Robert John Fletcher
State Bar No. 119770, Tulare (November 11, 2021)
Fletcher was disbarred by default. He had filed an initial response to the notice of disciplinary charges alleging five counts of professional misconduct related to a single case. He had also appeared at a subsequent settlement conference, and filed a stipulation as to facts in the case, but failed to appear at the trial of the matter.
He was placed on involuntary inactive status, and did not move to have the default entered against him set aside or vacated.
The factual allegations in the original notice were then deemed admitted, and the State Bar Court judge determined that they supported a finding of culpability on all counts charged.
Fletcher’s wrongdoing included: failing to support the law by breaching fiduciary duties owed to a trust beneficiary, and failing to administer the trust in accordance with controlling legal provisions (Cal. Prob. Code Sections 16000, 16040, and 16060). He was also found culpable of three counts involving moral turpitude: one count related to his mishandling of trust assets and two related to intentionally and willfully misappropriating more than $314,263 in trust assets that beneficiaries were entitled to receive.
Sergio J. Lopez de Tirado
State Bar No. 259288, Norco (November 11, 2021)
Lopez de Tirado was disbarred by default after he failed to respond to the notice of disciplinary charges filed against him. The State Bar Court judge concluded that all requirements for notice had been satisfied. In response to queries from the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, Lopez de Tirado’s wife stated that that her husband was incarcerated, and provided a copy of the power of attorney authorizing her to receive mail on his behalf.
The matter was initially abated due to Lopez de Tirado’s unavailability, but the abatement was terminated after he failed to appear at a remote status conference scheduled by the court. Neither a response to the charges nor a motion to set aside or vacated the default subsequently entered in the case was filed.
Lopez de Tirado was found culpable of the misconduct charged: failing to comply with conditions imposed in an earlier probation order. Specifically, he failed to timely submit three quarterly written reports, and failed to make and provide proof of restitution to his clients as ordered.
When Lopez de Tirado was disbarred, he had four prior records of discipline and there was one pending non-public disciplinary matter related to his criminal conviction.
State Bar No. 296073, Los Angeles (November 11, 2021)
Hidalgo was 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 keep his clients reasonably informed of significant case developments, failing to return unearned advanced fees, failing to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to a represented client, and failing to properly supervise a paralegal in the case who engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
In the underlying matter, a married couple hired Hidalgo to handle an immigration appeal on behalf of the husband, who was at risk of removal from the United States. They paid $500 in advanced fees.
After accepting the fees, however, Hidalgo did not formally enter the case, nor did he perform any substantial work on it. The clients communicated solely with Hidalgo’s paralegal, who assisted them in filling out work authorization forms.
While awaiting their files, Hidalgo resigned from law practice with charges pending against him and was disbarred by the Board of Immigration Appeals, though he did not inform the clients of his status. Hidalgo then terminated all of his former staff except for a paralegal, who was assisting with winding down the practice and ceased all involvement with his former legal cases.
After that time, however, the paralegal secured an additional $2,500 in advanced and expected filing fees from the clients, and prepared and filed a pro se petition for review on their behalf. Over the next two years — even after Hidalgo’s office was closed and all staff had been terminated — the paralegal continued to file motions and other actions in the case, which was ultimately dismissed for failure to prosecute.
The clients eventually hired a new attorney, learned that the case had been dismissed, and filed a formal complaint with the State Bar.
In aggravation, Hidalgo had a prior record of discipline, and was allotted additional aggravating weight for factors to which he stipulated in connection with prior misconduct charged that overlapped with the instant case: committing multiple acts of wrongdoing, engaging in a pattern of misconduct, and causing harm to highly vulnerable clients.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation and was also allotted mitigating credit derived from the prior discipline case for evidence of good character, entering a pretrial stipulation in that case, paying restitution, demonstrating remorse for his wrongdoing, and submitting evidence of suffering severe stress due to strains of family relationships and finances.
Justin Terrence Mixon
State Bar No. 233198, Elk Grove (November 11, 2021)
Mixon was placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing one count of professional misconduct: breaching his fiduciary duty by failing to properly maintain opposing party’s personal property in a place of safekeeping.
In the underlying matter, Mixon represented two individuals under an elder abuse restraining order. The two had been entrusted to manage the affairs of an older person during his lengthy hospitalization; instead, they took many of his valuable possessions, transferred title to his home, and emptied money from his financial accounts.
The clients delivered several items to Mixon’s office — including a samurai sword, four bayonets, two pool cues, and documents relating to the sale of the elder’s truck. Mixon notified opposing counsel that the items were available to be picked up — moving them from a back area to an open space near the receptionist’s desk — and filed a response to the restraining order in which the clients agreed to turn them over. Four months later, opposing counsel relayed a message that the elder gentleman’s caretaker would retrieve the property from Mixon’s office. The caretaker received the documents evidencing the truck sale, but the other tangible items, which were valued at $16,364.42, were missing. Mixon tendered that amount as restitution for the missing items.
In aggravation, Mixon’s misconduct harmed an individual, who lost a valuable part of a unique collection.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for approximately 14 years without a record of discipline, entered into a pretrial stipulation, and provided letters from nine individuals — three former clients and six attorneys — all of whom attested to his good character and honesty.
Ryan Alessandro Woods
State Bar No. 310150, Santa Monica (November 11, 2021)
Woods was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing nine acts of professional misconduct related to four separate matters — all related to mismanagement of client funds.
His wrongdoing included: failing to maintain proper records of fees paid, as well as two counts each of collecting illegal fees, commingling personal funds in his client trust account, issuing checks and making withdrawals from the account to pay personal expenses, and failing to inform clients in writing that they were entitled to have a flat fee deposited into his trust account and refunded if unearned.
Woods owned and operated an online legal services business, maintaining two client trust accounts. He also opened a line of credit with a lender, listing those accounts as business assets and granting the lender access to the account.
Most of the misconduct at issue related to Woods’ practice of using the trust accounts as business operating accounts and granting the third party access to it. The evidence revealed he had commingled personal funds in client trust accounts 25 times, had withdrawn funds from the accounts to pay personal or business expenses 18 times, failed to hold client fees in trust after failing to advise them of their rights with respect to flat fee payments, and twice collecting nonrefundable fees.
In aggravation, Woods committed multiple acts of misconduct and showed indifference to the consequences of his wrongdoing by failing to alter his financial business practices after being warned by the State Bar to do so several times.
In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation admitting culpability, and his misconduct harmed no clients — as there were no client funds in the trust accounts when the commingling occurred.
— Barbara Kate Repa