficiaries; a third brother was the trustee. The clients were ordered to vacate a residence, the trust’s principal asset, so that the trustee brother could make repairs and sell the property.
Stewart appealed the eviction and the two brothers deposited $216,000 to stay the pending eviction during the appeal. Stewart subsequently filed bankruptcy petitions on behalf of both brothers. The probate court eventually entered a judgment against the brothers for loss of use and occupancy during the eviction appeal in the amount of $192,660.
Stewart directly appealed the probate court’s actions. He also initiated a superior court lawsuit to have the probate court judgment set aside, alleging the court made an extrinsic mistake because one of the brothers did not have the opportunity to participate in the evidentiary hearing due to an automatic stay issued in his bankruptcy case. Both the hearing judge and panel on appeal found the superior court lawsuit had no proper legal basis — characterizing it as “a collateral attack” on the probate court judgment.
Stewart also filed an adversary proceeding against the trustee brother in one of his client’s bankruptcy cases. The hearing judge and panel on appeal also found this action was unjust and had been filed for an improper purpose, as based on a violation of an automatic stay in the bankruptcy proceeding.
And finally, both the hearing judge and panel found Stewart culpable of failing to pay sanctions imposed by court order and report them to the State Bar as mandated.
In aggravation, Stewart committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and demonstrated indifference to the consequences of his actions by maintaining his insistence that discipline was unwarranted.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for approximately 25 years without a record of discipline.
Peter Wade Timewell
State Bar No. 115235, Loomis (August 20, 2021)
Timewell was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to earlier pleading nolo contendere to one count of driving under the under influence of alcohol, causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code Section 23153(a)). The offense is a felony.
Timewell subsequently petitioned to reduce the charges to misdemeanors and withdraw his guilty plea; the court granted his motions.
In the underlying incident, Timewell was driving at a high speed when he crashed into a car stopped at a red light — causing a chain reaction with three other cars. All five vehicles were damaged, and Timewell and the other drivers sustained injuries. Investigating officers found Timewell sitting on a center median at the scene; he admitted he was driving with a suspended license, but misrepresented that he had been stopped at a red light, then struck from behind by another driver. He failed field sobriety tests, and a subsequent blood test revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .14 percent.
Timewell had three prior DUI convictions at the time.
The State Br Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the instant violation involved moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Timewell committed multiple acts of wrongdoing (four DUI convictions) and caused significant physical and psychological harm to others.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for 19 years discipline-free before his first DUI conviction, produced 15 letters from a range of references in the legal and general communities attesting to his good character, and produced evidence of performing substantial community service — especially in helping others struggling with alcohol addiction. He was also allotted mitigating weight for remaining sober for 17 years since the misconduct at issue, as verified by his longtime treating physician.
Kayretha Hale Willis
State Bar No. 134091, Los Angeles (August 11, 2021)
Willis was suspended for one year and placed on probation for two years after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which she was found culpable of eight counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
Her wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, collecting an illegal advanced fee, seeking to mislead a judge, failing to obey a court order, failing to promptly release a client’s file, failing to render an accounting of client funds, failing to cooperate in a State Bar investigation, and filing false and misleading document with a court — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In the underlying matter, Willis was retained as counsel to prepare a second and final accounting of a special needs trust. The client paid initial advanced fees of $7,500 from personal funds, and additional payments of $6,960 and $870 from the special needs trust account. Willis did not obtain prior court authority for the trust disbursements.
Several petitions and accountings Willis filed with the court noted only that the amount of attorney’s fees was “to be determined.” The documents did not include an amount for these fees, nor did Willis file a declaration as to the value of her services for the court to approve.
Approximately 7 ½ years after hiring Willis, the client hired new counsel who made several requests for the case file, which went ignored. After several exchanges and hearings to show cause as to why the complete case files were not turned over as requested, the court concluded that approximately $17,000 of the special needs trust funds were unaccounted for — and it was likely the matter would be closed without a complete accounting due to Willis’ loss of the requisite documentation. Willis was ordered to disgorge $22,330 in funds that had been paid to her in the matter and denied her request for attorney’s fees.
She appealed, but did not move to have the disgorgement order or pending order to show cause hearing stayed or vacated — nor did she respond to several requests for additional information sent by a State Bar investigator. The appellate court subsequently rejected Willis’ claim that she had not received proper notice of the order to show cause hearing and affirmed the order requiring disgorgement — underscoring that the order was based on her negligence and failure to provide competent legal services.
In aggravation, Willis had two prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed her client, failed to make restitution in the matter, and demonstrated indifference and a lack of insight by blaming the misconduct at issue on her client instead of owning responsibility.
In mitigation, she entered into a stipulation as to facts and admission of documents, presented evidence of good character through seven witnesses at trial and letters from an additional 13 individuals — some of whom also vouched for her extensive involvement in community service.
David Anthony Alessi
State Bar No. 229807, Las Vegas, Nevada (August 20, 2021)
Alessi was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three counts of professional misconduct related to mishandling of client funds, as adjudicated in another jurisdiction.
Though not licensed to practice law in Nevada, Alessi was a member and managing partner of a multijurisdictional practice that primarily handled homeowner’s association collections and foreclosures. Beginning around 2012, when homeowner foreclosure was highly contested due to the high priority given the liens involved, creditors of foreclosed properties began suing in actions for wrongful foreclosure and quiet title — which were generally reduced to claims against excess proceeds in bankruptcy court.
Relying on advice of Nevada counsel, Alessi’s firm instituted a policy of defending those lawsuits, then billing the cost of defense against the excess proceeds. In one month, the firm turned over nearly $3 million in excess proceeds to the bankruptcy trustee — a substantial share of which was not kept in a trust account, but consolidated from other sources, constituting improper commingling under Nevada law.
In a plea agreement submitted to the Southern Nevada Disciplinary Board, Alessi admitted to knowingly commingling client funds with personal and operating funds, transferring excess proceeds from his firm’s trust account to its operating account without obtaining prior court approval, and failing to safekeep and turn over funds obtained from foreclosure sales as required.
The California State Bar Court judge determined that the professional misconduct determined in Nevada also warranted imposing discipline in this state.
In aggravation, Alessi was given weight for the uncharged violation of failing to report his Nevada discipline to the State Bar of California as statutorily required.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately eight years without a record of discipline, acted in the good faith belief that his conduct was lawful, and submitted declarations from 12 individuals –all of whom were aware of the full extent of his misconduct, but attested to his good character.
— Barabara Kate Repa