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WILLIAM THOMAS HAYS JR. [#135264], 54, of Santa Ana was disbarred Oct. 6, 2012, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Hays, who had no prior discipline record, sought review of a State Bar Court hearing judge’s recommendation that he be disbarred for misappropriating more than $62,000 from a paraplegic client. Although he admitted the misappropriation, he challenged the judge’s finding that he lied to a bar investigator, said he was denied due process and claimed disbarment is too harsh in light of mitigating evidence. A three-judge review panel denied Hays’ claims, although it reversed one finding of moral turpitude.

Hays represented a man who was severely injured in an automobile accident. The client and his mother signed a contingency fee agreement that gave Hays 37.5 percent of any gross recovery if the matter settled before trial. Hays filed suit in San Diego against the driver and his father, General Motors and the owner of the home where the driver had been drinking. After further investigation, Hays pursued only the claim against the driver and settled with the driver’s insurance company for the $100,000 policy limit.

Hays and the client had a dispute about the amount the client would receive. Hays believed he was entitled to $37,500 and was required to hold $62,500 in trust. The client and his mother believed they were entitled to the entire $100,000, that the retainer agreement was a mere “technicality” and that the insurance payment was a fait accompli and the client was entitled to the full amount. They thought Hays would keep the money in his trust account for four and a half years to cover any liens.

The review panel said there was no question that Hays had to keep $62,500 in his trust account. He admitted he did not do so and allowed the balance to fall to $19.78. He claims he tried to give money to his client at least four times but the client  “didn’t want the money,” an assertion the client disputes.

Four years after receiving settlement funds, Hays gave the client a check for $60,000, which his mother did not cash, fearing Hays would say she and her son had relinquished their right to any additional funds. Hays later gave them a check for $2,500 and promised to pay the full $100,000, plus interest. He didn’t do so.

Hays eventually agreed to pay the disputed amount plus interest by Jan. 20, 2008, the mother deposited a check for $60,000 and a check for $37,500 in her son’s investment account. The smaller check bounced, because, Hays said, it was not deposited by the deadline. He testified at trial that he told his client’s family “that if ‘[t]hey want the fees, they cash it right away, or no deal.’ When they delayed depositing the check, Hays said he ‘made sure there wasn’t [enough money]’ in his general account to cover the check.” The mother denied that Hays had imposed a time restriction on depositing the check.

The review department found that Hays failed to maintain $62,500 in his client trust account, misappropriated client funds and committed acts of moral turpitude by misappropriating the money and making misrepresentations to a State Bar investigator.

In mitigation, Hays had no discipline record, cooperated with the bar’s investigation and presented evidence of his good character. The review judges disagreed with Hays’ argument that the hearing judge disregarded evidence of his emotional difficulties, nor did they agree with his contention that he demonstrated good faith, lack of client harm or remorse.

In recommending Hays’ disbarment, Judge Judith Epstein wrote: “After misappropriating a large sum of money from his vulnerable client, Hays subsequently promised an additional payment to resolve his outstanding fee dispute. But he then made sure his account lacked sufficient funds if the client did not cash his check within two or three days. To date, he has failed to pay (the client) the remaining $37,500 plus interest on the full settlement amount as promised. And he lied to the State Bar to conceal his misconduct.”

VAFA ALLAN KHOSHBIN [#165486], 52, of Los Angeles was disbarred Oct. 6, 2012, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Khoshbin stipulated to 52 counts of misconduct in 13 cases, all but one involving his representation of clients who were attempting to obtain loan modifications. He agreed to make restitution totaling $1.226 million in 11 of the matters.

Khoshbin ran a law firm called Debt Relief Law Center that handled loan modifications, settlements of second mortgages and bankruptcy. In a typical matter, he accepted an advance fee as well as substantial sums from clients wishing to settle second mortgages, but he did no work, misappropriated the money and did not refund unearned fees. He closed his law office without notifying his clients or taking steps to protect their interests and said he was filing for bankruptcy. He also broke state law by accepting advance fees for loan modification work, violating the civil code.

One client was told that Khoshbin had settled his second mortgage for $97,500 and he needed to deposit that amount in Khoshbin’s client trust account immediately. Khoshbin did not provide a copy of a settlement agreement, despite several requests, and when the client went to his office and reviewed the file, he learned there was no settlement.

Khoshbin deposited some client funds in his business account, rather than his trust account, and did not settle any matters. He misappropriated $318,032.41 from one couple, nearly $175,000 from another individual and $153,092.38, $111,135.90 and $143,680.06 from others.

Khoshbin stipulated that he was having severe financial problems at the time due to separating from his wife, and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and stipulated to disbarment. He was publicly reproved in February 2012 for failing to perform legal services competently, return client files, refund unearned fees or communicate with clients.

THOMAS M. WITTE [#107542], 57, of Fair Oaks was disbarred Oct. 19, 2012, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Witte sought review of a State Bar Court hearing judge’s recommendation that he be disbarred, but the court’s review panel upheld the recommendation, finding that he committed moral turpitude by engaging in vexatious litigation. The review court dismissed as duplicative charges that Witte failed to maintain respect for the court or maintain a just action. But overall, it found that he “pursued frivolous claims in probate court, disobeyed court rulings, engaged in frivolous delay tactics, and attempted to relitigate final orders.” The review court said Witte filed unmeritorious papers, failed to comply with court rulings, conducted unnecessary discovery, made baseless allegations of fraud, conspiracy, and misrepresentation, engaged in frivolous tactics designed to delay, and threatened a court-appointed professional fiduciary who filed a motion to declare Witte a vexatious litigant – the first such motion she filed in more than 30 years of practice.

The case – Witte’s third discipline in seven years – stemmed from a probate matter in which he represented the executor of an estate. A woman who worked for the estate was awarded more than $48,000, and although Witte did not appeal the order, he later challenged it in probate court, claiming the parties in the case procured the award by fraud. The probate court removed the beneficiary who also served as executor of the estate and replaced him with Carolyn Young, a professional fiduciary. Witte claimed fraud but the court of appeal affirmed the beneficiary’s removal.

When various lawyers in the case later filed petitions for compensation, Witte again presented frivolous issues, the review panel said, ultimately forcing Young to move to declare Witte a vexatious litigant. The probate court granted the motion because Witte’s filings in the compensation matter were “a wasteful attempt to relitigate matters already decided in previous court decisions.” After that ruling, Witte began to harass Young, the review court said, sending a letter to her bond company that accused her and her lawyer of fraud and implying that the court was going to award him more than $65,000. After the estate was settled, Witte threatened to file a civil rights action against Young, but offered to drop the claim if she paid him $15,000 and stipulated to vacate the vexatious litigant order.

The review deparment found “that Witte’s overall misconduct constitutes moral turpitude.” It dismissed his claims that he did not receive a fair trial before a bar court hearing judge and that the probate trial transcripts should have been admitted.

Witte has been disciplined twice previously, in 2006 and 2007. The first case involved three matters, one the same estate case that led to his disbarment. The second discipline resulted from court-ordered sanctions for Witte’s failures to file appropriate pleadings, respond to discovery in a timely manner or appear at a mandatory settlement conference.

“Dating back to the 1990’s, Witte has been violating court orders and failing to respect the court and its process,” the review panel wrote. “His past misconduct combined with his vexatious litigation in the case before us establishes a significant pattern of wrongdoing.” He continued to assert a conspiracy theory to justify his vexatious litigation and has engaged in a pattern of misconduct, the panel said, “that demonstrates disrespect for the courts, counsel, his clients, and the legal system.”

JAMES EDWARD CURTIS IV [#140709], 55, of Riverside was disbarred Oct. 25, 2012, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Curtis’ default was entered when he did not respond to charges that he committed 36 acts of misconduct in 19 matters. He did not seek to have his default set aside or vacated within 180 days and thus became subject to disbarment.

Once a lawyer’s default is entered, the charges are deemed admitted. Curtis was found guilty of 15 counts of failing to perform legal services competently, 13 counts of failing to refund unearned fees and of failures to cooperate with the bar’s investigation or return client files. He also engaged in malicious prosecution and committed an act of moral turpitude by writing a check against insufficient funds.

Curtis also was ordered to make restitution to 14 former clients totaling $118,300.

RICHARD DAVID COMESS [#198665], 62, of Monrovia was disbarred Oct. 25, 2012, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Comess’ default was entered Aug. 23, 2011, after he failed to respond to charges that he did not comply with conditions attached to a 2010 disciplinary probation, including a requirement that he comply with rule 9.20. Any attorney who does not seek to have his default set aside or vacated within 180 days is subject to disbarment under rule 5.85 of the State Bar’s Rules of Procedure. The charges are deemed admitted.

Comess was suspended and placed on probation in 2010 for practicing law while suspended, failing to refund unearned fees or comply with rule 955 (since renumbered as rule 9.20) and for committing acts of moral turpitude by misrepresenting his eligibility to practice. His failure to comply with the rule or to complete the other probation requirements led to the disbarment. He also was suspended in 2003 and 2004 for misconduct that included failures to perform legal services competently, respond to client inquiries, refund unearned fees, return client files or obey court orders.

HOLLY JEAN QUINT [#183681], 56, of Orinda was disbarred Oct. 25, 2012, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Quint’s default was entered Nov. 1, 2011, after she failed to appear at trial on 13 counts of misconduct involving four clients. Any attorney who does not seek to have his default set aside or vacated within 180 days is subject to disbarment under rule 5.85 of the State Bar’s Rules of Procedure. The charges are deemed admitted.

Quint settled one client’s case for $60,524 when the client had not authorized a settlement, signed the client’s name on two documents without authorization and submitted a document with the unauthorized signature to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. She misappropriated $19,492 from another client, failed to maintain that amount in her trust account, violated a court order and committed acts of moral turpitude by altering client trust account bank statements and making misrepresentations by giving the statements to the State Bar.

Quint misappropriated more than $35,000 from clients in two other cases, violated court orders and in both matters committed moral turpitude by making misrepresentations to the bar. One matter also involved falsifying client trust account bank statements.

She was ordered to make restitution of $35,570.33 plus interest to her former clients.

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