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Luminary Award California Bar Journal
 
Suspensions/Probation
  1. ANANA JOHARI RICE
  2. DIRK DWIGHT SHARP
  3. KATHERINE MELISSA TOWNLEY
  4. MARILYN SUE SCHEER
  5. JUDSON THOMAS FARLEY
  6. WILLIAM ARTHUR HUSTWIT
  7. ROBERT BAZIKYAN
  8. JONATHAN GREGG STEIN
  9. ISLE MARIE BUTTERFIELD

ANANA JOHARI RICE [#209795], 40, of Los Angeles, was suspended from the practice of law for one year and ordered to take the MPRE, comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court and make restitution. She was also placed on two years’ probation and faces a two-year suspension if she does not comply with the terms of her probation. The order took effect Aug. 8, 2014.

Rice stipulated to misconduct in five client matters: failing to perform legal services with competence, respond promptly to the reasonable status inquiries of a client, promptly refund unearned fees, perform legal services with competence or render appropriate accounts to a client.

Rice stipulated that she dropped the ball in five client matters. In one of them, in 2012, Rice was hired to prepare a living trust. She prepared a living trust document and sent it to the client for review, along with a letter instructing the client to call her if she had any questions. Rice did not respond to any of the client’s follow-up calls and did not do any further work on the matter.

In another matter that year, a client paid Rice $3,000 in advanced fees to represent her in divorce proceedings. Rice filed documents in the matter that contained clerical errors, leading the court to reject it. Despite telling the client she would fix the problem and refile, Rice never did and did not do any additional work on the case. She also did not return any of the unearned fees. 

Also in 2012, Rice was hired by a woman who needed assistance with a trust matter. Rice did a substantial amount of work on the case and charged the woman $16,573. In December of that year, she mailed a notice to opposing counsel that she was withdrawing as counsel due to medical and personal reasons. She did not, however, tell the client.

Rice was ordered to pay $6,600 plus interest in restitution.

In mitigation, Rice had no prior record of discipline, entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar and was suffering from extreme emotional issues at the time of her misconduct.

DIRK DWIGHT SHARP [#130772], 56, of Bend, Oregon, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. He was also placed on two years’ probation and faces a one-year suspension if he does not comply with the terms of his probation. The order took effect Aug. 8, 2014.

Sharp stipulated to misconduct in one client matter. In 2006, he agreed to represent a man who was in prison for attempted murder and help him explore his appellate options. At the client’s direction, the client’s mother paid Sharp $25,000 in two installments.

Sharp visited the client a couple times and provided him with a few documents, including an application for writ of habeas corpus, but nothing was ever filed in court. Sharp never performed any services of value on the client’s behalf.

Between September 2006 and July 2013, the client’s family members called Sharp repeatedly asking for updates on his appeal but Sharp did not respond until after a State Bar complaint was filed.

He was fired on July 10, 2013, but did not provide the client with an accounting.

In mitigation, he entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar and had no prior record of discipline.

KATHERINE MELISSA TOWNLEY [#226566], 44, of Redding, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. Townley was also placed on three years’ probation and faces a two-year suspension if she does not comply with the terms of her probation. The order took effect Aug. 8, 2014.

Townley stipulated that she accepted compensation for representing a client from someone other than the client without obtaining the client’s informed written consent and failed to promptly refund unearned fees, render appropriate accounts to a client or promptly respond to a client’s reasonable status inquiries about her case.

In 2012, Townley was hired to represent a woman in her divorce matter. That same day, the client paid Townley $2,000 in advanced fees using her parents’ credit card, with their authorization. Townley failed, however, to get the client’s informed written consent to accept payment of advanced fees from her parents.  

In April and May of that year, the client left messages for Townley asking her about the status of her divorce case. Townley did not respond and the client fired her in June, asking for an accounting and the return of unearned fees. As of the date of her stipulation, Townley still hadn’t provided the client with an accounting.

The client’s parents ultimately disputed Townley’s fees with their credit card company and Townley admitted that she owed them $1,419.10, which she said she would credit to the parents’ credit card. She did not do so for more than seven months.

In mitigation, Townley entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar.

She had one prior record of discipline, a 2012 suspension for failing to competently perform and failing to communicate in four client matters. She also failed to return unearned fees in one matter, properly withdraw from employment in one matter, provide an accounting in one matter, obtain the necessary waiver to accept fees from a non-client in one matter or cooperate in the State Bar investigations of two matters.

MARILYN SUE SCHEER [#132544], 60, of Woodland Hills, was suspended from the practice of law for two years and until she makes restitution and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. She was also placed on three years’ probation and faces a three-year suspension if she does not comply with the terms of her probation. The order took effect Aug. 15, 2014.

A hearing judge found Scheer culpable of misconduct in 32 loan modification cases concerning four clients in California and 28 clients in 12 other states. Scheer appealed the matter to the Review Department, arguing, among other things, that she did not engage in the unauthorized practice of law in the other jurisdictions because she never held herself out as entitled to practice, her services were limited to issues of federal law and the services she provided can be performed by a non-attorney.

A three-judge review panel agreed with the judge’s findings of culpability and aggravation in 30 of the client matters, found less evidence in mitigation and agreed that she should be suspended for a minimum of two years.

Specifically, the panel found her culpable of 26 acts of out-of-state unauthorized practice of law, 26 acts of collecting illegal fees and four acts of demanding and collecting fees prior to performing loan modification work in California.

In mitigation, Scheer had no prior record of discipline. She also received limited mitigation for presenting evidence of her good character and cooperating with the State Bar.

JUDSON THOMAS FARLEY [#83378], 63, of Capitola, was placed on probation for three years and faces a two-year suspension if he does not comply with the terms of his probation. He was also ordered to pay restitution and take the MPRE. The order took effect Aug. 8, 2014.

The State Bar Court found Farley culpable of five counts of professional misconduct in three client matters for not obeying court orders and not reporting judicial sanctions.

In one matter, Farley was ordered to pay $8,005 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the plaintiffs in a civil matter, but did not respond to repeated attempts to collect the money. Ultimately, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel compliance with the court order and a judge issued $13,005 and $1,500 in sanctions. As of the date of the State Bar Court’s decision, Farley had not complied with the orders or made a payment to the plaintiffs or the court. Farley also did not report the sanctions to the State Bar within 30 days as required.

Farley also did not comply with multiple court orders in two bankruptcy matters and did not report to the State Bar that he had been sanctioned in one of the matters.

In mitigation, Farley had no prior record of discipline and was experiencing financial difficulties at the time of his misconduct.

WILLIAM ARTHUR HUSTWIT [#43439], 75, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was placed on probation for two years and faces a two-year suspension if he does not comply with the terms of his probation. He was also ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Aug. 8. 2014.

Hustwit stipulated to improperly entering into a business transaction with a client, seeking to convince a client to withdraw a State Bar complaint against him and failing to refund unearned fees, perform legal services with competence or keep his client reasonably informed of significant developments in a matter.

All of the misconduct occurred with one client. In 2011, Hustwit was hired to represent a woman in a predatory lending lawsuit against her mortgage lender. When he determined he could not file the lawsuit, he withdrew as her attorney. Hustwit refunded $3,000 of the unearned fees but the client was still due $875, which Hustwit did not pay for nearly a year.

In August 2011, the client also hired Hustwit to form two limited liability companies on her behalf. Although he filed the initial documentation, Hustwit did not file the initial annual list of managers, a state business license and a $325 fee for each company. On Dec. 1, he was notified the companies were in default but did not tell the client. Hustwit was ultimately informed that the companies were in revoked status but took no steps to resolve the problem.

The woman also hired Hustwit in August 2011 and December 2011 to represent her in two separate personal injury cases resulting from automobile accidents. While he was still representing her in the personal injury cases and the predatory lending case, he asked her for a $25,000 loan, to which she agreed. Hustwit did not pay her back when he said he would and instead asked for an additional $10,000. Neither loan was secured by collateral.

Hustwit again delayed paying her back before finally admitting in August 2012 that the funds were gone. He said the money had been used toward an investment and that the securities had been stolen.

On Sept. 7, 2012, the client’s new attorney filed a civil suit against Hustwit. The same month the client filed a State Bar complaint against Hustwit. That October, Hustwit made an offer to settle the lawsuit that included a provision that the client withdraw the complaint.

The agreement was never executed, and another offer was made. Although he had only promised to pay the client $42,500, Hustwit ultimately paid $85,000 to compensate her for the delay in payment and to resolve the lawsuit and any other disputes existing between them.

In mitigation, Hustwit entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar, presented evidence of his good character and had no prior record of discipline.

ROBERT BAZIKYAN [#242921], 33, of Sherman Oaks, was suspended from the practice of law for six months and ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Aug. 21, 2014.

Bazikyan stipulated to five counts of misconduct in one client matter: failing to notify the State Bar that he was employing a disbarred attorney, failing to inform his clients he was employing a disbarred attorney, seeking to mislead a judge and two counts of failing to perform legal services with competence.

In July 2012, Bazikyan opened an office in Van Nuys and hired a disbarred attorney, Armen Gekchyan, as office manager. Gekchyan had been summarily disbarred earlier that year after being convicted of felonies involving moral turpitude, including grand theft, money laundering and forgery.

In September 2012, Bazikyan was hired to represent three defendants in a civil suit concerning a partnership dispute over a furniture store. When the clients first met with Bazikyan and Gekchyan, Bazikyan told them Gekchyan was a disbarred attorney but did not give them written notification as he was supposed to do.

At the meeting, the clients signed a retainer agreement that bore Bazikyan’s name and supposed signature, which was in fact forged by Gekchyan.

In the course of representing the clients, Bazikyan also knowingly allowed Gekchyan to file and sign his name to other court documents including substitution of attorney forms, a pleading and declaration that was supposed to have been signed by Bazikyan under penalty of perjury and a declaration to the court.

On Nov. 1, 2012, unbeknownst to Bazikyan, Gekchyan impersonated Bazikyan in court, arguing the merits of an ex parte application in the case. The plaintiff and his counsel soon realized that Gekchyan was not Bazikyan and filed an ex parte application to disqualify Bazikyan as attorney for the clients. The court ordered Bazikyan to file a response but he did not, leading to a default judgment against his clients.

The clients hired a new attorney, who filed a motion to set aside the default along with declarations from each of the clients and Bazikyan. Once again, Bazikyan allowed Gekchyan to sign his name to the declaration.

Soon after, the plaintiff’s counsel filed a complaint against Bazikyan with State Bar.

In mitigation, Bazikyan entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar and submitted evidence of his good character.

JONATHAN GREGG STEIN [#224609], 41, of Elk Grove, was suspended from the practice of law for 90 days and ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. He was also placed on two years’ probation and faces a two-year suspension if he does not comply with the terms of his disciplinary probation. The order took effect Aug. 21, 2014.

Stein stipulated to misconduct in three loan modification matters: splitting fees with a non-attorney, and failing to perform legal services with competence or refund unearned fees.

From March 2009 to April 2010, Stein worked as a contract attorney for “US Loan Auditors LLC,” “US Loan Auditors Inc.” and “My US Legal Services,” companies owned in part by non-attorneys. The companies employed outside lawyers to file predatory lawsuits against lenders.

During his time with USLS, Stein was paid $36,613 in fees from a portion of the monthly installments paid as advanced attorney’s fees by Stein’s clients. To date, he has not refunded any portion of those fees to his clients.

In October 2010, USLS effectively ceased operations following the filing of a civil action by the California Attorney General’s Office.

Stein was ordered to pay $37,863 plus interest in restitution.

In mitigation, Stein entered into a pretrial stipulation with the State Bar and had no prior record of discipline.

ISLE MARIE BUTTERFIELD [#128888], 52, of Hayward, was suspended from the practice of law for one year and until she shows proof of her rehabilitation and ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. Butterfield was also placed on probation for three years and faces a three-year suspension if she does not comply with the terms of her probation. The order took effect Aug. 20, 2014.

The State Bar Court Hearing Department initially found Butterfield culpable of five counts of misconduct – including committing acts of moral turpitude, engaging in unauthorized practice of law, seeking to mislead a judge and failing to comply with probation conditions – and recommended a one-year suspension. The State Bar sought review, asking that she be suspended for two years and until she proves her rehabilitation. The Review Department agreed with all but one of the judge’s findings and discipline recommendation but added the requirement that she prove her rehabilitation.

In early 2011, Butterfield was hired to represent a woman in a highly contested family law matter. A month later, she was suspended for misconduct in an earlier, unrelated matter. A hearing in the case was scheduled for Dec. 6, 2011, while she was on suspension. A day before the hearing, she told opposing counsel that she could not attend but failed to mention to him that she was on suspension. On the day of the hearing, she sent him a letter discussing the merits of the case and reiterating that she was unavailable.

That same day, she faxed a letter to the commissioner hearing the case stating that she was unavailable because she had another engagement that could not be moved and blamed computer problems for the scheduling error.

Butterfield was previously suspended in 2011 after she filed a 2009 declaration in federal district court that she signed in her client’s name and then lied about the signature to the judge and at her deposition.

As a condition of her probation, Butterfield was supposed to submit quarterly reports to probation. She submitted her January 2012 report seven days late and her July 2012 report six days late. She also failed to provide proof of her completion of Ethics School on time as required by her probation terms and admitted at trial that her quarterly report falsely stated under penalty of perjury that she had not practiced law while suspended.

In mitigation, Butterfield cooperated with the State Bar. She also received some mitigation for extreme emotional difficulties she was experiencing and for recognition of her misconduct.

. Caution!  More than 200,000 attorneys are eligible to practice law in California. Many attorneys share the same names. All discipline reports are taken from State Bar Court documents and should be read carefully for names, ages, addresses and bar numbers. Read the Discipline Key for an explanation of the different levels of disciplinary action. Use Attorney Search to check an attorney's official bar membership record.