September 1, 2009
He That Bills By The Sword...
A disciplinary summary from the web page of the California Bar Journal:
[An attorney] was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Feb. 25, 2009.
[The attorney] stipulated to six counts of misconduct in his representation of a client in his divorce and a beef with his neighbors. In lieu of attorney fees, he accepted two Japanese military pieces, a helmet and a hand sword guard. Without obtaining an expert appraisal, [the attorney] and his client agreed the sword was valued at $1,500 and the helmet at $2,500 to $3,500. [He] applied the value of the helmet to his attorney fees and the value of the sword guard to the divorce. He did not advise the client to seek independent legal advice or put the terms of the arrangement in writing.
His client won a judgment and attorney fees in the neighbor dispute, and [the attorney] was to receive their payments. He did not notify his client that he received funds and did not deposit the money in his client trust account, nor did he disburse the funds to his client. He also did not begin collection efforts when the neighbors failed to make their monthly payments.
The client then hired another lawyer to collect on the judgment, but when he contacted the neighbors’ lawyer, he was told the money had been paid. [The attorney] did not pay his client the funds despite a request to do so. The client then sued [him] and won a default judgment for $4,000.
In the divorce case, [his] bill showed a $633 credit due the client, but he never refunded the money.
[The attorney] stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees, deposit funds in a client trust account, notify a client of the receipt of funds or promptly pay out those funds, and he entered into a business transaction with a client without fully disclosing the terms of the transaction.
In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and he had no prior discipline record.
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