John Cameron Bolliger
State Bar No. 159254, Hailey, Idaho (February 12, 2022)
Bolliger was disbarred after he stipulated to committing several counts of professional misconduct in another jurisdiction; he had also stipulated to committing the misconduct in that case.
Bolliger had been admitted to practice law in Washington a few years after being admitted in both California and Idaho. In the underlying matter, he handled some estate planning matters for a client suffering from dementia who was a resident in an assisted living facility in Washington. He prepared a financial durable power of attorney for the client, appointing himself as attorney-in-fact, as well as a healthcare power of attorney — again, naming himself as the proxy for decisionmaking.
The client’s stepson, who had previously been the client’s legal representative in medical and financial matters, suspected the client’s friend’s son of potential abuse, and filed a petition for a vulnerable adult order of protection as well as a petition of guardianship — and requested a court declaration that the estate planning documents Bolliger prepared were void due to the client’s lack of capacity.
The court denied Bolliger’s request to be appointed as counsel in the guardianship action, confirmed the client’s stepson as power of attorney for healthcare, and directed the newly appointed guardian to take control of the client’s finances.
Bolliger then drafted a new will for the client, naming himself as personal representative. He continued to identify himself as the client’s attorney in subsequent legal actions — including requests that financial institutions forward copies of the client’s account records to him. The court ultimately issued an order of protection prohibiting Bolliger from contacting the client and from interfering in any related legal, financial, and healthcare matters. In a subsequent action, the court appointed a full guardianship for the client, and declared that the will Bolliger had drafted was invalid.
After the client’s death, Bolliger petitioned to be appointed as personal representative in the probate proceedings, failing to mention the order of protection and attaching a copy of the will he had drafted, which he knew had been declared invalid.
After the local court of appeals issued two unpublished opinions related to Bolliger’s actions in the case, he entered into a stipulation with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Washington State Bar Association, admitting he had committed 10 acts of professional misconduct in the matter — including moral turpitude.
As a matter of law, the culpability determined in the Washington proceeding also warrants imposing professional discipline in California.
In aggravation, Bolliger committed multiple acts of wrongdoing involving a highly vulnerable client that significantly harmed the administration of justice.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law in various jurisdictions for a total of 20 years without a record of discipline.
Philip W. Cox
State Bar No. 224893, Seal Beach (February 12, 2022)
Cox 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 entered against him set aside or vacated.
The State Bar Court judge determined that all the due process requirements, including adequate notice, had been properly satisfied.
Cox was found culpable of failing to comply with the specified conditions of a reproval order set out in an earlier discipline case.
Robin Douglas Dakan
State Bar No. 76181, Los Gatos (February 12, 2022)
Dakan was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, in his disciplinary proceeding consolidating two counts of professional misconduct: one count of failing to obey a court order and a conviction referral matter.
He did not respond to the initial petition for disbarment, nor did he move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated. The State Bar Court judge determined that there had been proper service, actual notice, proper entry of a default, and a satisfactory factual basis for discipline in the case.
Dakan was the sole caretaker for his wife, who was bedridden with Parkinsonian Syndrome over a period of two years. During that time, he left her alone for as long as 12 hours — without food or water, without adult diapers, and in a room in which the lights did not work. When the wife’s friend, a doctor, urged Dakan to seek immediate medical treatment for his wife, he ignored the advice. The wife told family and friends about several incidents of abuse: that Dakan would call her names, drag her to the bathroom by her hair, and spit on her. An Adult Protective Services nurse who eventually went to investigate found the wife with an irregular pulse and very low oxygen level, her body covered with bedsores, and the sheets and clothing fused to her body with feces and debris.
The county district attorney charged Dakan with one felony count of elder and dependent adult abuse (Cal. Penal Code Section 368(b)(1)), and a jury found him guilty.
The State Bar Court judge did not expand upon the charged failure to file the requisite declaration of compliance (Cal. R. of Court, Rule 9.20) in the decision, but found the facts and circumstances underlying the felony charge involved moral turpitude, and underscored that Dakan’s failure to care for his wife constituted “such a serious breach of duty owed to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law or for societal norms, that knowledge of the attorney’s conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in ad respect for the legal profession.”
Dakan had one prior record of professional misconduct at the time he was disbarred.
Amir Sam Dibaei
State Bar No. 275798, United Kingdom (February 12, 2022)
Dibaei was disbarred after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which he was found culpable of 10 counts of professional misconduct related to two matters.
An eight-day hearing was eventually held after Dibaei had filed several motions to disqualify the State Bar Court judge — that trial, the court noted, “strung out over six months due to Respondent’s disqualification motions, interlocutory petitions, failures to appear for trial, and other actions causing delay.” The dispositive opinion began with an explanation of the court’s credibility determinations — finding Dibaei’s testimony was “strategically evasive” and “largely uncorroborated and self-serving.”
In one case, he was found culpable of entering into an improper business transaction with a client, two counts each of failing to render accounts of client funds and failing to promptly distribute client funds — and three counts involving moral turpitude: one count of improperly taking client funds and two counts of overreaching. In the second case, he was found culpable of making a material misrepresentation to a client and engaging in a coercive act — both of which involved moral turpitude.
In one of the cases at issue, Dibaei represented four student athletes, alleging their high school had violated their civil rights. Their agreement provided that Dibaei was entitled to either his hourly fee of $75 or a contingency fee of 35 percent of any recovery.
The matter settled for $385,000. Dibaei deposited the settlement check in his client trust account.
The misconduct allegations in the instant case relate to his handling of the settlement for two of the student athletes. One of them executed a settlement agreement resolving his civil rights claims for $60,000. However, Dibaei advised him that before he could receive the funds, he and his parents would need to sign a waiver and release of all claims against him. Several days later, Dibaei communicated he was no longer willing to making an appointment for the client to collect the check because his bookkeeper had reviewed the file and decided the client would not sign the waiver, as he could expect to receive “something between 31k to 33k.”Dibaei did not provide any accounting of the fees and costs, despite numerous requests to do so, and sent many email messages over the next four and a-half months laced with insults, and informing the client he would begin billing for his time at a rate of $250 per hour. Eventually, the client agreed to accept $20,000, and signed a “Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release” that characterized the payment as “consideration” in exchange for the release of all pending and future claims against Dibaei, as well as a release of any future claim to settlement money.
The other client also executed a settlement agreement resolving his claims for $250,000; after costs and fees, the client was entitled to receive at least $158,000. Dibaei also conditioned payment on signing a release of claims against him. He did not provide an accounting or itemized list of costs despite numerous requests. Over the next months, Dibaei’s email messages to the client contained insults and perceived threats, and again stated his billing rate was raised from $75 to $250 per hour. He eventually sued the client, claiming breach of contract and requesting declaratory relief. However, the court ordered Dibaei to pay the client $158,581.75 in undisputed settlement funds. The client essentially received no money from the original lawsuit, as he paid most of the funds to a new attorney to defend him.
In the second case involved in this disciplinary matter, Dibaei sought payment from a defendant in an unlawful detainer lawsuit; the total debt, including unpaid rent of $5,738.52, was $25,687.12. In an email message, Dibaei stated: “I will come after you, your business, your home and now that you’re married — your wife until I get my money.” He demanded a total of $38,000 “and this thing is done.” In another email message sent later that day, Dibaei claimed that collections had started; he ignored requests for an itemization of the amounts owed. About a week later, Dibaei sent a message declaring that a judgment had been recorded, and “you better show up to court or they will issue your warrant,” but would provide no further detail. The man went to court the next morning with his wife and newborn — and discovered there was no hearing and no warrant for his arrest.
In aggravation, Dibaei committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his clients, demonstrated indifference toward rectifying the consequences of his misconduct, displayed a lack of candor during the instant trial, and failed to make restitution for the undisputed settlement funds.
Alexander Christian Miles Kotschubei, aka Alexander C. Miles
State Bar No. 181508, Newport Beach (February 12, 2022)
Kotschubei, aka Miles, was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with two counts of professional misconduct: violating a court rule by failing to file a declaration of compliance as required for suspended attorneys (Cal. R. of Court, Rule 9.20) and of failing to notify the State Bar of an address change within 30 days of vacating his office as required.
The court was satisfied that he had adequate legal notice of the proceedings, and did not move to have the default order entered against him set aside or vacated.
There was one additional disciplinary proceeding pending against Kotschubei at the time he was disbarred.
State Bar No. 122217, Dublin (February 19, 2022)
Smedley was disbarred by default after she failed to participate in her disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. After receiving notice of the charges against her, Smedley informed the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar that she would not be responding to the charges, and “will never practice law again” due to poor health and other issues.
The State Bar Court judge determined that Smedley had not moved to have the default order entered against her set aside or vacated, and that there was an adequate factual basis for disciplinary misconduct.
Smedley was found culpable of all 12 counts of professional misconduct with which she had been charged. The wrongdoing related to four separate client matters. It included: disobeying a court order and failing to inform a client of a significant legal development, three counts of failing to comply with laws and four counts of failing to perform legal services with competence. She was also culpable of three counts involving moral turpitude: practicing law while she was actually suspended from doing so.
At the time Smedley was disbarred, there was one additional investigation pending against her, and she had one prior record of discipline.
Stuart Alfred Smith
State Bar No. 126369, Trabuco Canyon (February 12, 2022)
Smith was disbarred after he stipulated to committing 17 counts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter. After a trial, held solely to determine the level of discipline to be imposed, the court afforded no additional weight to six of the counts — reasoning they were based on the same misconduct as other counts that supported the same or greater discipline.
The court found the evidence supported findings of culpability for all counts charged, however. Smith’s misconduct included: commingling personal and client funds and failing to inform the client of a significant case development, as well as two counts each of failing to notify the client about funds received and of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account. Most of the additional charges involved moral turpitude — including one count of making a false and misleading statement to the client; two counts of misappropriating client funds; and four counts each of acting dishonestly in forging legal documents and making material misrepresentations.
In the underlying matter, after his law partner retired, Smith took over representing a client in a personal injury matter — filing claims against the insurance provider and rental company and reporting a workers’ compensation claim on the client’s behalf.
The claim against the rental company was settled for $15,000 — $5,000 payable to the workers’ comp lienholder. Smith received the $10,000 check but did not notify the client. He endorsed the check and forged the client’s signature, then deposited it into his client trust account — depleting the balance to an impermissible level within a few months.
He then negotiated with the insurer, rejecting a settlement offer and presenting a counteroffer — both without the client’s knowledge or consent. He again failed to inform the client of the settlement funds received — forging the client’s signature on both the settlement release and settlement check, which he then deposited into his client trust account, again misappropriating those funds. In total, Smith made 22 payments for personal expenses from the account.
Smith misrepresented to the client that the insurer declined to issue a settlement check until the workers’ comp case was complete; in fact, he had deposited that check 10 days earlier. After the client received notice that the case was complete, Smith failed to respond to the client’s numerous texts, emails, telephone messages, and letters seeking information and clarification about his case, and he canceled meetings that the two had scheduled to discuss the matter.
Smith eventually sent the client a settlement distribution letter, which failed to include mention of the initial $10,000 settlement payment he had received two years earlier. At the time his case was decided, he had not paid the client any of the settlement funds to which he is entitled: a total of $53,333.34.
In aggravation, Smith committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed his client and failed to make restitution for the settlement funds owed.
In mitigation, he entered into a thorough stipulation, saving the State Bar time and resources, and was allotted limited mitigating weight for having practiced law discipline-free for nearly 30 years, with the court noting it could not “confidently conclude that the misconduct was aberrational.”
Thomas Lee Watkins
State Bar No. 162577, Hemet (February 12, 2022)
Watkins was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary proceeding, despite having adequate notice and opportunity to do so. The State Bar Court judge found that that all procedural requirements were met, and that there was an adequate factual basis for discipline for Watkins’ conduct.
He was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct in the present consolidated case: failing to comply with a court order to file a declaration of compliance required for suspended attorneys (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20) and failing to comply with several conditions attached to an earlier disciplinary probation.
Specifically, he failed to schedule and participate in an initial meeting with his assigned probation specialist, failed to timely submit four quarterly written reports to the office of Probation, failed to submit a declaration attesting to his compliance with the order to read the relevant sections of the California Busines and Professions Code and Rules of Professional Conduct, and failed to provide proof of attending both the State Bar Ethics School and Client Trust Accounting School, as well as proof of passing their final exams.
Watkins had one prior record of discipline and there was one additional disciplinary matter pending against him when he was disbarred.
Jodi Lynn Zils Gagne
State Bar No. 211396, Bristol, Connecticut (February 12, 2022)
Zils Gagne was summarily disbarred. She earlier entered a guilty plea to committing mail fraud — a felony involving moral turpitude (18 U.S. C. Section 1341), and the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar provided evidence that the conviction had become final.
Kirk Callan Endres
State Bar No. 225526, Jackson (February 12, 2022)
Endres was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing 39 acts of professional misconduct related to 10 separate client matters.
His wrongdoing included: making an improper solicitation to a prospective client and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged; eight counts of failing to perform legal services with competence; nine counts of improperly withdrawing from employment; and 10 counts each of failing to communicate significant developments related to a case and failing to return unearned advanced fees.
Though the present disciplinary matter concerns wrongdoing involving numerous clients, the facts and circumstances in the cases are substantially similar. Endres undertook to represent incarcerated clients, most of whom were seeking suitability determinations to appear before the Board of Parole Hearing. He accepted advance fees from the clients or their relatives, but failed to prepare the clients for their hearings or to appear at the actual hearings.
In most of the cases, Endres had been unable to counsel the clients in person because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had suspended his gate clearance due to his arrest for driving under the influence of drugs. He did not inform his clients of this development. As a result, three of his clients appeared at their hearings without counsel, and were then denied parole for at least three years. Four clients had their hearings delayed from three to eight months due to Endres’ failure to appear for them. He did not return the fees that had been advanced to him, nor did he respond to numerous inquiries from concerned clients and relatives.
In aggravation, Endres committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients who were highly vulnerable due to their incarceration, and also failed to make restitution to them.
In mitigation, he entered onto a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for approximately 15 years without a record of discipline.
State Bar No. 244040, Eugene, Oregon (February 12, 2022)
Glasinovic was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after a contested disciplinary proceeding in which she was found culpable of three counts of professional misconduct: failing to inform her client of a significant case development, seeking to mislead a judge, and making a material misrepresentation — an act involving moral turpitude.
All the charges related to a single client matter. Glasinovic was hired to represent a client in two cases: one seeking asylum and the other an administrative relative petition. A master calendar hearing was set in the asylum case, but Glasinovic failed to inform the client of the date and time of the hearing, which required his personal appearance. When the judge called the case, Glasinovic misrepresented that her client had been in a car accident, which is why he was absent. The judge pressed Glasinovic for tangible proof of the accident, such as a police report, which she agreed to provide later.
Glasinovic then told her client about the fabrication, and, after consulting an attorney who specializes in ethics, opted to self-report her misconduct six weeks after the hearing, apologizing for misleading the judge.
In the instant case, Glasinovic argued her misrepresentation did not amount to moral turpitude, since she lied to protect her client from removal. The State Bar Court judge found her culpable of both counts involved — moral turpitude and seeking to mislead a judge — but allotted no additional weight to the misleading count in determining discipline, finding it duplicative.
In aggravation, Glasinovic caused significant harm to a vulnerable client, who testified that he suffered severe stress after learning of the lie and his missed appearance, fearing they would affect his immigration status.
In mitigation, she was allotted limited weight for having actively practiced law for eight years discipline-free before the instant misconduct, for entering into a pretrial stipulation related to facts and documents, and for evidence from witnesses who attested to her good character and community and pro bono service work. She was also given mitigating weight for taking objective steps to rectify her misconduct, though that was limited by the fact that she waited six weeks to self-report — a delay the court deemed “excessive and unreasonable.”
State Bar No. 223281, Los Angeles (February 12, 2022)
Hasan was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing one count of professional misconduct by violating several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Specifically, he failed to timely submit proof of completing and passing the final exams of the State Bar Ethics School and Client Trust Accounting School, and failed to timely submit six quarterly written reports and a final report to the Office of Probation as required. He completed the conditions of probation after the State Bar filed a notice of disciplinary charges, shortly before a scheduled trial in the matter.
In aggravation, Hasan had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, and showed indifference toward rectifying his wrongdoing by ignoring several requests and reminders from the State Bar to comply with the imposed conditions.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and was experiencing emotional difficulties due to his protracted divorce proceeding during the time of the misconduct.
Blake Alan Hudson
State Bar No. 171856, Rancho Santa Margarita (February 12, 2022)
Hudson was suspended for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after successfully completing the State Bar Court’s Alternative Discipline Program (ADP). He was earlier convicted of possessing an assault weapon (Cal. Penal Code Section 30605(a)), possessing prohibited ammunition (Cal. Penal Code Section 30305(a)(1)), and possessing a prohibited forearm (Cal. Welfare & Inst. Code Section 8103 (f)(1)(i)). The offenses are misdemeanors.
In addition, Hudson was convicted of the misdemeanor of failing to file a state income tax return (Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code Section 19701(a)).
Hudson requested an evaluation to determine his eligibility to participate in the ADP, and was also admitted to the State Bar’s Lawyer Assistance program. The two matters were consolidated in the instant case.
Hudson stipulated that the facts and circumstances surrounding his violations did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
In aggravation, Hudson committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he had no prior record of discipline and successfully completed the ADP, compelling the court to impose the lower level of discipline: one year of suspension stayed, with 30 days of actual suspension, probation, and additional conditions.
Joseph B. Martin
State Bar No. 284156, Portland, Oregon (February 12, 2022)
Martin was suspended from the practice of law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to violating several conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.
Specifically, he failed to submit verified proof of attending AA meetings, missed mandatory psychotherapy sessions and failed to submit a psychiatrist report as required, and also failed to submit poof of sponsor contacts or sponsor verification reports for many weeks, as well as proof of attending the State Bar Ethics School as mandated in the probation order.
In aggravation, Martin committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had two prior records of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and made efforts to fulfill probation conditions by increasing compliance every quarter.
Andrew Brian Mitchell
State Bar No. 284405, Santa Barbara (February 12, 2022)
Mitchell was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing eight acts of professional misconduct related to four separate client matters.
He was culpable of: failing to maintain client funds in a trust fund and violating a court order, as well as three counts each of failing to provide accountings of client funds and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigations of the misconduct alleged.
In one case, Mitchell was retained to represent a client in a marriage dissolution, who paid him $10,000 in advanced fees. The client entered into a stipulation and order, agreeing that $20,000 from the couple’s jointly held asset would be released and held by Mitchell to pay her attorney fees and costs. Mitchell received the check, but believing he had earned the fees, deposited it into his general account rather than client trust account. Despite the client’s request, he did not provide an accounting of any of the funds held and received in the case.
A second case also involved Mitchell’s failure to provide an accounting of advanced fees paid to handle a dissolution matter. Mitchell ignored the client’s request to provide an accounting, which came two years after he was retained, as well as nine subsequent requests from the State Bar seeking information about the allegations against him.
In the remaining two cases at issue, Mitchell failed to respond to State Bar investigators requesting information about allegations from clients who had submitted complaints: one alleging he had failed to perform competently and failed to communicate significant cases developments, the other contending he engaged in unethical conduct toward her.
In aggravation, Mitchell committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had a good faith belief that he had fully earned the fees deposited in his general account as described in the first case, and presented declarations from 15 individuals taken from a mix of the general and legal communities — all of whom attested to his good character.
Cheri S. O’Laverty
State Bar No. 94221, Los Angeles (February 12, 2022)
O’Laverty was suspended for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct. Her wrongdoing included commingling personal funds in her client trust account, issuing checks and making withdrawals from that account in which there were insufficient funds to cover them — an act involving moral turpitude, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.
Specifically, over a one-year period, O’Laverty did not promptly remove funds she had earned as fees from her client trust account and issued 44 checks from the account to pay personal expenses. During an overlapping time period, she issued a total of 14 checks and made three electronic withdrawals from the account; there were insufficient funds to cover those disbursements. In addition, she failed to respond to numerous letters and emails from State Bar investigators inquiring about the account mismanagement.
In aggravation, O’Laverty committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law approximately 32 years without a record of discipline, and suffered from extreme physical difficulties stemming from an illness, which have made it impossible for her to continue to practice law.
Erika Lynn Roman
State Bar No. 216323, Van Nuys (February 19, 2022)
Roman was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to three client matters.
Her wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments, two counts of failing to render appropriate accountings to clients, and one count of making a material false statement to a client — misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In one case, Roman represented her nanny, who was seeking temporary protected status in an immigration matter. Several months later, however, the two had a dispute — and Roman fired the nanny. A few months after that, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent Roman a request for evidence related to the nanny’s application. Without Roman’s consent, a present employee drafted and sent a letter to immigration authorities stating that the nanny had made misrepresentations on her application, and volunteering to share additional confidential information. The employee who wrote the letter signed Roman’s name to it.
In another case, a client hired Roman for help in an immigration matter — paying a total of $2,800 in advanced fees before terminating her services. When newly-hired counsel requested an accounting from Roman, she initially tendered only a “payment log” that did not fully document the fees and services.
And in the third case, Roman was hired by another client with an immigration matter who was also seeking to modify a felony conviction sentence. The client agreed to pay a total of $6,000: $3,000 as a flat fee, and the remainder to be paid in monthly installments. The client’s wife paid a total of $5,250 — and promised to pay the balance based on Roman’s employee’s reassurance that Roman would be “submitting the paperwork for the criminal case” once the balance was paid. After several months, Roman assured the client’s wife by email that she had filed the relevant motion with the court; in fact, she had not done so. Roman also failed to provide a full accounting of her services after being requested to do so.
In aggravation, Roman committed multiple acts of misconduct, and placed a client at risk by failing to prevent the disclosure of privileged information.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for 13 years, provided letters from 29 individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities — all of whom vouched for her good character, and was experiencing extreme emotional health difficulties during divorce and custody proceedings, which are now resolved.
Melinda C. Romines
State Bar No. 302958, Fountain Valley (February 12, 2022)
Romines was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to committing 18 acts of professional misconduct related to seven separate client matters.
Her wrongdoing included: failing to obtain written consent from a client before accepting legal fees from a third party; failing to act with reasonable diligence in a client case; violating a court order to pay sanctions, and improperly withdrawing from employment; two counts each of failing to return clients’ papers and property after terminating employment, failing to provide appropriate accountings of client fees, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments; and three counts each of failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigations of the wrongdoing alleged and failing to perform legal services with competence.
In recommending discipline, the State Bar Court judge noted the multiple acts of wrongdoing in the consolidated case — including failing to perform with diligence and competence and to provide substantive responses to State Bar inquiries. In one dissolution matter, Romines’ failure to file requested responses or appear ultimately resulted in a default against her client.
In aggravation, Romines committed multiple acts of misconduct that caused substantial harm to a client, and failed to make restitution to another.
In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, submitted good character reference statements from nine individuals, and was suffering from emotional and mental difficulties during the time of the misconduct, now successfully treated.
State Bar No. 108689, San Diego (February 12, 2022)
Sussman was suspended for three years and placed on probation for four years after being found culpable of 12 of the 15 counts of professional misconduct with which she had been charged — all relating to her repeated claims that two superior court judges were guilty of criminal and ethical wrongdoing.
Sussman was found culpable of six counts of failing to maintain respect for the courts and judicial officers, four counts of impugning the integrity of judicial officers, and two counts of making false statements — misconduct involving dishonesty and moral turpitude.
Sussman did not deny making the underlying statements at issue — which she repeated in numerous court filings, in a letter sent to the court, and on a website — but maintained they are true, so should not form the basis for professional discipline.
The State Bar Court judge, noting the inflammatory nature of the charges and that Sussman’s testimony “conflicts with that of other percipient witnesses,” began a voluminous opinion with an assessment of the credibility of the witnesses who testified at trial. The court found that Sussman’s testimony, “while appearing sincere, was wholly unreliable and, hence, lacked credibility” and that she “unreasonably rejected strong evidence contradicting her claims and, at times, seemed to lack insight into reality.”
One of the relevant underpinnings of the disciplinary case stemmed from a dispute and fight that Sussman’s son and a neighbor had outside her home. The next day, the neighbor sought a restraining order against both Sussman and her son; the son cross-petitioned for a restraining order against the neighbor. After a hearing, the judge granted the order against Sussman and her son; it prevented them from owning or possessing firearms and ammunition and from coming closer than three yards of the neighbor and his wife. Sussman filed a motion to vacate the orders, accusing the judge of bias and impartiality.
In an unrelated matter, Sussman’s son was subsequently convicted of multiple criminal counts flowing from an investigation by the local police department and city attorney’s office into the hundreds of calls to the Sussman home over a four-year period. In one of the calls, Sussman reported her credit card had been stolen and used without her consent; the son was arrested and a restraining order was issued, requiring him to move out of the house; an order issued later prohibited him from contacting Sussman. During the trial on the criminal charges, Sussman was ordered out of the courtroom after she became disruptive and was barred from being present — except when she testified — and while and after the verdict was read. A jury convicted the son on 13 counts; he subsequently died of an accidental drug overdose.
Sussman then published a website that including a petition to recall the judge who presided over her son’s trial — falsely accusing him of crimes including murder and various unethical acts. She also filed a complaint in federal court, alleging that the police, lawyers, and court authorities involved in her son’s criminal case had essentially murdered him. The opinion in the instant matter includes 37 excerpts from her complaint, labeling them as “laden with untruths,” and endeavors to “identify the newly presented false statements” in it.
In aggravation, Sussman committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed the administration of justice and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying her wrongdoing.
Thomas Vincent Johnston
State Bar No. 82019, Woodland Hills (February 12, 2022)
Johnston was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to promptly respond to the client’s reasonable inquiries, failing to return unearned advanced fees, and failing to participate in the State Bar’s investigation of his alleged wrongdoing.
In the underlying matter, Johnston was retained to pursue early termination of probation and expunge the record of a criminal conviction. The client paid $750 in cash for the services.
After six months had passed, the client emailed Johnston, requesting an update on the status of his case; Johnston did not reply. The client then went to the courthouse and learned that no documents had been filed in his case. A couple months later, Johnston replied to one of the client’s messages, assuring him he would provide an update. He did not — nor did he respond to the 43 written requests seeking information about the case, several of them requesting a refund of the money he had paid.
The client eventually filed his own motion for early termination of probation, representing himself at the court hearing; the court granted the motion.
Johnston did not respond to the State Bar’s initial two requests for information while investigating the case, but about six months after the first request, he sent the former client a cashier’s check in the amount of $1,050.
In aggravation, Johnston committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for nearly 40 years discipline-free, and submitted declarations from eight individuals taken from the legal and general communities — all of whom attested to his good character.
Philip Thomas Virga
State Bar No. 165324, Redondo Beach (February 12, 2022)
Virga was placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter.
His wrongdoing included: improperly terminating his employment, failing to comply with a legal mandate, failing to keep his client reasonably informed of significant case developments, and two acts of failing to provide legal services with competence.
In the underlying matter, a client retained Virga to file a patent application on his behalf — paying $1,910 for the legal services and an additional $400 in filing fees. Virga did so, informing the client that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) would likely reply within six months. The client subsequently sought Virga’s help with a second patent, paying a total of $1,600, plus $400 in filing fees. Virga filed the application, and sent the client a copy of the filing receipt the same day.
During the time he represented the client, Virga stipulated to committing misconduct before the USPTO; the stipulation required him to file a notice of withdrawal as counsel in pending applications, as well as inform clients of his suspension and return clients’ papers and files. Virga did not comply with these requirements, but approximately 10 months later, sent the client documents allowing him to effectuate a change in correspondence to receive communications directly from the USPTO. He did not provide an explanation, nor did he inform the client that the applications expired one year after filing, and that the first one filed had been abandoned by the USPTO due to the failure to follow up on the application.
Virga refunded $2,000 to the client related to the first failed patent filing; he also issued $800 to the client to help revive the second patent application.
In aggravation, Virga committed multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline.
In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, voluntarily made restitution to his clients, and suffered severe stress due to financial difficulties during the time of the misconduct.
— Barbara Kate Repa