Recent disbarments, suspensions and probations in California
- Nicholas K. Cameron, Santa Ana
- Fernando Fabela Chavez, Campbell
- Thomas Richard D’Arco, Pasadena
- Chaka H. Grossman, Beverly Hills
- David Curtis Hollingsworth, Fresno
- Donald Lee Prichard, Redondo Beach
- Ruth Cecilia Rose, Beverly Hills
- Lori Jo Sklar, Hopkins, Minnesota
- Aleksandra Urban, Saint Claire Shores, Michigan
- Joseph Walch, Los Angeles
- William Joseph Ward, Kelseyville
- Joseph Lamon Wright, Sonora
- Emahn Counts, Pasadena
Catalina Loredo Manzano
State Bar # 191928, Reseda (April 23, 2017)
Manzano was disbarred by default after she failed to participate either in person or through counsel at her disciplinary proceeding, despite receiving adequate notice and opportunity to do so. She did not act to have the default set aside or vacated.
She was found culpable of two counts of professional misconduct: failing to update her address in State Bar membership records and failing to cooperate in the disciplinary investigation of the charge against her.
Manzano had one prior record of discipline.
Martin Barnett Reiner
State Bar # 144024, Beverly Hills (April 21, 2017)
Reiner was disbarred after appealing an order by the hearing judge recommending that discipline.
In an earlier disciplinary proceeding, Reiner was suspended from practicing law after disobeying a court order to comply with the provision requiring that he file a compliance affidavit verifying that he had notified clients, co-counsel, and opposing counsel of his suspension in all pending matters (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 9.20).
In the instant appeal, he admitted that despite notice and reminders, he chose not to file the required compliance affidavit, arguing the order was invalid and unlawful—and that the present disciplinary proceeding must be dismissed as “derivative.”
The State Bar Court panel on review found this argument had no merit, noting: “Where an attorney evidences an indifference to the disciplinary system that is designed to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession, we have not hesitated to recommend disbarment, and we do so here.”
State Bar # 56157, San Francisco (April 23, 2017)
Taylor was summarily disbarred after a jury found him guilty of 19 criminal offenses: seven counts of making false statements to a federally insured financial institution (18 U.S.C. 1014); six counts of aggravated identity theft (18 U.S.C. §1028(A)); three counts of making false statements on U.S. passport applications (18 U.S.C. § 1542); two counts of tax evasion (26 U.S.C. §7201); and one count of endeavoring to obstruct and impede the administration of the Internal Revenue laws (26 U.S.C. §7212(a)).
All of the offenses are felonies, and four of them—those involving the falsified passport applications and aggravated identity theft—involve moral turpitude as a matter of law.
Nicholas K. Cameron
State Bar # 236607, Santa Ana (April 22, 2017)
Cameron was suspended from practicing law for three months and placed on probation for two years after he appealed the imposition of the recommended discipline. He was found culpable both at the hearing below and on appeal of failing to maintain proper accounting records and failing to account to a client for funds received on her behalf.
Cameron represented a minor client suffering from developmental learning and physical disabilities who had been seriously injured in a car accident, initially entering a retainer agreement with the client’s mother than entitled him to a 25% contingency fee. Just after the client’s 18th birthday, he presented a second retainer agreement providing that he would be paid “up to 55%” of the auto accident settlement, in addition to being compensated for handling medical liens and other legal and administrative matters.
The insurer then agreed to settle for the policy limits of $1.3 million—issuing two checks, which Cameron deposited in his client trust account, then issued a check to the client in the amount of $430,693 with the notation “partial payment” on it. Cameron later wrote another check to satisfy a pending Medi-Cal lien, effectively ending his work in the case. However, for the next 17 months, he used the remaining $715,000 of the settlement proceeds for his own benefit. The client was never given any written accounting of the settlement proceeds.
In aggravation, Cameron was deemed culpable of overreaching in his dealings with a very vulnerable client, demonstrated indifference toward rectifying or atoning for the consequences of his misconduct as well as a lack of candor throughout most of his testimony—which included a refusal to acknowledge his client’s learning disabilities.
On appeal, Cameron argued that he provided an accounting but it was stolen—a claim the hearing judge and panel found lacked merit.
In recommending actual suspension the panel emphasized: “An accounting was particularly important with a fee agreement such as Cameron’s, which involved an extremely vulnerable client, provided potential attorney fees for multiple categories of work, and stated that Cameron would satisfy millions of dollars in medical liens from his settlement share.”
Fernando Fabela Chavez
State Bar # 86902, Campbell (April 9, 2017)
Chavez was suspended from the practice of law for one year and placed on probation for three years following his appeal of the State Bar Court judge’s findings of culpability and recommendation of discipline. The panel on review affirmed the findings and recommendation.
Chavez was found culpable of six counts of professional misconduct: two counts each of failing to maintain client funds in a trust account and misappropriating a total of $75,000 in client funds—wrongdoing involving moral turpitude, as well as commingling those funds and failing to obey a court order.
He was hired to represent two clients in a civil action involving a car accident that injured several of their family members and killed two of them. Both clients signed contingency fee agreements providing for a 40% attorney fee if the case was settled after mediation; one of the insurance carriers paid a $10,100 settlement. Chavez subsequently filed a products liability action of behalf of the clients, alleging a defective tire tread was responsible for the accident; only one of the clients signed the new fee agreement in that case, agreeing to an increased attorney fee of 50%. That case was settled for an aggregate amount of $750,000. A court approved a minor’s compromise, designating a total of $88,000 (based on the 40% fee agreements) and ordering that $10,000 must be placed in a blocked account at a bank. The blocked account was never established. The $750,000 was ultimately deposited in Chavez’s client trust account, and checks were immediately issued from the account, causing it to dip far below the mandated balance.
At one of the client’s requests, Chavez tendered an accounting that contained several errors. After a State Bar investigation into the matter began, a second accounting was also prepared, which the judge deemed to be “a post State Bar investigation attempt to justify the fees taken in this matter.”
The hearing judge and panel on appeal found the misappropriation was grossly negligent as opposed to intentional, as Chavez had delegated all bookkeeping and trust account oversight to his longtime office assistant, a non-lawyer.
In aggravation, Chavez committed multiple acts of misconduct, as well as harming the client, who is still owed $23,500 in settlement proceeds.
In mitigation, he had practiced law 31 years discipline-free, presented testimony from 19 individuals drawn from a wide range in the community attesting to his good character, and submitted evidence of performing substantial pro bono and community service work.
Thomas Richard D’Arco
State Bar # 79929, Pasadena (April 24, 2017)
D’Arco was suspended from practicing law pending proof of passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam as mandated in an earlier State Bar disciplinary order.
Chaka H. Grossman
State Bar # 239941, Beverly Hills (April 15, 2017)
Grossman was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years following a hearing on a motion to revoke probation that was imposed in a previous disciplinary order. Although he was properly served with notice, Grossman did not participate in the proceeding.
The discipline order, imposed after an approved stipulation, included a two-year stayed suspension and two-year probation with conditions but no actual suspension. However, despite State Bar efforts to make Grossman aware of the conditions imposed and to comply with them, he failed to comply by: filing two written quarterly reports late, completely failing to file one written report, and failing to present proof of attending and passing State Bar Ethics School as required.
The Office of Probation also noted that an order had been filed suspending Grossman for the failure to take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, another condition imposed in the earlier disciplinary order.
In aggravation, Grossman had a prior record of discipline, committed multiple acts of misconduct, evidenced ongoing indifference to rectifying his misconduct, and demonstrated a lack of cooperation by failing to participate in the instant proceeding.
David Curtis Hollingsworth
State Bar # 203887, Fresno (April 15, 2017)
Hollingsworth was suspended from the practice of law for one year following a hearing on a motion to revoke probation that had been imposed in an earlier disciplinary proceeding. Despite being properly served with notice, he did not participate in the proceeding.
The California Supreme Court earlier accepted the discipline recommendation of one year of stayed suspension and two years of probation after Hollingsworth stipulated to committing two counts of professional misconduct in a single client matter. He failed to comply with all of his probation conditions, however—filing two written quarterly reports late and failing to file three additional quarterly reports.
In aggravation, Hollingsworth had a prior record of discipline and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the present matter.
Donald Lee Prichard
State Bar # 186729, Redondo Beach (April 22, 2017)
Prichard was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for three years after he stipulated to committing five acts of professional misconduct n a single client matter. His wrongdoing included: failing to promptly pay out client funds in his possession, failing to maintain the requisite amount in his client trust account, failing to prepare and maintain appropriate client accountings, commingling client funds with his own, and misappropriating client funds for his own purposes—an act involving moral turpitude.
Prichard was employed to represent a client with a personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle accident. During the course of that representation, he received notices from two medical providers offering to settle their liens. During a five-year period, he maintained a client trust account but did not prepare a written journal for it—issuing 56 checks during that time to pay personal expenses. Three times during that period, the client trust account balance dipped below the permissible amount.
In aggravation, Prichard committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, presented declarations from eight individuals taken from a range of the legal and general communities who attested to his good character and pro bono service, had practiced law approximately 15 years without a record of discipline, and was stressed and distressed during the time of the misconduct by caring for his wife during her terminal illness.
Ruth Cecilia Rose
State Bar # 145887, Beverly Hills (April 22, 2017)
Rose was suspended from practicing law for 90 days and placed on probation for three years after she stipulated to committing three acts of professional misconduct by issuing three checks from her client trust account when she knew there were insufficient funds to cover them—acts involving moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Rose had been disciplined twice before and committed multiple acts of misconduct in the instant case.
In mitigation, she entered into a stipulation about facts and culpability before charges were filed against her, submitted references from eight individual from a range of the legal and general communities who attested to her good moral character—three of whom also attested to her history of pro bono work, and demonstrated remorse by voluntarily attending the State Bar’s Client Trust Account School.
Lori Jo Sklar
State Bar # 170218, Hopkins, Minnesota (April 21, 2017)
Sklar was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years following her appeal of an order recommending that discipline. She was found culpable of seeking to mislead a judge and of failing to obey a court order.
The matter was initially referred to the State Bar by a court of appeal, which upheld a superior court sanction against Sklar for the misuse of discovery.
In the underlying matter, Sklar represented consumers in a class action against a computer manufacturer alleging a malfunction in the laptops it produced. At one point during the case proceedings, which lasted for more than a decade, Sklar sought between $22 million and $24 million in fees from the superior court in both filings and statements to the judge. She subsequently disavowed this, claiming the actual amount of her fee request was $12 million. The court ultimately awarded $176,900 in fees to Sklar’s staff for work on the case, but denied her any fees.
When protracted discovery disputes arose after Sklar’s initial $24 million fee request, the court allowed discovery of her electronic time records. She produced only hard copies, claiming the searchable electronic records were destroyed in a daily scrubbing of her computer. She also refused to allow a court-ordered inspection of her backup computer files, slated to be conducted by a neutral expert, and was sanctioned $165,000 for misuse of the discovery process.
On appeal, Sklar raised a host of challenges—including that the trial judge abused his discretion in admitting several tangible items into evidence, that approximately 40 admitted facts were erroneous, that she was “selectively prosecuted” by the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar in violation of her constitutional rights, and that other participants, including the superior court judge, were biased and unethical. The panel on review found no merit to any of Sklar’s claims, noting: “She primarily repeats arguments she previously advanced, which were rejected by the superior court, the Court of Appeal, and the State Bar Hearing Department.”
In aggravation, Sklar committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated a lack of insight and recognition of her wrongdoing.
In mitigation, she submitted evidence of 14 witnesses attesting to her good character and had practiced law for 14 years without a record of discipline.
State Bar # 277475, Saint Claire Shores, Michigan (April 22, 2017)
Urban was suspended from practicing law for 30 days and placed on probation for two years after she stipulated to pleading guilty to several misdemeanors: driving under the influence of alcohol (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(a)); driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)); child endangerment (Cal. Pen. Code §273a(b)); escaping from arrest (Cal. Pen. Code §836.6(b)); and resisting and obstructing an officer (Cal. Pen. Code §148(a)(1)). The matter was referred to the State Bar’s Hearing Department to determine whether the offenses involved moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting professional discipline.
While driving home erratically after having dinner at a restaurant, Urban was stopped by highway patrol officers; her 8-year-old daughter was a passenger in the car. Urban was confused and uncooperative during the officers’ investigation, struggling with them in and out of a patrol car and attempting to escape handcuffs that had been placed on her.
In mitigation, Urban entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided 28 letters attesting to her good character—20 of them explicitly stating they were aware of the full extent of her misconduct.
In aggravation, she committed multiple acts of misconduct.
The State Bar Court judge found the misconduct did not involve moral turpitude, but warranted discipline including a term of actual suspension, noting the behavior “evidences that she has a problem with alcohol and a flagrant disregard for the law and safety of others.”
State Bar # 56192, Los Angeles (April 15, 2017)
Walch was suspended from practicing law for five years and placed on probation for five years following a probation revocation proceeding in which he did not participate. The State Bar determined that he had been properly served and received adequate legal notice of the proceeding.
He had violated the restitution provision of a discipline order imposed earlier by failing to provide any proof of making minimum monthly payments of $250 each to three payees during the nine months of his initial probation period. That probation period had been repeatedly extended due to his ongoing failures to comply with the restitution obligations in the original order.
In aggravation, Walch had two prior records of discipline and demonstrated a lack of cooperation by failing to participate in the present proceeding.
While concluding that the probation violations at issue warranted the “greatest level of discipline permissible,” the State Bar Court judge explicitly rejected the Office of Probation’s request to recommend involuntary inactive enrollment in light of the suspension already in effect.
William Joseph Ward
State Bar # 113849, Kelseyville (April 21, 2017)
Ward was suspended from practicing law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to being found guilty by a jury verdict of the single count with which he was charged: committing a hit and run accident causing injury (Cal. Veh. Code §20001(a)). While the felony offense does not constitute moral turpitude per se, the State Bar Court judge determined that under the facts and circumstances in the present case, moral turpitude was involved.
Ward was driving in accord with the posted speed limit when he hit a construction worker who was bent over, placing temporary reflector tabs on the road. He failed to stop, render aid, or identify himself—leaving the area and driving home. A woman who had witnessed the accident stopped Ward at a red light, encouraging him to go back to the accident scene—and though he promised he would, he continued to drive home, speeding and running two red lights. The witness wrote down Ward’s license number and called police, who observed that his parked car was damaged on one side and had a missing bumper. He was subsequently arrested.
In mitigation, Ward entered into a pretrial stipulation, had no prior record of discipline in 30 years of practicing law, presented reference letters from seven individuals spanning a wide range of the community who attested to his good character, and submitted evidence of substantial pro bono and community service work.
Joseph Lamon Wright
State Bar # 239838, Sonora (April 6, 2017)
Wright was suspended from the practice of law for six months and placed on probation for two years after he stipulated to four separate convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher (Cal. Veh. Code §23152(b)). During the course of two of the traffic stops leading to his arrests, Wright misrepresented to investigating police officers that he had not consumed any alcohol—misconduct involving moral turpitude.
In aggravation, Wright committed multiple acts of misconduct and demonstrated indifference to rectification or atonement by being arrested for driving under the influence and being convicted of the charge while still on probation for an earlier conviction of that offense.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and provided five character reference letters from individuals taken from a wide range of the legal and general communities who were aware of the full extent of his misconduct. He also successfully completed a residential substance abuse program, and thereafter underwent weekly toxicology screens in addition to participating in substance abuse support meetings.
State Bar # 231368, Pasadena (April 15, 2017)
Counts was placed on two years of probation after he stipulated to two counts of professional misconduct in two client matters: failing to perform legal services with competence in one, and failing to keep a client reasonably informed of significant case developments in the other.
In the first case, Counts represented a client in a commercial breach of lease case, with the client allowing him access to his credit card account—authorizing payment of court costs and legal fees in the case. The client terminated the employment after the two had a dispute over fees, withdrawing the authorization to use his credit card account. However, one month later, Counts’ staff, which the State Bar found he supervised inadequately, charged the account $2,560 in fees; Counts refunded the money to the client before disciplinary charges were instituted.
In the second matter, a married couple who were general contractors hired Counts to perform legal research to determine the validity of a mechanic’s lien they had earlier recorded against some property owners, believing it could be renewed in one week’s time. Counts hired a research attorney for the task, who discovered the lien was defective on its face. However, Counts failed to convey this information to the clients until 12 days after the date they believed the lien could be renewed.
In aggravation, Count committed multiple acts of wrongdoing.
In mitigation, he had practiced law for nine years without being disciplined, there was no evidence either of the clients was harmed by the misconduct, nine witnesses from a widespread sample of the legal and general communities submitted declarations attesting to his good character, and he made full restitution for the unauthorized charges prior to the State Bar’s involvement in the matter.
Omatshola Enafete Dafeta
State Bar # 218573, Los Angeles (April 28, 2017)
Dafeta was publicly reproved after stipulating to committing three acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: improperly withdrawing from employment, failing to render an appropriate account to the client upon terminating representation, and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the misconduct alleged.
Dafeta was hired to represent a client in a pending civil matter, accepting $1,500 as an initial fee, but shortly after that, took no effective action in the case—failing to respond to motions and orders and failing to appear at scheduled court hearings, as well as ignoring several entreaties from State Bar investigators for more information about the matter.
In aggravation, Dafeta committed multiple acts of misconduct and significantly harmed the client by delaying any recovery by at least four years.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation, had no prior record of discipline in 10 years of practicing law, submitted reference letters from six individuals representing a range from the legal and general communities who attested to his good character, as well as evidence of some pro bono and community service work.
Robert Poinier Easton
State Bar # 97116, San Diego (April 5, 2017)
Easton was publicly reproved after he stipulated to committing two acts of professional misconduct in a single client matter: failing to perform legal services with competence and failing to respond promptly to the client’s reasonable case status inquiries.
Easton was hired to pursue a personal injury claim on behalf of a minor, settling the case for $37,000, which he received and deposited into a structured settlement account. After that, he failed to act to finalize the settlement by negotiating the remaining medical lien and filing a petition for the minor’s compromise in the case; he also ignored six email entreaties from the minor’s mother requesting a case status update.
In aggravation, Easton committed multiple acts of misconduct.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation and had no prior record of discipline in nearly 33 years of practicing law.
Carol Ruth Hamilton
State Bar # 178318, Sunland (March 7, 2017)
Hamilton was publicly reproved after she stipulated to pleading nolo contendere to one count of fleeing from a peace officer (Cal. Veh. Code §2800.1(a)).
Police were summoned to Hamilton’s home by a friend who reportedly found her distraught after taking prescription drugs and alcohol. At the scene, they saw her driving away in her vehicle, and pursued her for a short distance, with overhead lights flashing and siren activated. When she stopped, she resisted the officers’ attempts to remove her from the vehicle, kicking one of them in the process.
The State Bar Court judge determined the offense did not involve moral turpitude, but the misconduct did warrant professional discipline.
In mitigation, Hamilton entered into a pretrial stipulation acknowledging the wrongdoing, had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 20 years, and submitted letters from four individuals taken from a range of the legal and general communities who were aware of her misconduct and attested to her good character.
Dianne Karen Harmata
State Bar # 163412, Las Vegas, Nevada (April 4, 2017)
Harmata was publicly reproved after she stipulated to committing one act of professional misconduct in a single client matter by failing to maintain proper client accounting records.
Harmata and her brother, who were former law partners, jointly owned a client trust account; she had primary responsibility for maintaining it and for depositing funds and issuing checks related to the account. The brother received two checks totaling $5,250 that represented settlement funds in a client’s civil dispute case. He told Harmata he believed the checks were for fees, after which she issued checks from the client trust account, causing the balance to dip well below the amount required for maintaining the client’s settlement funds. The State Bar found she was not responsible for the misappropriation, noting it occurred because her brother had supplied her with erroneous information, but found her culpable of failing to maintain the requisite client ledger for the funds.
In mitigation, Harmata entered into a pretrial stipulation, presented letters from six individuals from a range of the legal and general communities who attested to her good character, and had practiced law for approximately 27 years without a record of discipline.
Jeffrey Verlyn Jensen
State Bar # 114900, Newport Beach (April 25, 2017)
Jensen was publicly reproved after he stipulated to a single act of professional misconduct: failing to uphold laws related to real estate broker licensure—including demonstrating incompetence in the licenses activities and failing to exercise supervision over others he left to manage day-to-day operations of the business.
In mitigation, Jensen had practiced law discipline-free for approximately 29 years and entered into a stipulation before charges were filed against him in the instant case.
Blake Edward Wilson
State Bar # 279672, Coronado (April 6, 2017)
Wilson was publicly reproved after he stipulated to committing two professional acts of misconduct in a single client matter: failing to promptly return the client’s file after being terminated and failing to cooperate in the State Bar’s investigation of the alleged wrongdoing.
Wilson represented a client in a real property dispute and wrongful detainer action, accepting a monthly flat fee. The client became unsatisfied and terminated Wilson’s services, requesting his client file. Though Wilson responded the next month that he was preparing a letter for him that would include a large portion of the client file, he never sent such a letter. Wilson then failed to respond to several inquiries from State Bar investigators about failing to return the client file; he eventually delivered the file more than a year after the initial request for it.
In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation; however, that stipulation was allotted only limited weight, as it was not entered until the time of trial—and “thereby did not save the State Bar Court the resources it normally could have, had the matter settled prior to trial.”