Friday, April 1, 2011
A recent disbarment is summarized in the April 2011 online California Bar Journal:
The State Bar Court found that [the attorney] committed numerous acts of misconduct in two client matters, including misappropriating more than $200,000.
A client who was going through a divorce was owed money by a prior lawyer. [The attorney] received the refund check, endorsed the client’s name and wrote “pay to the order of [her name]” on the back. She had no authorization to do so. She deposited the check in her personal bank account, treating it as a payment of additional advanced fees. The client, who said she was struggling to pay her bills, tried without success to contact [the attorney] to determine the status of her case and eventually fired her. She asked for both a refund of her advance $5,050 fee and the refund from the prior lawyer.
[The attorney] eventually provided a refund of the advance fee, short $50.
In a second divorce case, she represented the husband and pursuant to a court order received a check for $225,021.17, which represented the proceeds from the sale of the couple’s home. She did not put the money into a trust account in the clients’ names, never provided monthly statements for the account and almost immediately began misappropriating the funds. Eventually the account balance stood at zero. When confronted by the opposing attorney about her non-compliance with the court’s order, she lied to the attorney, to the parties and to the accountant hired to provide an accounting. She prepared a misleading accounting of the funds that completely misrepresented how she handled her client’s funds.
[The attorney] took $90,345 to pay personal expenses and separately misappropriated $57,000 to buy a motor home (that she sold for a profit of $4,000) and $74,577.72 to fund the escrow for her purchase of a home in Huntington Beach. She had intended to use the proceeds from the sale of her home to buy a new house, but because of a delay in closing escrow on the home she was selling, she used $74,577.72 of client funds to close escrow on the home she was buying. She later replaced the money.
The wife’s lawyer repeatedly repeatedly asked [the attorney] for copies of the monthly trust account bank statements and when she didn’t provide them, he filed an order to show cause for contempt. [The attorney] convinced him the statements were forthcoming so he took the matter off calendar.
The bar court found that [she] failed to obey a court order, inform clients of significant developments or deposit funds in a trust account or account for those funds, and she committed four acts of moral turpitude.
In mitigation, [the attorney] had no prior discipline record, entered into a stipulation with the bar and made restitution. However, Judge Donald Miles recommended her disbarment, noting in particular that the misappropriations “were of significant amounts of money and involving two separate clients; her actions were intentional and knowingly dishonest; and she sought to conceal those acts by subsequent efforts at concealment and misrepresentation.”