Dec. 29, 2023
Recent attorney disbarments, suspensions, probations and public reprovals in California.
State Bar #194091, San Carlos (November 17, 2023)
Stahl was disbarred by default.
The State Bar Court determined that he failed to appear at a second trial related to his disciplinary charges--preceded by four non-appearances at pretrial and status conferences. It also found that all procedural requirements had been met, and that there was an adequate factual basis for disciplinary misconduct in the case.
Stahl had unsuccessfully moved to set aside the default order entered against him, and the State Bar's Review Department denied his interlocutory appeal.
He was found culpable of failing to report a jury award of $520,642 for breach of fiduciary duty to the State Bar, as well as two counts each of violating court orders directing him to pay sanctions and to pay advanced fees to court-appointed discovery referees and of misleading the court--which is misconduct involving moral turpitude. In addition, Stahl was found culpable of failing to update his membership records with the State Bar within 30 days of changing addresses, as required.
In recommending disbarment as appropriate discipline, the court reiterated some evidentiary facts and underscored that the misconduct at issue was intentional, "in that Stahl evaded the civil discovery process with purpose, in a course of 'unacceptable gamesmanship,' and lied to the superior court about not having been served with an order for sanctions; and that Stahl failed to update his State Bar membership address, obfuscating his location."
Benjamin Laurence Pavone
State Bar #181826, San Diego (November 24, 2023)
Pavone was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for one year after his appeal of that disciplinary recommendation.
He was found culpable of two counts of failing to maintain respect due to courts and judicial officers, which arose from statements he made about a court commissioner while litigating a civil appeal.
In the underlying matter, Pavone represented a client in an employment-related action. A jury awarded the client $8,080 in damages on a sexual harassment claim; two claims seeking injunctive relief proceeded to a bench trial, in which the commissioner ruled in favor of the defendants. Pavone then filed a motion for attorney fees and costs. During a hearing on the matter, the commissioner admonished him that he needed "to behave respectfully in court" after he made disparaging remarks about a retired judicial officer. She then granted a portion of the request for costs and denied the fee request, noting that Pavone had "over litigated" the case and that his fee calculation, lacking in documentation, was "very unreliable." Pavone appealed--claiming, inter alia, that he had not received a copy of the judgment, and that the judge had intentionally suppressed service to thwart his appeal.
The State Bar Court's opinion in the present case quoted liberally from the filings and underlying opinions in the matter. Pavone's opening brief in the appeal accused the sitting commissioner of ruling during trial "like a disinterested broker," of issuing a "mindlessly one-sided ruling," and of abandoning "any interest in utilizing detached legal analysis." His reply brief accused the trial court of abusing its discretion because the commissioner "barely got any of the facts straight," in addition to numerous other criticisms.
The appellate court affirmed the denial of attorney fees, specifically noting: "We cannot understand why plaintiff's counsel thought it wise, much less persuasive, to include the word 'disgraceful,' 'pseudohermaphroditic misconduct,' or 'reverse peristalsis' in the notice of appeal." The court then reported Pavone to the State Bar, emphasizing that none of the charges he alleged were "supported by any evidence."
In aggravation, Pavone received limited weight for committing multiple acts of wrongdoing; moderate weight for causing harm to the administration of justice; and substantial weight for showing indifference toward rectifying or atoning for the consequences of his misconduct.
In mitigation, he had practiced law discipline-free for more than 21 years, and was allotted moderate mitigating weight for presenting 40 character reference letters by individuals representing a broad spectrum of the community--many of whom lacked full knowledge of the misconduct charged and also for evidence of performing pro bono and community service work, which lacked verification of the scope and extent of his involvement.--Barbara Kate Repa