- G. SCOTT CHRISTENSON
- DERK W. SCHUTMAAT
- JAMES EARL BROWN
- MICHAEL WAYNE BRAA SR.
- FRANK DENNIS SCHWERTFEGER
G. SCOTT CHRISTENSON [#135434], 57, of Los Altos was disbarred Nov. 13, 2009, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.
In a 2008 disciplinary order, Christenson was required to comply with rule 9.20 by submitting to the State Bar Court an affidavit stating that he notified his clients, opposing counsel and other pertinent parties of his suspension from practice. He did not do so. Failure to comply with rule 9.20 is grounds for disbarment.
In the underlying proceeding, Christenson stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, account for client funds or return unearned fees. He also was disciplined in a 2005 default proceeding for failing to return unearned fees or cooperate with the bar’s investigation. He did not participate in the disbarment proceeding.
In recommending his disbarment, State Bar Court Judge Pat McElroy wrote, Christenson “has demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with the professional obligations and rules of court imposed on California attorneys although he has been given opportunities to do so.”
DERK W. SCHUTMAAT [#163633], 54, of Los Angeles was summarily disbarred Nov. 26, 2009, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20.
Schutmaat pleaded guilty in 2008 to two counts of embezzlement and one count of embezzlement or identity theft from an elder adult. Because the convictions were for forgeries involving moral turpitude, Schutmaat was eligible for summary disbarment. He had attempted to resign from the bar, but the Supreme Court rejected the resignation.
The bar charged him in 2006 with 30 charges of misconduct in nine cases, many involving misappropriating money from his clients. In one case, the bar accused him of taking almost $67,000 from a client’s settlement proceeds.
He also was suspended and placed on probation in 2001 after stipulating to three counts of misconduct, all of which involved money matters.
JAMES EARL BROWN [#59180], 70, of Santa Monica was disbarred Nov. 26, 2009, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20.
Following a lengthy trial, State Bar Court Judge Donald Miles found that Brown committed numerous acts of misconduct in four matters. “His misdeeds were many and extended over an extensive period of time,” Miles wrote. “They resulted in injury to his clients and others. (Brown) allowed the misconduct of those under his control to continue even after he was fully aware that those individuals were acting improperly and harming members of the public. And now, rather than accepting responsibility for his actions, he seeks to blame others for it.”
Primarily a criminal defense attorney, Brown operated four offices in southern California that also handled workers’ compensation, personal injury and immigration matters. He acquired one office from a disbarred attorney who continued to work there.
Brown used his client trust account for business and personal purposes, Miles said, writing checks payable to restaurants, auto maintenance facilities, Costco, book stores, for child care, and for office supplies and rent as well as salaries. He also wrote checks against insufficient funds in the trust account.
In 2001, he took over a Los Angeles law firm but essentially turned over the operations to a disbarred lawyer and a non-lawyer. The firm was well-known in the Hispanic community and generated a significant amount of business. However, the disbarred lawyer, who served as the office manager, and a “law clerk” who was not a lawyer, both practiced law without authorization, signed up clients, filed and settled claims for those clients and handled the financial arrangements generated by this business. Brown paid these individuals a bonus for the work they generated.
However, Miles wrote, “the business practices followed in the office fell far short of those mandated” by professional standards: there were kickbacks to chiropractors for referring work; employees dipped into both the business and client trust accounts; medical liens were ignored, and “eventually the rights of clients to receive their funds were also ignored.”
Despite becoming aware by 2003 of his employees’ improper activities, Brown “elected to stay blind to the situation,” Miles said, and allowed the activities to continue. In 2005, after learning that some settlement funds were diverted to the employees, Brown notified law enforcement.
Miles also found that in several client matters, Brown failed to pay out client funds promptly, account for client funds, refund unearned fees, respond to client inquiries or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he committed acts of moral turpitude by failing to take steps to protect client funds.
MICHAEL WAYNE BRAA SR. [#189472], 46, of Fresno was disbarred Nov. 26, 2009, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20.
In a default proceeding, State Bar Court Judge Pat McElroy recommended Braa’s disbarment for misconduct in two matters, including misappropriating more than $11,000. He represented a car dealership from whom a customer was seeking a refund. Braa falsely told the dealership he had reached a settlement agreement for $11,255.15 with the car buyer; the dealership wrote a check for that amount that Braa cashed and kept for himself.
In another matter, an individual paid Braa $40,000 in legal fees to represent his brother in a criminal case. However, he missed a sentencing hearing and was ordered to pay a sanction of $999 within four days. He wrote a check against insufficient funds, missed another hearing and later tried to give his client a check for $1,100. Although the client refused to accept the check, Braa gave the check to the court which in turn paid the client. The court also imposed further sanctions of $400 that Braa paid.
Although Braa had registered his e-mail address with the court, which maintains an electronic notification and filing system, he claimed he did not receive hearing notices, did not recognize his own e-mail address, claimed he’d never provided that address to the court and had not used it for nine or 10 years.
McElroy found that Braa violated a court order, misled a judge, failed to deposit client funds in a trust account and committed acts of moral turpitude in both matters.
In mitigation, Braa had no previous discipline record.
FRANK DENNIS SCHWERTFEGER [#128041], 48, of Playa del Rey was disbarred Nov. 26, 2009, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20.
Schwertfeger failed to comply with a 2008 disciplinary order that required him to submit to the State Bar Court an affidavit attesting that he notified his clients, opposing counsel and other interested parties of his suspension. His lack of action violated rule 9.20 and was grounds for disbarment.
In the underlying discipline, also a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Schwertfeger committed two acts of misconduct in a mergers and acquisitions transaction and failed to cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
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