January 5, 2011
Four Divorce Matters
From the January 2011 California Bar Journal:
[An attorney] was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on five years of probation with a two-year actual suspension and until 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 May 27, 2010.
[The attorney] stipulated to 24 counts of misconduct in four consolidated divorce matters.
In the first, she represented the father of a minor. The mother made plane reservations for the child to visit her in Hawaii during a break from school, but [the attorney] cancelled the reservations by impersonating the mother on the phone. Because the mother had faxed the ticket information to [her], she knew the confirmation number and other flight details.
When the father appeared at the airport to put his son on the plane, he learned the ticket was cancelled. When the mother tried to find out what happened, [the attorney] wrote to the son’s lawyer and implied the mother cancelled the flight. That lawyer filed an order to show cause against the father because she was able to trace the phone call to the airlines to [the attorney's] office.
While testifying at an unrelated matter before the Commission on Judicial Performance, [the attorney] was questioned about the airlines matter and omitted material information about her conduct. She stipulated to six acts of misconduct stemming from the matter: three counts of moral turpitude, disobeying a court order, failing to maintain respect to the court and failing to perform legal services competently.
She represented the husband in another divorce matter, and agreed to offset part of his legal fees in exchange for construction work on her house. The client left his tools, valued at about $14,000, in her garage, although she disputes their value. He eventually fired her, hired a new lawyer and asked for the return of the tools. [The attorney] claimed the work was defective; the client’s new lawyer claimed she was keeping the tools in order to gain an advantage in the dispute over the construction work. She kept the tools for more than five years.
The client was ordered by the Contractors State Licensing Board to pay [the attorney] more than $19,000 for construction defects and for reimbursement for an entertainment center. Three years later, a court confirmed the award, the client paid [her] but she did not return the tools.
He eventually sued [the attorney], who, during the course of the litigation, served him with a Judicial Council form that she altered. The former client was left with the mistaken impression that he had to adhere to shorter timelines to provide discovery. He asked [her] again to provide an inventory of the tools, but she did not do so. During negotiations in the lawsuit, she returned tools to the contractor, who questioned whether she returned all the tools and whether they were the same tools he left at her home.
She stipulated to six more counts of misconduct: two acts of moral turpitude, failing to account for or return client property and failing to obtain her client’s written consent to the terms of the offset agreement. She also entered into a business transaction with a client without satisfying the necessary requirements.
[The attorney] committed an act of moral turpitude in another matter by submitting to the court a pleading purportedly signed by her client. In fact, the client did not sign the document. And in the fourth matter, she communicated with the opposing party and his employee; the opposing party was represented by a lawyer.
In mitigation, she cooperated with the bar’s investigation.
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