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State Bar & Bar Associations

Jun. 10, 2024

State Bar says attorney planned to hack into judge’s emails

Michael Libman is alleged to have shared details of his efforts to hire hackers to execute the scheme, including engaging an individual he said was an Israeli hacker.

The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel filed a notice of disciplinary charges on Thursday against an attorney accused of scheming to hire Israeli hackers to gain access to the emails of a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge and a rival attorney. The charge is the latest to be leveled by the State Bar against Tarzana attorney Michael J. Libman, who has also been accused of colluding with Los Angeles city officials to engineer a favorable settlement in a class action over faulty billing by the Department of Water and Power.

The notice of disciplinary charges claimed that Libman conspired to hack into the personal emails and phone accounts of Judge Elihu M. Berle and attorney Brian S. Kabateck, founding partner of Kabateck LLP in Los Angeles.

“Respondent was convinced that Judge Berle and Kabateck, not him, were involved in inappropriate conduct, including but not limited to, failing to disclose inappropriate connections between them,” the notice read. “Respondent sought to expose Judge Berle and Kabateck’s conduct by creating a plan to hack into Judge Berle and Kabateck’s personal e-mails and phone accounts.” In the matter of: Michael Jacob Libman, SBC-24-O-30284 (State Bar Court, filed June 6, 2024).

Additionally, it claimed that Libman planned to illegally obtain guns out-of-state through another attorney.

Attorneys for Libman denied the charge in a statement he provided via email on Friday.

“Although Mr. Libman is a citizen of both the U.S. and Israel, Mr. Libman denies in the strongest possible words that he has any affiliation with Israeli military intelligence or cyber espionage agencies or agents as suggested by the State Bar’s absurd accusations, including Mossad,” the statement read. “Also, Mr. Libman was not involved in any way in actual ‘hacking’ or purchase or ownership of illegal firearms.”

Libman is represented by Stephen Yagman of Yagman+Reichmann LLP in Marina Del Rey, as well as sole practitioners Kevin P. Gerry in Santa Barbara and Megan E. Zavieh in Alpharetta, Georgia.

The charge stems from Libman’s representation of class plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Department of Water and Power over a faulty billing system that ended in a $67 million settlement in 2017. Libman received $1.65 million in attorney fees and $3,370 for expenses for his work. Antwon Jones v. City of Los Angeles, BC577267 (L.A. Sup. Ct., April 1, 2015).

Subsequent litigation revealed that New York attorney Paul O. Paradis participated in representing both the city and the class plaintiffs and helped engineer the settlement without any discovery.

As a result, Kabateck was appointed to take over as class counsel and the court ordered Libman to disgorge his attorney fees.

“Respondent appealed the disgorgement order but did not post an appellate bond or move to stay enforcement of the order,” the state bar’s notice read. “Because respondent did not satisfy the disgorgement order, post a bond, or stay enforcement of the order, Kabateck in his capacity as class counsel for the Jones class pursued judgment enforcement procedures against respondent.”

The State Bar charged that Libman then enlisted Paradis in a scheme to hack the emails of Berle and Kabateck – unaware that Paradis had started working as a confidential FBI informant.

“Respondent told Paradis that creating an appearance of corruption between Judge Berle and Kabateck is enough, they didn’t need to prove it,” the notice of charges read.

Libman went on to share with Paradis details of his efforts to hire hackers to execute the scheme, include an individual he said was an Israeli hacker known simply as “Ben,” according to the notice.

The charge alleges that Libman also tried to have Paradis purchase three AR-style rifles and three shotguns for him in Arizona, and that he at one point told Paradis he had obtained a 9mm semi-automatic machine gun.

The FBI raided Libman’s home in June 2020, and Paradis is currently serving a 33-month prison sentence in connection with the case.

The State Bar previously charged Libman with his part in pushing through the 2017 settlement without discovery, issuing a notice of disciplinary charges in March. In the Matter of Michael Jacob Libman, SBC-24-30064 (State Bar Court, filed March 6, 2024).

“As a result of his alleged actions in connection with the DWP litigation, Mr. Libman is already facing serious disciplinary charges,” Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona said in a State Bar news release on Friday. “The additional conduct alleged in this new charge further evidences a repeated disregard of the ethical standards that govern attorney conduct.”

In an emailed statement on Friday, Kabateck said he and his family have endured “relentless attacks” from Libman for more than four years.

“What makes this much worse is that these attacks were also directed at a sitting, well-respected Los Angeles Superior Court Judge,” Kabateck said. “No lawyer or jurist should have to face this kind of conduct by anyone, let alone by Libman, a lawyer who has taken an oath to protect the Justice System.”

Berle declined to comment through the Superior Court’s communications office in an email on Friday.

In their statement to the press, Libman’s attorneys noted that he has never been charged criminally over his role in the LADWP settlement or any other charges in the State Bar’s notice.

“The State Bar’s allegations are completely meritless and do not constitute misconduct or acts of moral turpitude even if they were true,” the statement read. “Mr. Libman denies these accusations vehemently and will oppose them vigorously.”


Skyler Romero

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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