Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Former Beverly Hills Mayor Faces Ethics Charges

The Riverside Press Enterprize has this story on a California bar discipline matter:

Charlotte Spadaro, who as a Riverside lawyer and animal rescue activist has operated what authorities called “deplorable” animal kennels, is ineligible to practice law, owes thousands of dollars to former clients, and faces disbarment following multiple attorney misconduct convictions in State Bar Court.

It’s the latest chapter in legal issues for Spadaro, a former Beverly Hills mayor. In the past eight years she has had several clashes with Inland animal control and code enforcement officers. Spadaro has been convicted in one animal cruelty case in San Bernardino County; she faces animal cruelty charges in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

She has pleaded not guilty in both, and has denied in the past that she is a hoarder. She says none of the State Bar actions should result in disbarment.

“I am a rescuer,” Spadaro said in a recent telephone interview.

She has insisted in the past that she is acting in the best interest of animals by keeping them out of public shelters where they may be euthanized. But authorities and former associates have said she keeps amassing dogs and cats in such numbers that they cannot be properly maintained and suffer as a result.

The State Bar complaints — most of which do not involve Spadaro’s animal rescue operations came from former clients who are often at the margins — people who went to her seeking help with bankruptcy, eviction, home-loan modification, or avoiding foreclosure.

They claim Spadaro, 71, took fees then missed filing deadlines and court appearances. She did not return the money. In one instance, the Bar Court said she and her son improperly borrowed a client’s pickup; the client later found it at a gas station in Los Angeles, damaged beyond what he could afford to repair. Spadaro “blamed everyone else, including homeless people, for the missing parts and damage,” the opinion said. The man wound up donating the truck to charity.

The various complaints involving several clients were aggregated into one case in which Spadaro was found culpable of 16 out of 19 counts. Among them were misconduct, moral turpitude, failure to perform competently, failure to communicate, and violation of client trust fund account rules.

The decision recommends an end to her 43-year legal career and for Spadaro to pay nearly $23,000 back to clients. It went before the state Supreme Court for a decision March 27. There is no deadline for a ruling.

In a second case, another animal rescuer complained she had loaned money to Spadaro to help her with shelter operations. The Bar Court concluded the transactions were illegal because the woman was a client. The court said Spadaro owed her $26,500 including $7,500 in fees, $9,000 in loans and $10,000 in investment money.

Spadaro insisted the woman was never a client, and that she refused a payment plan with Spadaro and instead took the matter to the State Bar in an effort to recover all the claimed money. Spadaro said she refused to plea-bargain the case before the Bar Court because of her dispute over the woman’s status.

After an appeal, the Bar Court Review Department said Spadaro had “preyed on” the woman’s “love of rescue animals” in obtaining the loan money. “Spadaro clearly exploited her position of trust,” the opinion said.

Action has been stayed on a third case against Spadaro, awaiting the outcome of the other two matters.

Spadaro, who served on the Beverly Hills City Council for four years and was the city’s mayor from March 1986 to March 1987, called the State Bar allegations “spurious.” During her 14-day trial before the State Bar on the case now before the Supreme Court, Spadaro invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the opinion noted. She represented herself.

(Mike Frisch)


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