Friday, January 2, 2009
The California Bar Journal summarizes a recent disbarment case that began as a reciprocal probation order from Washington State:
The disbarment is the final act in a relatively minor disciplinary history that began in 1996 when Esau failed to return a $1,700 advance fee to a client who fired him. The client sued and obtained a judgment for $1,751 that Esau paid. However, the matter went to the Washington bar’s disciplinary board, which ordered that Esau be publicly reprimanded.
As a result, the California bar filed charges against Esau that resulted in a private reproval and probation.
Esau violated his probation conditions, beginning an escalation of the discipline imposed on him. The reproval period was extended by one year, Esau received a six-month stayed suspension and two years’ probation, his probation was revoked and he received a six-month actual suspension. The State Bar ultimately sought disbarment as a result of Esau’s history of probation violations.
“This matter illustrates the serious consequences of an attorney’s extended inattention to State Bar disciplinary proceedings and his repeated disregard of Supreme Court orders,” wrote review Judge Judith Epstein for a three-judge panel.
The panel rejected a hearing judge’s finding that Esau’s alcoholism played a part in his misconduct and it did not give great weight to the three character witnesses who testified on his behalf.
Although Epstein acknowledged that the initial misconduct did not result in serious discipline, nor were any clients harmed, she wrote, “We could find no case imposing a sanction less than disbarment for an attorney who repeatedly has been called to account in disciplinary proceedings for violating conditions of probation, while at the same time violating court orders requiring compliance with rule 9.20.”
Note that the sanction was a public reprimand (apparently without a probation component ) and that California nonetheless initiated its own proceeding based on the Washington misconduct, imposed probation and here disbars for violation of the probation conditions. (Mike Frisch)