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Discipline Report,
Discipline

Aug. 11, 2022

August Discipline 2022

Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.

DISBARMENT

Amid Timothy Bahadori

State Bar #242351, Newport Beach (July 9, 2022)

Bahadori was disbarred after he stipulated to comitting 31 acts of professional discipline related to seven separate client matters.

His wrongdoing included: failing to provide a client with a prompt and accurate accounting and disobeying a court order; two counts of failing to return unearned advanced fees; five counts of failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments; six counts of failing to perform legal services with competence; and seven counts of failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing he was alleged to have committed. He was also found culpable of numerous counts involving moral turpitude: one count of misappropriating $512,000 in client funds and eight counts of making false and misleading statements and presenting falsified documents to clients.

Though the misconduct in the seven matters included in this disciplinary case varied somewhat, in recommending disbarment, the State Bar Court opinion particularly underscored the repeated practice of falsifying documents, noting that Bahadori "habitually engaged in a pattern of serious misconduct" that involved "dishonesty, deception, misrepresentation, and the creation of forged documents in order to convince his clients that closed or non-existent cases were filed or pending."

The court also noted that the $512,000 Bahadori misappropriated from one of his clients "is not insignificantly small," and that he also used client funds to pay both his own personal expenses and expenses related to other client matters over an 18-month period.

In aggravation, Bahadori had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant matter that constituted a pattern of wrongful conduct, significantly harmed numerous clients, and failed to make restitution for misappropriating funds and failing to return unearned fees.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.

David Thomson Egli

State Bar #93776, Riverside (July 30, 2022)

Egli was disbarred after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct related to violating conditions imposed by the California Supreme Court in two separate disciplinary orders. The matters were consolidated in the instant case.

In one case, he failed to timely submit three quarterly written reports and one final report to the Office of Probation, and also failed to provide proof of attending and passing the final tests given in connection with the State Bar's Ethic and Client Trust Accounting Schools as ordered. In the second, he failed to file a declaration of compliance with the rule requiring suspended lawyers to notify clients, courts, and counsel of their status (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In aggravation, Egli committed multiple acts of wrongdoing, had three prior records of discipline, and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, saving the State Bar significant time and resources.

Joseph Miranda Hoats

State Bar #141599, Covina (July 23, 2022)

Hoats was summarily disbarred after pleading guilty to a charge of perjury (18 U.S.C. § 1621)--a felony involving moral turpitude.

After the Office of Chief Trial Counsel submitted evidence that Hoats did not appeal and the judgment became final, the State Bar Court judge verified that disbarment was the proper discipline to be imposed.

Maurice Steven Newman

State Bar #118023, Valley Village (July 30, 2022)

Newman was disbarred by default after he failed to participate, either in person or through counsel, at the disciplinary proceeding in which he was charged with eight disciplinary violations related to a single client matter.

After State Bar investigators made numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact Newman by mail, phone, and email, he sent an email response denying all allegations in the notice of disciplinary charges. However, he failed to appear at the subsequent status conference or to file any response to the default eventually entered against him.

He was found culpable of all counts charged. His wrongdoing included: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to inform his client of significant case developments, failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to take steps to avoid client prejudice when terminating his employment, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and failing to render an appropriate accounting of client funds. An additional two counts involved moral turpitude: making a false statement to State Bar investigators, as well as making repeated false and misleading statements to his client.

Newman had one prior record of discipline at the time he was disbarred.

David Mathias Nisson

State Bar #109075, Tustin (July 9, 2022)

Nisson was disbarred after he stipulated to committing six counts of misappropriating client funds--misconduct involving moral turpitude.

The fact patterns in the cases, which involved six different clients, were simple and similar. In five of them, Nisson received settlement checks on behalf of his clients who were pursuing personal injury claims, depositing them in his client trust account, then making numerous withdrawals from the account for his own personal use. When clients inquired about when they would be receiving the money they were due, Nisson relied he was "still working" on their cases.

In a sixth case, the client sought assistance with fraud and elder abuse claims stemming from the sale of her home. He received a check on the client's behalf for the sale of her property. She died shortly afterward, and the client's two daughters consented to Nisson's appointment as administrator of the estate. He then made numerous withdrawals of the funds to be held for the estate for his personal use.

In total, Nisson misappropriated more than $511,410 over a five-year period.

After the State Bar became involved, he made restitution to all six clients.

In aggravation, Nisson committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed his clients, and also acted to conceal his wrongdoing from all of them.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had practiced law for nearly 33 years without a record of discipline.

Michael Kenneth Pettersen

State Bar #145896, Los Angeles (July 23, 2022)

Pettersen was disbarred by default after he failed to participate in his disciplinary hearing, either in person or through counsel, despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity. A default order was subsequently entered against him, and he did not move to have it set aside or vacated.

He earlier had entered a guilty plea to one count of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more, with an admitted prior conviction for driving under the influence.

In the underlying matter, a highway patrol officer found Pettersen passed out in his car. The car's engine was still running, and there was fresh collision damage to one side of it. Unable to rouse Pettersen, the officer called for medical assistance. An alcohol screening test at the hospital to which he was transported indicated he had been driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .33%. Pettersen failed to appear in court at his arraignment on the related charges, and the State Bar Court opinion noted he "evaded showing up for years thereafter."

He was subsequently involved in a number of other vehicle violations--including driving on a suspended license, driving with an expired vehicle registration, being an unlicensed driver, and additional driving under the influence charges related to an accident involving injuries to others.

Keefe Erik Roberts

State Bar #212643, Naples, Florida (July 23, 2022)

Roberts was disbarred by default after he failed to appear at the trial of the disciplinary charges filed against him, either in person or through counsel.

The record reflects that he filed an initial response to the notice of charges and appeared at a status conference held via Zoom during which the trial date was specified, but he failed to make an appearance. The court entered a default order that same day, which Roberts did not subsequently move to have set aside or vacated.

The State Bar Court judge verified that the factual allegations set out in the notice of disciplinary charges were admitted as true, and warranted professional discipline.

Roberts was found culpable of 25 counts of misconduct related to four separate client matters. His wrongdoing included: failing to release client files upon terminating employment and failing to maintain respect due the courts by complying with orders issued; two counts each of failing to deposit and maintain client funds in trust, improperly terminating employment, and misappropriating client funds--acts involving moral turpitude; three counts each of failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries, failing to cooperate in the State Bar investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, and failing to perform legal services with competence; and four counts each of failing to render an accounting of client funds and failing to refund unearned advanced fees.

SUSPENSION

Francisco Javier Aldana

State Bar #216388, San Diego (July 23, 2022)

Aldana was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing seven acts of professional misconduct related to mishandling numerous bankruptcy cases.

His wrongdoing included: failing to provide legal services with competence, seeking to mislead a judge or judicial officer, disobeying a court order, presenting an unwarranted claim or defense, and filing misleading petitions with a court--an act involving moral turpitude, as well as two counts of failing to maintain only legal and just actions.

Aldana filed nearly 275 cases over 17 years while practicing bankruptcy law. The State Bar Court's opinion in the instant matter cites nearly 100 cases specifying some type of misconduct--including filing barebones bankruptcy petitions intended to obtain automatic stays of proceedings, repeatedly allowing the petitions to be dismissed. In 11 cases, courts found the petitions had been filed in bad faith, and in six cases, Aldana was sanctioned for his actions.

In aggravation, Aldana engaged in wrongful behavior over several years that had a common thread constituting a pattern of misconduct and significantly harmed the public and the administration of justice.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately nine years, presented letters from 19 individuals taken from a range of the legal and general communities who vouched for his good character, offered evidence of performing substantial community service and pro bono work, and expressed remorse for his misconduct.

John H. Donboli

State Bar #205218, San Diego (July 9, 2022)

Donboli was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he was terminated from the State Bar Court's Alternative Discipline Program (ADP) due to his failure to comply with program requirements.

He had previously stipulated to committing numerous acts of professional misconduct--including failing to provide an accounting to a client after repeated requests to do so, failing to promptly release a client's files upon terminating employment, failing to promptly refund unearned advanced fees, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the alleged wrongdoing, and two counts of accepting funds from a third party on behalf of a client without first obtaining the client's written consent.

In initially considering the matter, the State Bar Court had considered Donboli's multiple acts of misconduct as an aggravating factor, and gave mitigating weight to his 17 years of discipline-free practice, substance abuse and mental health problems, and family problems.

The State Bar Court also advised Donboli of the low and high levels of recommended discipline, depending on whether he successfully completed the ADP or was terminated. The higher level of discipline--including a period of actual suspension--was imposed in the present case after he tested positive for an illicit substance, and then failed to take two substance tests as mandated under the program.

Raul Benjamin Garcia

State Bar #131912, Redlands (July 23, 2022)

Garcia was suspended for 120 days and placed on probation for one year after he was found culpable of all five counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged. His wrongdoing, which occurred in one client matter and one probation matter, included: engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to support state law, failing to cooperate in the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing alleged, practicing law when he was not authorized to do so--an act involving moral turpitude, and failing to comply with conditions attached to a disciplinary order imposed previously.

In the client matter, the State Bar notified Garcia of orders suspending him from practicing law due to nonpayment of fees and failure to comply with MCLE requirements. About 10 days after the suspension took effect, however, Garcia sent a meet and confer letter to opposing counsel in a client's case, enumerating a number of legal arguments related to it. One week later, he appeared at a case management conference in the matter--though he did not inform the court or opposing counsel of his ineligible status. He subsequently paid his annual State Bar dues and submitted proof of MCLE compliance.

Shortly after that, the State Bar again contacted Garcia--this time about his failure to pay a court reporter for her services, despite repeated requests to do so. He did not respond to State Bar investigators' entreaties, but made restitution to the court reporter nearly two years after payment was initially due.

In the other matter consolidated here, Garcia failed to comply with probation conditions--specifically by failing to schedule and participate in an initial meeting with his assigned probation officer, failing to file proof of reading the Rules of Professional Conduct and specific sections of the Business and Professions Code as directed, as well as failing to file a written quarterly report.

In aggravation, Garcia engaged in multiple acts of wrongdoing and had a prior record of discipline in which some of the misconduct was contemporaneous with the current charged behavior.

In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation of facts and admission of documents.

Marlene Diane Greenly

State Bar #81341, Beverly Hills (July 23, 2022)

Greenly was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for one year after she stipulated to committing 11 acts of professional misconduct related to a single client case.

She was culpable of: failing to perform legal services with competence, aiding another in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to inform her client of significant case developments, failing to promptly pay a client settlement funds received, failing to hold client funds into a trust account, commingling personal and client funds in her trust account, failing to provide the client with significant documents requirements to keep reasonably informed, failing to promptly release client files after being requested to do so, and misappropriating client funds for her own use--an act involving moral turpitude, as well as two counts of failing to provide a timely and appropriate accounting to the client.

In the underlying matter, Greenly executed a fee agreement on behalf of a client and her minor daughter, both of whom were pursuing personal injury claims; the client also had another claim in an unrelated matter. In all communications and meetings, the client dealt only with an independent contractor paralegal at Greenly's firm, who represented himself as an attorney--a falsehood Greenly supported by referring to him as an "associate."

The paralegal secured settlements in both personal injury claims, and the client agreed to them--eventually accepting settlement payments on behalf of herself and her daughter.

A settlement was also reached in the third matter involving the client alone, with a settlement check issued to Greenly for $18,000, which she deposited into her client trust account. Greenly informed the client that her "final settlement"--minus fees, costs, and medical liens was $7,747, and drafted a check for that amount. In an anomaly related to that matter, the paralegal had filed and then requested a dismissal of a pro per civil complaint that was not authorized by either Greenly or the client. After Greenly received an additional settlement check in the matter for $9,692, she did not deposit it into her client trust account, nor did she inform the client she had received it.

About one year later, the client was refused when she attempted to rent a car, informed that she still owed the debt incurred there four years earlier, when it accrued as part of the client's injury case.

The client then filed a complaint with the State Bar. Five years after being retained, Greenly met with the client for the first time--tendering a check of her personal funds for $9,692. She subsequently made a number of other payments, totaling more than $12,000--without providing an accounting or proposed distribution document. She did not respond to the client's repeated requests for her files.

In aggravation, Greenly committed multiple acts of misconduct that significantly harmed her client, who was deprived of funds and subjected to debt collection efforts.

In mitigation, she entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law approximately 37 years without a record of discipline, and submitted letters from seven individuals--all of whom vouched for her good character.

Craig Allyn Jue

State Bar #18093, San Juan Capistrano (July 30, 2022)

Jue was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to failing to comply with all of the conditions attached to a disciplinary probation imposed earlier.

Specifically, he failed to schedule and participate in an initial meeting with his assigned probation officer, failed to read and verify that he had read the California Rules of Professional Conduct and specified sections of the Business and Professions Code as directed, and failed to submit three written quarterly reports.

In aggravation, Jue had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case, and demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct through his "consistent willingness to comply with the probationary terms" to which he had agreed. The State Bar Court judge also noted that Jue had expressed similar indifference in his previous case in which he failed to cooperate with the State Bar's investigation of the wrongdoing he was alleged to have committed.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation.

Bruce Clayton Mills

State Bar #115104, St. Augustine, Florida (July 9, 2022)

Mills was suspended for nine months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to committing professional misconduct related to two separate matters: three counts of violating his fiduciary responsibilities as a judge.

Mills served as a sitting judge on a municipal and then superior court for a total of 23 years, until he retired. Shortly before his retirement, the Commission on Judicial Performance--the body with disciplinary authority over judges--filed a notice of formal proceedings, charging him with judicial misconduct in two cases.

In one matter, Mills modified a contempt sentence to deny good time custody to a defendant based on ex parte communication and without providing notice or opportunity to be heard, then granting good time credits, even though he did not believe that was required by law. In the other, while the jury was deliberating and without defense counsel present, he engaged in improper ex parte communications with the deputy district attorney--offering advice about handling a specific part of the case.

In aggravation, Mills had been disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Performance five times previously, demonstrated indifference toward rectifying his misconduct, and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant case.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 11 years without a record of discipline, and experienced family problems leading to the deaths of both his son and mother during the time of the misconduct.

Joyce Marie Mullins

State Bar #163605, Rancho Santa Fe (July 30, 2022)

Mullins was suspended from practicing law for two year and placed on probation for three years after she stipulated to pleading guilty to several criminal charges and to failing to timely comply with all conditions imposed in an earlier disciplinary order.

Specifically, she pled guilty to one count each of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(b)), with an enhancement for driving with a blood alcohol content of .15% or more (Cal. Veh. Code § 23578), and resisting a police officer (Cal. Penal Code § 148(a)(1)). In a second incident, she pled guilty and was convicted of one count of resisting an executive officer (Cal. Penal Code § 69), one count of committing cruelty to a child by inflicting injury (Cal. Penal Code § 273a(b)), and one count of violating a protective order (Cal. Penal Code § 166(c)(1)). And in a third incident, she pled guilty to 10 counts of violating a domestic violence restraining order (Cal. Penal Code § 166(c)(1)). She was also culpable of failing to timely file a declaration of compliance for suspended attorneys, as mandated in an earlier disciplinary order (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).

In the first criminal proceeding, Mullins was arrested while driving with a blood concentration of .15% or more with a minor as a passenger in the vehicle. While the arrest record for the conviction was purged, the State Bar Court judge determined that the violations--all misdemeanors--did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve other misconduct warranting professional discipline.

Facts related to the second conviction proceeding included that police deputies responded to a call to investigate a runaway juvenile, who told them he left home after Mullins, his mother, had hit him with a small plastic hockey stick. His injuries were consistent with being struck. Mullins was arrested, and a judge granted an emergency order granting protection to her three children, as well as granting temporary custody to their father. Mullins' ex-spouse reported that she had sent text messages and called her children in violation of the emergency order. He later secured a domestic violence restraining order preventing Mullins from having any contact with him and the children. When an investigator responded to another complaint that Mullins had violated the order by sending text messages, she denied having access to the phone, then physically resisted arrest at the scene. She was later seen outside the residence where the children were staying--clad in a bathrobe, with a knife in one hand and the family dog in the other. While Mullins was not arrested at that time, the investigating deputy recommended additional charges "based on her escalating behavior."

And in the third conviction incident, Mullins pled guilty to 10 counts of violating protective orders after investigators confirmed she had sent 45 text messages to her children in a six-day period and placed numerous phone calls to her children and ex-spouse. The State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding these violations involved moral turpitude.

In aggravation, Mullins committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, she entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 12 years, and offered credible expert evidence that she had suffered from extreme emotional difficulties directly responsible for the misconduct at issue.

Theodore Richard Naimy, Jr.

State Bar #59790, Valley Village (July 23, 2022)

Naimy was suspended 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 case: failing to notify a party of funds received on their behalf, failing to withdraw funds from his client trust account when they became fixed, and failing to pay the client funds to which he was entitled.

In the underlying matter, Naimy represented a client in a personal injury action. He retained a neuropsychologist to review the client's medical records and provide a report and evaluation establishing the value of the claims involved.

The matter eventually settled for $1,056,578, but the client instructed Naimy not to pay the neuropsychologist's bill of $9,000, which she wished to contest. Naimy calculated his own fees in the case to be just over $422,631--which the client did not dispute. Naimy subsequently received and deposited into his client trust account settlement funds totaling $564,098, but did not inform the neuropsychologist of that fact.

Naimy then withdrew $100,000 from his client trust account, but failed to withdraw the balance of his earned fees and costs in the case. He also failed to promptly pay the client the $9,000 in funds to which she became entitled after the neuropsychologist/lienholder's collection rights expired.

In aggravation, Naimy committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law without a record of discipline for nearly 47 years, had a good faith belief he had notified the lienholder of the settlement funds by informing the affiliated clinic, and submitted evidence of performing volunteer community work.

Chad Thomas Pratt

State Bar #149746, Los Angeles (July 29, 2022)

Pratt was suspended from the practice of law and placed on probation for two years after being found culpable of eight of the nine counts of professional misconduct with which he was charged.

The wrongdoing, which involved seven New Mexico residents, included: failing to return unearned advanced fees, aiding others in the unauthorized practice of law, and operating a business that engaged in misleading practices--an act involving moral turpitude; two counts of failing to comply with state and federal laws; and three counts of collecting illegal advanced fees.

Pratt, licensed to practice law only in California, was sole shareholder and owner and operator of a loan modification and litigation firm. He entered into an agreement with another attorney/business owner to provide litigation services in exchange for customer and legal intake services, staff support, and office space and equipment. Pratt's business focused on assisting clients in obtaining loan modifications by challenging consumer and real estate lender practices. Clients were solicited nationwide through direct mail and television ads, as well as cold calls.

The solicitations assured that by participating in the firm's mass joinder lawsuits, consumers stood chances of stopping home foreclosures, reducing loan balances or interest rates, and getting money damages. In fact, the firm did not succeed in court with any of its lawsuits, and Pratt himself was not experienced in litigating against lenders. The firm's non-lawyer salespeople falsely promised consumers that their cases would be handled by attorneys--a practice that some compliance attorneys had flagged and warned Pratt they may be unethical.

The fee agreements provided that clients were paying for representation in litigation against their mortgage lenders, and specified fees were non-refundable, one-time retainers--and were paid in addition to monthly maintenance fees and a 30 percent contingency fee connected to litigation and related recovery. Although all clients in the instant case were New Mexico residents, the fee agreements also specified that all litigation would be filed in California courts. Some of the agreements specified that the firm "can retain clients from any state because it is seeking relief to a federal entity under a federal process." None of the agreements contained the specific written disclosures required by the MARS Rule (12 C.F.R. § 1015), which was enacted to curb misrepresentations and advanced fee schemes involving loan modification services.

In reality, the business was a front for attempting to avoid the legal prohibition against charging and collecting advanced fees for loan modification services. The New Mexico clients in the instant case discovered that Pratt's firm had no attorneys licensed to practice in their state, so they were unable to secure legal help with home foreclosures when needed. Several of them lost their homes; some were able to obtain loan modifications through other sources, but were additionally financially hampered by the money paid to Pratt's firm.

In aggravation, Pratt had two prior records of discipline, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that significantly harmed vulnerable clients who were experiencing financial desperation, and demonstrated indifference about his wrongdoing by failing to acknowledge it.

In mitigation, he was allotted minimal weight for presenting character references from seven individuals who did not appear to be aware of the full extent of the present misconduct charges, and moderate weight for the State Bar's delay in prosecuting the case--as the misconduct occurred more than seven year ago, as well as for community and pro bono service work largely based on his own testimony.

Marco Antonio Pulisci

State Bar #216796, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico (July 9, 2022)

Pulisci was suspended for 18 months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct.

His wrongdoing included: failing to convey a settlement offer to clients, failing to obtain written consents from clients before pursuing potentially adverse claims, failing to keep clients informed of significant case developments, failing to take actions in support of the law, and making false and misleading statements to clients--an act involving moral turpitude.

Pulisci was founder and sole shareholder of a law firm that had agreed to represent about 600 individuals pursuing employment-related claims against a division of a bank focused on mortgage loans for residential real estate. Many of the clients had previously been part of a larger lawsuit filed by other counsel alleging various wage and hour violations; the court had denied class certification in that action. Pulisci's firm filed several lawsuits on behalf of individuals and at least one class action; many of those actions overlapped with the initial class action.

Attempting to resolve all outstanding claims against the bank, class counsel for the first lawsuit, Pulisci, and the bank participated in a mediation, reaching a $19 million settlement that would also resolve and extinguish Pulisci's clients' claims unless they opted out. Pursuant to the settlement, the defendant/bank would pay $6 million to resolve their claims. The settlement was finalized pending court approval.

Class counsel informed the court that Pulisci's firm would direct its clients to opt out, confirming to the court that they would obtain larger recoveries than they would through the class action. Class counsel also underscored that Pulisci had negotiated a $6 million settlement for his clients that was completely separate from the class action settlement. However, Pulisci failed to notify his clients of the mediation or of the settlement negotiations until after the opt-out period had expired, nor did he inform them of the potential benefits of participating in or opting out of the class action settlement.

A letter sent by one of Pulisci's firm's attorneys* informed the clients that a $6 million settlement had been reached and that $5.5 million would be designated for attorneys' fees and costs; the clients would each receive $750. Most clients agreed to the disbursement, signing releases.

In subsequent litigation that spanned six years and included two appeals, the court ultimately found that since Pulisci's firm had failed to obtain the requisite approval from the class action settlement judge, it was not entitled to any attorneys' fees, and was instead ordered to disgorge the entire $6 million it had received.

In aggravation, Pulisci committed multiple acts of wrongdoing that caused significant harm "due to the vast expense of public resources expended to abate the misconduct." In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately nine years, and presented good moral character declaration from 22 individuals engaged in a variety of professions.

[* Gene Arthur Meneses, who worked at the firm and wrote the client letter at Pulisci's direction, was also disciplined for his actions in this matter, ordered to one year of probation.]

Michael Wells

State Bar #48850, Northridge (July 9, 2022)

Wells was suspended from practicing law for two years and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct related to a single client matter: three rule violations and one statutory violation.

He was culpable of assisting non-attorneys in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to consult with his client about the means to accomplish objectives in the representation, failing to perform legal services with competence, and failing to respond to reasonable client inquiries.

Wells was employed as an independent contractor at a corporation owned and operated by non-attorneys that offered tax resolution services. Though the firm's website verbiage proclaimed it offered "tax attorneys at work," Wells was the sole person associated with the firm who was authorized to practice before the U.S. Tax Court.

In the underlying matter, an individual who had received a notice of deficiency from the IRS contacted the tax resolution firm for help. The firm submitted a power of attorney, signed by Wells, and authorizing him to act on behalf of the client and the company he owned. The IRS rejected the power of attorney, as it did not include a tax identification number. The client had also signed a fee agreement Wells had prepared, paying $2,500 in advanced fees.

A secretary at the firm falsely stated to the client that Wells was able to obtain an extension of time to file a petition in the matter. However, Wells did not perform any legal services for the client, who ultimately lost the opportunity to timely challenge the notice of deficiency the IRS had issued.

The client eventually terminated all services and requested an accounting and refund of the advanced fee. About five months later, Wells ended his relationship with the firm, reported its suspected unlawful activity to the IRS, and repaid the advanced fees--with interest.

In aggravation, Wells had been disciplined for unprofessional conduct twice before, and committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant case that caused significant harm to his client.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and showed a willingness to conform his ethical responsibilities by contacting legal authorities to report the underlying unlawful activity.

William Armand Wright

State Bar #75236, Roseville (July 23, 2022)

Wright was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing four acts of professional misconduct: failing to perform legal services with competence, improperly terminating employment, failing to refund unearned advanced fees, and failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant case developments. The wrongdoing related to a single client case.

In that case, Wright was hired to complete a dissolution of marriage and child custody, receiving an advanced fee of $3,000. He filed the dissolution petition, but failed to properly serve the opposing party or to file a proof of service with the court. He also failed to appear at a subsequent hearing, and the matter was taken off the court calendar.

About two years later, the client provided Wright with a marital settlement agreement that she had signed. However, Wright's attempts to file it were rejected due to the failure to pay the filing fee, to provide proof of service, to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope, and to file additional required disclosures. After that, he effectively abandoned the case, though he did not inform the client, who eventually hired other counsel to complete the matter.

Despite the client's request, he did not refund her the advanced fees he was paid.

In aggravation, Wright had been disciplined by the State Bar for professional misconduct twice before, committed multiple acts of wrongdoing in the instant matter, and demonstrated a lack of candor by claiming to State Bar investigators that he believed he had refunded the client's fees to her.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, suffered family problems due to caretaking duties and death of his life-partner, and suffered from his own physical difficulties and disabilities--though the weight allotted was limited, as the physical disabilities are ongoing.

PROBATION

Stanley Robert Apps

State Bar #309425, Studio City (July 30, 2022)

Apps was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to being convicted of battery involving force or violence (Cal. Penal Code § 242). The offense is a misdemeanor.

The California State Bar Court judge determined that the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction did not involve moral turpitude, but did involve misconduct warranting professional discipline.

In the underlying matter, police responded to a call from Apps' son reporting that his mother had been hit in the head with an object. Investigating officers determined the couple had quarreled over cleaning up an accidental mess caused in the kitchen. As the argument progressed, Apps' wife splashed milk onto him and he responded by striking her several times with a broom--causing injuries to her head and arm.

In mitigation, Apps entered into a pretrial stipulation and submitted evidence from eight individuals aware of the full extent of his misconduct--all of whom attested to his good character. He was also allotted mitigating weight for family difficulties--a son's autism--which has caused Apps stress, as well as his own emotional difficulties, now successfully treated with medications and therapy.

Eric John Medel

State Bar #211808, Irvine (July 30, 2022)

Medel was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct related to two separate matters.

He was culpable of failing to timely report judicial sanctions imposed against him to the State Bar as required, as well as two counts of failing to take measures to adequately supervise the actions of his non-lawyer staff.

Over several years, Medel represented a client in thousands of low-dollar collection cases that were typically resolved without litigation. In one year, the State Bar received complaints from three superior court judges reporting that Medel had failed to appear at numerous scheduled court hearings, resulting in various judicial sanctions. The State Bar closed investigations into those complaints based on Medel's explanation that his failure to appear was based on calendaring errors, miscommunications and failure of an appearance attorney service, as well as a misunderstanding of the amount of sanctions imposed against him. Prompted by a subsequent letter from the State Bar expressing concerns, Medel obtained a more robust system of tracking attorney services, new legal calendaring software, and a new office procedure for sorting mail based on the procedural status of cases.

In the other matter at issue, Medel failed to appear at two case management conferences and an order to show cause hearing related to the same client. The court sanctioned him $250, and ordered another case management conference requiring Medel's personal appearance and explanation of why he should not be sanctioned an additional $15,000 for his failures to appear and to serve a summons and complaint on the defendant in the case. Medel did not pay the sanction, nor did he file a written response or appear at the hearing. His office assistant erroneously categorized the matter as a default, and as a result, Medel had no notice of the court orders and hearing. The court ultimately sanctioned him $15,000 for his failures to appear and to prosecute the case. The clerk of court reported the sanctions imposed to the State Bar; about four months later, Medel also made an untimely report of the sanctions.

In aggravation, Medel committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.

In mitigation, he entered into a prefiling stipulation, had practiced law discipline-free for nearly 18 years, provided letters from nine individuals taken from a range in the legal and general communities--all of whom vouched for his good character, showed remorse for his misconduct by filing a written response apologizing to the court and also paying the sanctions imposed against him, and took remedial measures to help prevent future calendaring errors.

Gene Arthur Meneses

State Bar #105260, Menifee (July 9, 2022)

Meneses was placed on probation for one year after he stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct: failing to perform legal services with competence, failing to keep clients reasonably informed of significant case developments, and writing a false and misleading letter to his clients about the status of their case--wrongdoing involving moral turpitude.

Meneses was employed by a firm that had agreed to represent about 600 individuals pursuing employment-related claims against a division of a bank focused on mortgage loans for residential real estate. Many of the clients had previously been part of a larger lawsuit filed by other counsel alleging various wage and hour violations; the court had denied class certification in that action. Meneses' firm filed several lawsuits on behalf of individuals and at least one class action--many of those actions overlapped with the initial class action. Though Meneses was not a shareholder in the firm,* he provided legal services and represented the clients for approximately two years.

Eventually, class counsel for the first lawsuit reached a $19 million settlement that would also resolve and extinguish Meneses' firm's clients' claims unless they opted out. Pursuant to the settlement, the defendant/bank would pay $6 million to resolve their claims. Class counsel informed the court that Meneses' firm would direct its clients to opt out, confirming that they would obtain larger recoveries than they would through the class action.

Meneses was not present at the mediation and unaware of the settlement terms. The settlement was finalized pending court approval. His clients were sent notices regarding the settlement and opt-out procedures, but were instructed to submit their claim forms directly to Meneses' firm. The clients were not informed of the potential $6 million settlement or the fact they stood to recover larger individual payouts by opting out of the class action settlement. None of the clients opted out.

Shortly after the settlement was finalized, the firm's sole shareholder instructed Meneses to write a form letter to the clients, informing them the firm would receive more than $5.5 million for fees and costs, and the clients would each receive about $750. This was erroneous, as the firm was not entitled to fees resolved by the class action settlement.

In subsequent litigation that spanned six years and included two appeals, the court ultimately found that since Meneses' firm had failed to obtain the requisite approval from the class action settlement judge, it was not entitled to any attorneys' fees, and was instead ordered to disgorge the entire $6 million it had received.

In aggravation, Meneses committed multiple acts of misconduct.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had practiced law for approximately 29 years without a record of discipline, and presented declarations from eight individuals taken from both the legal and general communities--all of whom vouched for his good character.

[*Marco Antonio Pulisci, the founder and sole shareholder of the firm, was also disciplined for his actions in this matter, suspended for 18 months and put on probation for three years.]


--Barbara Kate Repa

#368912

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