Suspensions/Probation
  1. JOHN ST. JOHN
  2. WILLIAM JAKE SUN WONG
  3. JOEL M. WARD
  4. MATTHEW P. TODD
  5. RICHARD JAMES STINSTROM
  6. WILLIAM ALAN SOBEL
  7. BEHROUZ SHAFIE
  8. CHRISTINE MADLAINE SEYLER
  9. GERALD HERBERT SCHER
  10. PHYLLIS MOORE QUATMAN
  11. DAVID LOWELL NELSON
  12. MELISSA SOYOUNG LEE
  13. TERRY RICHARD KOLKEY
  14. VAN OLIVER KINNEY
  15. JULIUS HARMOND HUGHEY
  16. ZACHARY IAN GONZALEZ
  17. IRWIN STUART GEVURTZ
  18. JAY CURTIS COX
  19. THOMAS MICHAEL COMPARET
  20. JACOB DONG HUN CHANG
  21. VALERIE LEE BARBER

The probation of JOHN ST. JOHN [#54642], 64, of San Rafael was revoked June 10, 2011, he was suspended for one year and until he makes restitution, and he was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. If the suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation.

St. John was suspended and placed on probation in 2010 but he violated four conditions of his probation. He failed to schedule an appointment with the State Bar’s probation office, submit two quarterly probation reports or proof of psychiatric evaluations and he did not arrange for seven screening reports.

In the underlying matter, he failed to perform legal services competently or inform his clients of significant developments in their cases. He also wrote a disrespectful letter to the judge who reported his misconduct to the State Bar.

In mitigation, St. John had no prior record of discipline, cooperated with the bar’s investigation and participated in the Lawyer Assistance Program.

WILLIAM JAKE SUN WONG [#75571], 63, of Pittsburg was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 30-day probation and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Wong stipulated that he commingled personal and client funds in his client trust account and used the account to pay American Express, PG&E and other personal bills. He also failed to respond to four letters from a State Bar investigator.

In mitigation, he had no prior discipline record.

JOEL M. WARD [#49156], 78, of Culver City was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Ward stipulated to two counts of misconduct in two matters. In the first, he misused his client trust account by commingling funds, paying for personal expenses from the account and failing to properly maintain his client funds. He admitted he misappropriated $3,000 of client money, committing an act of moral turpitude.

In the second matter, after representing three clients in one matter, he then represented two of the three when they sued the third for libel and slander. Ward did not obtain the defendant’s written consent and in fact the individual strenuously objected to Ward’s representation of his former co-plaintiffs. Ward had obtained confidential information material about his former client.

Ward was disciplined in 1992 and 1993, but the nature of the misconduct was not available.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation, had physical problems that resulted in his hospitalization and he made restitution in the client trust account matter.

MATTHEW P. TODD [#133023], 52, of Rolling Hills Estates was suspended for three years, stayed, and placed on three years of probation with an actual 18-month suspension and until he makes restitution. If the actual suspension exceeds 90 days, he must comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court; if it exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect June 18, 2011, and he received credit for a period of inactive enrollment from Oct. 10, 2006, to May 22, 2009.

Todd successfully completed the bar’s Alternative Discipline Program after demonstrating a connection between his mental health problems and his misconduct, and after he stipulated to 13 counts misconduct in five consolidated matters.

He failed to perform legal services competently, maintain client funds in trust, respond to client inquiries, keep clients reasonably informed of significant developments, keep his address current with the bar, comply with disciplinary conditions or cooperate with the bar’s investigation. He also improperly withdrew from representation, committed acts of moral turpitude by making misrepresentations and misappropriating client funds, and he engaged in the unlawful practice of law.

In a personal injury case, for example, Todd did not submit his client’s medical bills to the insurance carrier or engage in settlement negotiations, falsely told the court the case had been settled, falsely told his client the matter was near settlement, and did not tell his client when the case was dismissed.

In another personal injury matter the client settled for $37,500, Todd was required to maintain a balance of about $10,000 in his trust account pending final distribution of the funds. At one point, the balance dropped to $634.91. Todd still owed the client $5832.15, and admitted he misappropriated $10,000.

Todd has been disciplined three times previously. In mitigation, he showed remorse for his misconduct and was suffering from severe financial stress and extreme personal difficulties.

RICHARD JAMES STINSTROM [#140675], 54, of Irvine was suspended for three years, stayed, and placed on three years of probation with a one-year actual suspension. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Stinstrom stipulated that he did not comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court because he was nearly four months late in submitting to the State Bar Court an affidavit attesting that he notified his clients, opposing counsel and other interested parties of his suspension from practice. He was suspended and placed on probation in 2010 as a result of misconduct stemming from his handling of his parents’ living trust.

In mitigation, he has been living in a shelter that requires residents to keep its address confidential. The disciplinary notices were sent to a mailbox three miles away and Stinstrom was unable to regularly pick up his mail. He also presented a range of references to his good character.

WILLIAM ALAN SOBEL [#114147], 67, of Calabasas was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with an actual one-year suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation, and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Sobel stipulated to four acts of misconduct in three matters.

He substituted in to a personal injury matter in which his client was previously represented by another lawyer, who had a lien on any settlement. The case settled for $3,900, but Sobel did not notify the other lawyer or obtain his endorsement on the settlement check. After unsuccessfully attempting to get his share of the settlement, the other lawyer complained to the State Bar. Sobel stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently.

In another personal injury case that he settled, Sobel signed his client’s name to two documents, indicating the client actually had signed herself and in one case, the signature was witnessed. Sobel stipulated that his actions involved moral turpitude.

He misappropriated settlement funds in another personal injury case. It was dismissed by the court for failure to prosecute, but Sobel got it reinstated and settled the matter for $4,000. His client did not sign two disbursement proposals before he died and it took Sobel almost two years to send any funds to the client’s widow. In the interim, he was obligated to maintain a certain balance in his trust account, but he allowed the balance to dip below that amount. At one point, the balance was negative $2,180. Sobel stipulated that he failed to properly maintain his client trust account, and he misappropriated client funds, committing an act of moral turpitude.

Sobel was disciplined in 1997, 2004 and 2007. In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.

BEHROUZ SHAFIE [#108581], 66, of Beverly Hills was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on four years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. He received credit for a period of inactive enrollment from July 1, 2008, to Oct. 13, 2009. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Shafie successfully completed the State Bar Alternative Discipline Program after demonstrating a connection between his mental health issues and his misconduct and stipulating to misconduct in three sets of charges.

He failed to communicate with a client; perform legal services competently, promptly return client files, refund unearned fees and properly maintain client funds and he wrote a check against insufficient funds and misappropriated more than $55,000.

In the misappropriation matter, Shafie represented the wife in a divorce and received a check for $55,028 from the sale of the couple’s assets. His client fired him and hired a new lawyer, requesting that he sign the substitution form, and return her file and her funds. Although Shafie signed the substitution form two months later, he said he needed a court order to turn over the money, which partially belonged to the husband. When the court so ordered, he gave his client a check for $55,028. However, in the intervening months, he allowed the balance in his client trust account to fall to a negative amount, thus misappropriating the funds.

In mitigation, he had no prior discipline record and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.

CHRISTINE MADLAINE SEYLER (aka CHRISTINE SEYLER-CHAVEZ) [#171755], 50, of Newport Beach was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual six-month suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. She received credit for an interim suspension from Sept. 5 - Dec. 14, 2007. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Seyler was terminated from the State Bar’s Alternative Discipline Program due to unexcused absences from group/therapy sessions, missed lab tests, having a non-self-reported relapse and not providing an annual certification of completion. She already had admitted several misdemeanor convictions, and because she didn’t complete the ADP successfully was subject to a higher level of discipline.

In 2004, Seyler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor hit and run with property damage. A month later, local police responded to a complaint about a fight between roommates, and Seyler was arrested and charged with driving under the influence with a prior and driving with a blood alcohol content of more than .08 percent with a prior. (Seyler also pleaded no contest and guilty in 2003 to two DUIs and two infractions.)

In 2007, Seyler left a hair salon without paying but left a card bearing a different name. The police were called and discovered her other name and prior DUI convictions. Seyler later returned to the salon, yelling that her hair was ruined, left $40 of the $240 bill and left. Employees wrote down her license number and police later determined she was driving on a suspended license. She eventually pleaded guilty to petty theft.

In 2008, Seyler pleaded no contest to driving under the influence with a prior, a misdemeanor. Some of her convictions involved moral turpitude and others did not.

GERALD HERBERT SCHER [#141175], 48, of Sunnyvale was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension, and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Scher stipulated to 15 counts of misconduct in five matters.

He received a $9,000 settlement in a personal injury case, distributed most of the funds but did not pay two doctors for more than two months or make the final payment to his client for five years. He also did not return his client’s file for more than two years.

After settling another personal injury matter for $2,500, he took no further action to have his client sign the release, obtain the money or pay the client’s doctor, who sued the client in small claims court. The client had to hire a new lawyer, but Scher never provided the necessary documents or even advised if they existed. He also did little work for another client, who hired him to handle two cases. Scher eventually withdrew improperly.

He stipulated to seven counts of misconduct in a personal injury case he settled for $60,000. He did not pay his client’s lienholders for 18 months, did not appear at a motion to dismiss, didn’t notify his client that she needed an independent medical exam and did not return his client’s binder, containing all relevant documents, for eight months. Over the course of the litigation, prior to the settlement, Scher disobeyed five court orders and was sanctioned $300.

His misconduct included failures to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, pay out client funds promptly, return client files or properly account for client funds, and he improperly withdrew from representation, split fees with a non-lawyer and disobeyed court orders.

In mitigation, he had no prior discipline record and after his father passed away, several lawyers left his firm, leaving him with an increased workload.

PHYLLIS MOORE QUATMAN [#150653], 58, of Whitefish, Mont., was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Quatman stipulated that she disobeyed a court order by not timely responding to a Supreme Court order that she account for the work she did on a habeas corpus case. The court had ordered that she be reimbursed $43,560 for her work but asked that she account for her time.

Quatman was appointed to work on the habeas petition in 2005 under a fixed fee arrangement and received $39,360 at the end of the year. She continued to work on the proceeding and in September 2007, the court authorized payment of an additional $43,560. Within five months, she twice asked to be relieved as counsel due to health issues. The second request was granted, but Quatman was ordered to show cause whether she should reimburse the second payment. She did not respond to the order for a year, thus disobeying a court order.

In mitigation, Quatman cooperated with the bar’s investigation, she had health problems and the client was not harmed. She resides outside California and is on inactive status.

DAVID LOWELL NELSON [#170905], 46, of Murrieta was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Nelson stipulated to two acts of misconduct that resulted from a mismanaged client trust account from which his office manager embezzled $100,000. The office manager repaid $40,000 and Nelson took a second mortgage of $37,000 on his home to replace the missing money and attempted to reconcile the embezzled money with the financial obligations to his clients.

He received settlement funds in a personal injury matter he was handling at the time, but allowed the balance in his client trust account to fall below the required amount. After the client learned that Nelson had not paid her doctor, she began to pay the doctor herself. Nelson eventually repaid the client in full.

He stipulated that he misappropriated $6,775 from his client and did not properly maintain client funds.

In mitigation, Nelson had no prior discipline record, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and at the time of the embezzlement had difficulties in his personal life, including his son’s and mother’s health problems.

MELISSA SOYOUNG LEE [#195720], 40, of Monterey Park was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and she was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Lee stipulated to eight counts of misconduct in four matters, all involving requests by clients that she appeal dismissals of asylum applications by the Board of Immigration Appeals. In each case, she failed to file an opening brief before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and took no steps to reinstate the appeals after the cases were dismissed. She didn’t notify any of her clients about the status of their matters.

Lee stipulated in each matter that she failed to perform legal services competently or keep her clients informed of significants developments in their cases.

In mitigation, she cooperated with the bar’s investigation and she had serious emotional and physical problems, including uterine cancer. She and her husband also divorced.

TERRY RICHARD KOLKEY [#71528], 63, of Petaluma was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Kolkey stipulated that he failed to maintain client funds in a trust account.

He was hired to withdraw his client’s guilty plea in a criminal case and to retrieve $38,000 seized by the sheriff. He won the motion to retrieve the funds, which he placed in his client trust account in 1999, but he was unsuccessful in withdrawing his client’s guilty plea; the client was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Kolkey asked his client about the money and disbursed $8,000 to his client’s brother. When the client was released from prison and deported to Mexico, he asked for the remaining funds. Kolkey didn’t have the money in his trust account, although he eventually repaid the client.

In mitigation, Kolkey had no prior discipline record, cooperated with the bar’s investigation and made restitution. He believes he lost track of the funds at a time he was assigned three death penalty cases that absorbed his time and attention.

VAN OLIVER KINNEY [#79623], 63, of Redding was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 90-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

The State Bar Court hearing department heard consolidated charges against Kinney, including three misdemeanor convictions for driving while intoxicated, reckless driving (alcohol-related), and driving with a suspended license, as well as charges of failing to refund unearned fees in two client matters, improperly using his client trust account for personal purposes, and engaging in acts involving moral turpitude by issuing three insufficiently funded checks on his client trust account. Following a five-day trial, the court found Kinney guilty of everything but moral turpitude.

In addition to the convictions, Kinney was charged with misconduct in two client matters. The first was a dissolution for which the client paid an “advance retainer” of $5,000, one-half non-refundable and one-half to be used for fees and costs. The client fired Kinney six months later and asked for a detailed accounting and a refund of any unused fees. Kinney did not provide a full accounting, so the client asked for the return of the full $5,000. He didn’t refund any money, so the client complained to the bar. Kinney eventually returned $1,200 to the client, although he disputed that he owed that amount. At the time, he also used his client trust account to pay personal expenses, but the bar court did not find that he committed acts of moral turpitude.

In a second matter, a couple retained Kinney to represent them in an adoption, paying a $2,500 advance retainer. Again, half was non-refundable and the remainder was to pay fees and costs. The couple terminated Kinney’s services a few months later and asked for a refund; he provided $470 but still owed $1,250. He refunded the full amount about a year after the clients’ initial request.

In mitigation, Kinney had no discipline record in 32 years of practice, no clients were harmed, he submitted extensive good character evidence and does about 1,000 hours of volunteer work each year. He also modified his fee agreement and no longer uses his trust account as his personal account.

JULIUS HARMOND HUGHEY [#151196], 50, of San Francisco was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Hughey stipulated to seven acts of misconduct in three matters.

The first client paid $2,500 to obtain a loan modification and although Hughey wrote to the bank, he never did anything further. The client called him directly five times without a response, and he also didn’t respond to a third party who made inquiries on the client’s behalf. Hughey refunded her full retainer about nine months later.

Another client hired Hughey to file several suits alleging fraudulent bank loans, including claims that her business partner absconded with the loan proceeds. Hughey made about four phone calls to the bank, but did not pursue the matter further or return the client’s phone calls or calls from a third party. He eventually refunded her full $2,500 retainer.

In both those matters, Hughey stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, promptly refund unearned fees or respond to client status inquiries.

In a third case, he was hired to prepare and file a bankruptcy. He did not do so for more than a year, but at the time of the stipulation, he still represented the client and was working on the case. He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently.

In mitigation, he had no prior discipline record since his 1990 admission to the bar, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and he had back surgery that incapacitated him and affected his legal practice.

ZACHARY IAN GONZALEZ [#259663], 32, of West Covina was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a two-year actual suspension and until he makes restitution and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Gonzalez stipulated to eight counts of misconduct as a result of his loan modification work. He was charged in 11 cases and 12 more were uncharged.

As a new attorney, Gonzalez joined Pacific Loan Solutions (PLS), a loan modification company owned by a non-attorney and staffed by non-attorneys. Initially he was corporate counsel to PLS but within a month, he began his own loan modification practice. He partnered with PLS, collected fees from his clients and gave a portion of the fees to PLS. He did not supervise work performed by the company’s nonlawyers.

Either Gonzalez or PLS solicited clients through the mail and he didn’t meet all the clients. By the terms of the retainer agreement, a portion of the fees was refundable depending on what stage the modification process had advanced. For example, 70 percent of the fee was refundable after completion of the loan modification application but only 10 percent was refundable after negotiation of the modification with specified successful terms.

According to the stipulation, 18 clients paid Gonzalez more than $75,000 before terminating him. He did not refund or account for any of the money. In addition, two other clients paid a total of about $7,000 to negotiate loan modifications. He did no work for one, but did not refund the fee, and refunded a partial fee to the other, who won a full refund in fee arbitration. However, Gonzalez did not pay the award.

Many clients in the disciplinary complaint repeatedly attempted to communicate with Gonzalez without success. In some instances, PLS employees overstated Gonzalez’ ability to obtain a mortgage modification and told clients they could not change their mind about employing him once they signed the employment agreement. On a few occasions, PLS employees threatened to call the police if clients did not leave the premises, or otherwise demanded they leave the premises when they were there to request a refund.

Gonzalez stipulated that he formed an improper partnership with nonlawyers, split fees with nonlawyers, failed to refund unearned fees, communicate with clients or account for client money, and he committed acts of moral turpitude by soliciting clients by mail that appeared to have been sent from a bank rather than his law office and by failing to supervise PLS employees, allowing them to improperly solicit clients and make misrepresentations.

In mitigation, Gonzalez cooperated with the bar’s investigation.

IRWIN STUART GEVURTZ [#134453], 62, of Santa Monica was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on probation for two years with a 60-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Gevurtz was convicted of misdemeanor insurance fraud after he paid a driver who rear-ended another car for referring the car’s occupants to Gevurtz’ law firm. He stipulated that he violated California law, a crime that warrants discipline.

In mitigation, he had no prior discipline record.

JAY CURTIS COX [#147858], 49, of Orange was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Cox stipulated that he violated the terms of a 2011 public reproval by not complying with 11 Alcoholics Anonymous requirements. He missed or filed late various lab results or proof of attendance at meetings.

The reproval was imposed as the result of driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, and alcohol-related reckless driving. Cox also was disciplined in 2001 for possession of methamphetamine, as well as alcohol-related reckless driving and driving with a suspended license.

THOMAS MICHAEL COMPARET [#32103], 78, of Los Angeles was suspended for two years, stayed, and placed on two years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Comparet stipulated to misconduct in three matters.

He practiced law while suspended for failing to pay bar dues by making eight appearances in Riverside Superior Court on a civil case. He also used his client trust account to pay personal expenses over a six-month period, and he failed to comply with probation conditions attached to a 2010 disciplinary order. He didn’t contact a probation deputy and submitted three probation reports late. That discipline was imposed for practicing in California when he was not entitled because of non-compliance with the MCLE requirements.

In mitigation, he entered into a stipulation with the bar.

JACOB DONG HUN CHANG [#174476], 43, of Fullerton was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 60-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Chang stipulated to 12 counts of misconduct in seven matters.

In many cases, he failed to perform legal services competently or respond to his clients’ inquiries. For example, a client who hired him to handle her uninsured motorist claim against an insurance carrier was unable to reach him for several months. He finally submitted a demand for arbitration but didn’t file timely discovery responses. He basically took no action and the client hired a new lawyer.

Another client hired Chang to set aside a judgment won by a creditor. Although he wrote to the creditor’s lawyer and included a “draft” motion to set aside the default, he never filed it. He did not respond to voicemails from the creditor’s counsel or from his client, who demanded a refund, which he provided.

In another matter, he failed to pay or report to the State Bar five court-ordered sanctions totaling more than $13,000. He had filed an employment lawsuit but did not oppose a variety of motions, which were granted by the court. Chang subsequently failed to serve discovery responses and the court dismissed the case.

He filed a motion to vacate the dismissal, claiming he had unexpected family difficulties, was unable to attend to his regular office work and did not return to the office until after a hearing for terminating sanctions. Because his declaration essentially admitted he had abandoned his clients, the court vacated the dismissal. The case was dismissed a second time when Chang didn’t oppose further terminating sanctions. His clients hired a new lawyer who settled the matter. Over the course of the litigation, Chang was sanctioned five times.

In mitigation, he has no discipline record, suffered from depression caused by marital problems and financial pressure, and receives assistance from the Lawyer Assistance Program. Chang believed the sanctions did not have to be reported to the bar.

VALERIE LEE BARBER [#170148], 45, of Orange was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and she was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect June 18, 2011.

Barber stipulated to eight counts of misconduct in four matters, all the result of her loan modification activities.

In two matters, she held herself out to practice in Arizona and Illinois, where she was not licensed, in order to negotiate home loan modifications. She stipulated that she collected illegal fees and in both cases, entered into agreements with the clients to refund part of their fee if, in exchange, they would either withdraw a complaint against her with the State Bar or not file a complaint at all. She refunded part of those clients’ advanced fees.

She also joined forces with two loan modification firms owned by nonlawyers, agreeing to review mortgage loan documents for a fee. Neither firm had an advanced fee agreement approved by the California Department of Real Estate and therefore could not legally charge clients advanced fees for loan modification services. Barber did not ask if the companies had an approved fee agreement and her participation in the modification services allowed the companies to circumvent a state requirement. Each firm collected advanced fees and represented they had an attorney working with them.

Barber stopped working for one firm late in 2008 and several months later for the other firm. She admitted her activities with the companies involved moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Barber has no discipline record in 16 years of practice, she cooperated with the bar’s investigation and she presented evidence of her good character.

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