Suspensions/Probation
  1. RUSSELL ROBERT RUIZ
  2. BENJAMIN EMIL HERRON
  3. JERRY A. LaCUES
  4. CATHERINE ANN MOSCARELLO
  5. ADAM RANALD FAIRBAIRN
  6. ALANA GERSHFELD
  7. SEAN CURTIS HICKEY
  8. FARI BARI NEJADPOUR
  9. TARA K. O’BRIEN
  10. JOSEPH JAMES REGO
  11. RUBEN DANIEL SANCHEZ
  12. MARVIN EZEQUIEL VALLEJO
  13. LOUIS JOSEPH FERRARA 

The probation of RUSSELL ROBERT RUIZ [#123414], 59, of Santa Barbara was revoked, the previous stay of suspension was lifted, he was suspended for three years and until he proves his rehabilitation, and he was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Dec. 2, 2012.

Ruiz did not comply with probation requirements of a 2011 disciplinary order by withdrawing from the Lawyer Assistance Program for attorneys with substance abuse or mental health issues. He therefore didn’t provide proof to the bar’s probation office that he completed the LAP.

In the underlying matter, Ruiz was convicted of eight charges between 2004-06, including making obscene phone calls, two DUIs, two felony counts of corporal injury to his spouse, public intoxication, violating a domestic relations court order and driving while suspended for a prior DUI. In mitigation, he successfully completed the bar’s Alternative Discipline Program.

He also was publicly reproved in 1997 for a felony DUI conviction, later reduced to a misdemeanor. He had four prior misdemeanor DUI convictions in seven years and five convictions in 12 years.

BENJAMIN EMIL HERRON [#249172], 39, of Odessa, Texas, was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Dec. 6, 2012.

Herron did not comply with the conditions of a 2010 public reproval: he failed to submit two quarterly probation reports on time and he did not meet the requirements of the Lawyer Assistance Program. The discipline was the result of a 2009 DUI conviction which led to an agreement in lieu of discipline with the State Bar. When he failed to meet its conditions, he was publicly reproved.

In mitigation, Herron cooperated with the bar’s investigation and took steps to demonstrate remorse.

JERRY A. LaCUES [#77088], 62, of Chino Hills was suspended for two years, stayed, and placed on three years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension. The order took effect Dec. 6, 2012.

LaCues stipulated that he failed to promptly pay out settlement funds as requested by his client. While representing a married couple, he settled a construction defect matter for $15,000. During the course of the case, his clients separated but each agreed to accept $5,000 with the remainder to go to LaCues for attorney fees.

Although LaCues paid $5,000 to the wife, a dispute later arose between the couple, resulting in a delay of the final payout. When the couple finally agreed that $5,000 should go to the husband, LaCues did not distribute the money due to the press of business in his office. He ultimately gave the husband $10,000, forgoing his fee to make up for the delay.

In mitigation, LaCues cooperated with the bar’s investigation and gave up his fee.

LaCues was privately reproved in 2004 for failing to perform legal services competently and he was suspended last year after admitting to two counts of misconduct in two matters: he failed to perform legal services competently or maintain a proper balance in his trust account.

CATHERINE ANN MOSCARELLO [#216384], 46, of Irvine was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation, and she was ordered to make restitution. The order took effect Dec. 6, 2012.

Moscarello stipulated that she failed to refund an advance fee to a client whom she represented in negotiations with creditors. When the client moved to Indiana and terminated Moscarello, the lawyer indicated she would refund the client’s $1,200 fee. Despite several promises, she did not do so until she offered to repay the client in installments of $300. At the time of the stipulation, Moscarello had not made any repayments.

She also was disciplined in 2011 for misconduct in eight matters, including failures to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees, return a client file, communicate with clients or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and she improperly withdrew from representation.

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

ADAM RANALD FAIRBAIRN [#168204], 46, of San Miguel was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual two-year suspension and until he makes restitution and 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 Dec. 19, 2012.

The State Bar Court found that Fairbairn collected an illegal fee, did not refund the fee and committed an act of moral turpitude.

He was hired by the executor of an estate who was the niece and caretaker of the woman who died. The aunt’s two children were the beneficiaries of her estate, which included mineral rights and oil and gas leases. The niece was not a beneficiary of the estate.

The State Bar Court believed the niece wanted to figure out a way to obtain some of the mineral rights since she had been her aunt’s caretaker. Fairbairn told her it would cost $20,000 to probate the estate and he asked the beneficiaries to contribute $10,000 each. He told them if they did not pay their portion of the fees, they needed to agree to transfer one-third of each of their interest in the estate to the niece, who would bear the cost of probate.

The son pulled money out of his 401(k) plan to cover the fee, but the sister was not able to come up with $10,000 and at Fairbairn’s request assigned one-third of her interest in the mineral rights to the niece.

Although Fairbairn filed a probate petition, he never asked the court for permission to be compensated nor did he obtain a court order for attorney’s fees, as required. A few weeks after filing the probate, he notified the court he was suspended by the bar after being convicted of three felonies.  (He fired a rifle into the air when two people attempted to repossess his car and was convicted of two counts of assault with a firearm with enhancements for personal use of a firearm, one count of discharge of a firearm with gross negligence and one count of misdemeanor brandishing a firearm.)

The niece later told the court she could not continue with the probate because Fairbairn was in the San Luis Obispo County Jail. She asked that the probate be dismissed. She informed the daughter that the court granted the dismissal because the value of the estate did not meet the minimum requirements for probate in California. She also waived reimbursement of her costs associated with being executor of the estate and said the agreement that would have granted her a one-third interest in the daughter’s mineral rights was null and void.

The son asked Fairbairn to refund his $10,000, but Fairbairn refused, saying he had earned the fees. He claims to be responsible for a $700 check issued to the son by an oil company.

The bar court found that in addition to charging and not refunding an illegal fee, Fairbairn committed acts of moral turpitude by falsely telling the son he had to pay a $10,000 advance fee or transfer one-third of his portion of the estate.

In mitigation, he presented evidence of his good character and has performed community work.

ALANA GERSHFELD [#196454], 45, of West Hollywood was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 90-day suspension and she was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

Gershfeld stipulated to four counts of misconduct in two matters.

In a personal injury matter, she filed a lawsuit but failed to attend three hearings and the case was dismissed for lack of prosecution. Her client tried to call her at least 12 times for an update, but she didn’t return his calls. Although she filed a motion to set aside the dismissal, acknowledging that it was her fault, and the motion was granted, Gershfeld did not appear at a subsequent case management conference and the matter was dismissed a second time.

She stipulated that she failed to perform legal services competently or respond to her client’s status inquiries.

Gershfeld settled a second matter for $15,000, deposited the check in her client trust account and issued two $5,000 checks to her client and to herself for fees. The remainder was to pay the client’s medical expenses, but she did not do so or talk to her client, even after he filed a complaint with the bar. She ultimately paid three medical providers $3,575 and gave the client the remaining $1,425 balance.

In mitigation, Gershfeld had no prior discipline record.

SEAN CURTIS HICKEY [#159116], 51, of Fremont was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual nine-month suspension and he was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

Hickey admitted that he violated the terms of a 2010 probation by failing to meet with a State Bar probation officer or file two quarterly probation reports. In that matter, he was suspended after stipulating to nine counts of misconduct in two matters.

He also was disciplined in 2011 for failing to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees or return a client file.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and displayed remorse.

FARI BARI NEJADPOUR [#216925], 50, of Los Angeles was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on four years of probation with an actual two-year suspension and until he proves his rehabilitation, and he was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

Nejadpour stipulated to four counts of misconduct in two matters.

A couple paid him an advance fee for legal work related to adoption of their foster children. Shortly after Nejadpour was hired, the husband died and the wife hired Nejadpour for an additional $10,000 to probate the estate. California court rules prohibit lawyers from accepting advance fees in a probate matter until approved by the court. Although Nejadpour did a little work, he did nothing to advance the probate and it could not be completed. The wife hired a new lawyer, who asked Nejadpour to refund the advance fee, which he did not do for nearly two years. The new lawyer completed the probate and the court expressly denied Nejadpour’s $10,000 fee.

He stipulated that he collected an illegal fee and failed to refund advance fees or perform legal services with competence.

In the second matter, Nejadpour sued someone in 2007 for personal injuries arising from an alleged physical altercation at a courthouse. During the 2010 trial, Nejadpour said he had never admitted to making misrepresentations in court. However, in a 2009 stipulation with the State Bar, he admitted committing three acts of moral turpitude by concealing material facts in a dissolution from the parties and from the superior court overseeing the dissolution. The judge found for the defendant in the personal injury matter, and found that Nejadpour had made misrepresentations. He stipulated that his conduct involved moral turpitude.

In the 2009 stipulation, Nejadpour concealed facts about the nature of his relationship with the realty company which was owned by his wife.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar by entering into a stipulation.

TARA K. O’BRIEN [#261864], 32, of Mountain View was suspended for one year, stayed, and was placed on two years of probation with an actual 90-day suspension. She received credit for three months of inactive enrollment in 2011. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

O’Brien successfully completed the Alternative Discipline Program after seeking help for her mental health issues. She stipulated that she was convicted of misdemeanor trespass after being charged with petty theft for shoplifting two shirts at a Macy’s in San Diego. The shirts were valued at less than $400. She paid a $325 civil penalty.

In mitigation, she cooperated with the bar’s investigation and was suffering from mental health issues at the time.

JOSEPH JAMES REGO [#163183], 56, of San Diego was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

Rego stipulated to two counts of misconduct while handling a conservatorship. After the sale of the conservatee’s house in San Diego, the matter was transferred to Riverside County. Three years later, the conservatee died but Rego did not complete the matter in a timely fashion. As a result, a public conservator was appointed and won sanctions totaling $25,000 against Rego. He was ordered to pay that amount within 30 days but had not done so at the time of the stipulation.

Rego admitted he disobeyed a court order and failed to perform legal services competently.

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

RUBEN DANIEL SANCHEZ [#164298], 53, of Indio was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. He received credit for 10 months of inactive enrollment. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

Sanchez successfully completed the Alternative Discipline Program for lawyers with substance abuse and mental health issues. He stipulated to misconduct in three separate matters involving five cases. He admitted he aided an individual or entity in the unauthorized practice of law, improperly withdrew from employment and engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, refund unearned fees or keep his membership records current.

Sanchez has a prior record of discipline and paid sanctions and made restitution. In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.

MARVIN EZEQUIEL VALLEJO [#269561], 30, of Los Angeles was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 30-day suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE. The order took effect Dec. 19, 2012.

Vallejo stipulated that he was convicted in 2011 of two counts of violating a restraining order, a misdemeanor that does not involve moral turpitude.

While a law clerk at a Los Angeles law firm, Vallejo befriended a woman whom he “continuously and persistently” contacted despite her efforts to have no contact with him outside work, according to the stipulation. After he became a lawyer and worked for another firm, the contacts continued and Vallejo eventually was told not to come to the law offices. The woman obtained a restraining order against Vallejo, who continued to send her emails. The woman reported him to the police and he was charged with four misdemeanors.

Vallejo pleaded no contest to two counts, received 36 months of probation including 30 days of Caltrans work, was fined $100 and received a stay away order of 100 yards.

Although Vallejo said he takes responsibility for his actions, he has characterized his misconduct as “poor judgment” and “has failed to recognize the seriousness of violating the court stay away order,” according to the stipulation. He said the victim “overreacted” and his misconduct was not violent. However, Vallejo also pursued a fellow student during law school.

In mitigation, he cooperated with the bar’s investigation and is remorseful.

LOUIS JOSEPH FERRARA [#73345], 66, of Littleton, Colo., was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual two-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 Dec. 28, 2012.

Ferrara stipulated to five counts of misconduct stemming from practicing law while suspended for five years for non-payment of bar dues and non-compliance with MCLE regulations. Nonetheless, from mid-2005 to mid-2011, he worked as a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, investigating cases and handling trial assignments. He held himself out as licensed and authorized to practice law, including signing certifications of active bar membership that he delivered to the NLRB. He admitted he knew his certifications were false. In 2011, he was removed from his position for failure to maintain an active license to practice law and misrepresentation.

While he was still working for the NLRB, Ferrara was secretary-treasurer for three years of his office’s local chapter of the NLRB Union Local 27, and was responsible for the union’s bank account and had the authority to disburse funds. He made cash withdrawals of union funds totaling $1,200 and used the money to pay personal expenses. He eventually admitted the misappropriation to the union and repaid the funds.

Ferrara stipulated that he practiced law in a jurisdiction where he was permitted to practice, and he committed acts of moral turpitude by filing false certifications, holding himself out as a lawyer when he was suspended and misappropriating union funds. He also failed to maintain current membership records with the State Bar.

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

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