Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The California Bar Journal reports a recent disciplinary matter:
[An attorney] was suspended for three years, stayed, actually suspended for two years and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate her suspension and she proves her rehabilitation, and she was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect March 24, 2010.
In a default proceeding, the bar court found that [the attorney] committed multiple acts of misconduct in two client matters and a trust account matter, including failing to deposit client funds in a trust account, avoid adverse interests or return client property, and she engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, charged an illegal fee, commingled funds and committed acts of moral turpitude.
While suspended in 2005, [the attorney] continued to represent an existing client with matters arising from her special needs trust and other legal matters. She deposited the proceeds ($10,295.89) from the life insurance policy on the client’s son in a non-client trust account. [She] also collected fees for the work she did while suspended.
She also worked on, and billed for, a divorce case. The client paid $2,500 of a $3,500 nonrefundable retainer fee and as collateral for the balance, allowed [the attorney] to hold a South African gold coin, a silver bar and a Joe DiMaggio baseball card. When he paid the balance and asked for the return of his property [she] did not give back the items. In fact, in a letter to the client’s new lawyer, she said she “cashed in” the coin and silver bar. She said she was keeping the baseball card until the client paid her fees. She billed him a total of $7,250 for legal work, all done while she was suspended.
[The attorney] never put in writing the terms of taking a security interest in her client’s property and did not advise him to seek independent counsel. The client also did not consent in writing to the collateral arrangements with [the attorney], who eventually returned the baseball card.
[The attorney] also wrote checks against insufficient funds in her client trust account to pay personal and/or business expenses.
She was privately reproved in 2005 for failing to perform legal services competently or cooperate with the bar’s investigation.