An attorney from La Cañada Flintridge, California, was recently disbarred after being accused of overcharging a client, misappropriating funds and failing to make agreed-upon restitution.
This 66-year-old attorney has a troubled history with the State Bar. His license has been inactive since Sept. 7, 2018, and he was charged with disciplinary offenses two months later. He was listed as “ineligible” to actually practice law several months before finally being suspended due to his failure to pay his Bar fees.
The trouble seems to stem from an estate he was hired to oversee, including a trust account that held the proceeds of a lawsuit. According to the court, the attorney never told the court about those funds and withdrew a little more than $80,000 for his own uses — which he termed “legal fees.”
Eventually, $31,861 in legal fees were approved but the attorney was required to repay the rest. Just the same, the attorney tried to bill the estate’s administrator $139,152 for his services, offering her back $60,319 in a settlement that would have allowed him to keep the rest.
The Bar called that an act of moral turpitude. He was also somehow involved in a fraud case in Santa Barbara involving $1.2 million, although he has pled not guilty to charges of being an accessory to a crime and grand theft.
Now that his license to practice law has been taken completely, he is still required to repay the $34,680 he owes to an estate with an additional 10% interest.
The lesson here for anyone who hopes to keep their law license is that they need to be scrupulous about the justification for the fees they charge their clients. In addition, once the Bar makes a determination, you simply cannot decide to go another direction and hope you can work around the decision. There’s simply too much at stake. Finally, always keep your client aware of the legal fees that are being charged as you go — that way, there’s no question that you were upfront and honest about any billing practices.