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Suspensions/Probation
  1. DANTE S. ARDITE
  2. JONATHAN WESLEY BIRDT
  3. TE JUNG CHANG
  4. HOWARD MICHAEL COHEN
  5. RICHARD ALLEN ESPINOZA
  6. LISA MARIE FRAAS
  7. RICHARD LEE HALE
  8. GREGORY JOHN TOKARCZYK
  9. KIM DENNISE SCOVIS
  10. HECTOR M. ROMAN JR.
  11. JUSTIN D. SCHWARTZ
  12. ERNEST R. KRAUSE
  13. RICHARD ALAN HOFMAN
  14. JAMES MICHAEL KUMMERER
  15. PAUL MICHAEL KRUEGER
  16. KAREN J. HAMILTON

 

DANTE S. ARDITE [#207039], 43, of Lawndale was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Oct. 29, 2009.

Ardite stipulated that he practiced law while suspended for failure to submit his compliance with MCLE requirements. Although he had in fact completed enough credits, he did not provide compliance to the State Bar, which placed him on inactive status. He also had moved his office and because he didn’t notify the bar of his new address, he did not receive notices about his change of status.

He handled three matters without knowing he was not entitled to practice.

However, he performed other legal work after becoming aware of his status. In two cases, he rationalized his misconduct by convincing himself that he was not causing any harm to his clients, who were all family, close friends or clients referred by friends.

He stipulated to two counts of practicing law while not entitled and he admitted that he committed acts of moral turpitude by misrepresenting to the court that he was entitled to practice law when he was not an active bar member.

In mitigation, Ardite cooperated with the bar’s investigation, and he demonstrated remorse. He notified his clients of his status as soon as he learned he wasn’t entitled to practice and all clients elected to allow Ardite to continue handling their cases.

JONATHAN WESLEY BIRDT [#183908], 39, of Pasadena was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

Birdt represented a company that had been sued for “wage and hour” violations by nine employees. He met with the company’s former operations manager and asked him to speak with the class representatives. Because they were represented by counsel, Birdt was precluded from speaking with them directly. He told the former manager the company would pay him about $8,000 if he would approach the defendants, convince them to settle their claims and sign a release form prepared by Birdt.

The ex-manager spoke with five of the nine plaintiffs and convinced four to settle.

Birdt stipulated that he indirectly communicated with a party represented by counsel without the other lawyer’s consent.

When opposing counsel tried to have him prohibited from further conversations with the plaintiffs, Birdt falsely told the court under penalty of perjury that his client, the employer, directly negotiated the settlements with the four plaintiffs without his involvement. He stipulated that his actions involved moral turpitude.

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

TE JUNG CHANG [#147088], 47, of Berkeley was suspended for two years, stayed, and actually suspended for 90 days and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension. She was ordered to make restitution, pay court-ordered sanctions, take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, Chang must prove her rehabilitation. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Chang committed five acts of misconduct. The matter began when Chang hired attorney Justin Schwartz, a friend from high school, to represent her in a personal injury matter arising from a traffic accident. When Chang would not authorize a settlement, Schwartz withdrew.

Thus began five years of litigation in which Chang charged Schwartz with legal malpractice, repeatedly tried to have a superior court judge disqualified, and unsuccessfully turned to the court of appeal.

Schwartz billed Chang for $1,156 in attorney’s fees; “recorded” a lien on Chang’s lawsuit against the other party in the auto accident, and notified the insurance carrier of his lien. He provided a copy of his fee agreement with Chang.

Chang then sued Schwartz for professional malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty, but before he was served, she filed a first amended complaint. She didn’t serve Schwartz for more than four months.

Early on, Chang objected to the superior court’s jurisdiction, which Judge Judith D. Ford rejected, along with Chang’s motion to have Schwartz’ default entered. When Schwartz filed an answer in the malpractice lawsuit, he also filed a cross-complaint against Chang. Because she didn’t answer, her default was entered. She later sent Schwartz a letter claiming that his discovery requests and notice of her deposition were not valid and refusing to recognize the requests.

During a hearing in which Ford ordered Chang to provide discovery, appear for a deposition and pay sanctions of $320 plus $170, Chang repeated her claim that the court lacked jurisdiction. After the hearing, she continued to argue with Ford and had to be escorted out of the courtroom by the bailiff. She later sent a letter to the judge, accusing her of bias and legal error and asking her to withdraw. Ford formally responded that she was not biased, and Judge Franklin Taft, sitting on assignment, agreed that Ford should not be disqualified.

Chang then wrote a second letter, accusing Ford of committing perjury and having ex parte communications with Schwartz. The letter was returned by the court clerk, who advised Chang it was improper to try to communicate with the judge.

The court eventually entered a judgment against Chang and awarded Schwartz $409.

In a third attempt to have Ford disqualified, Chang accused the judge of acting unethically and wrote that the judge “by means of physical impairment (arising from mental shock manifesting as a physical symptom) makes her unable to properly perceive the evidence or unable to properly conduct the proceedings in this case before her.” She also accused Taft of bias, fraud and refusing to perform his judicial duties.

When Chang filed a second appeal, the court of appeal warned her to limit the issues or be subject to sanctions. Instead, she raised issues that the court had said were not part of the second appeal, presenting a voluminous record and a lengthy brief consisting almost entirely of arguments attacking the judgment of the appellate court. The court imposed a $1,500 sanction.

The State Bar Court found that Chang failed to maintain a just action, citing her meritless contention that the superior court lacked jurisdiction as well as repeatedly filing baseless, frivolous and false statements of disqualification against Judge Ford. The court also found that Chang failed to report sanctions, obey court orders or maintain respect for judicial officers, and she committed acts of moral turpitude by engaging in what the court called her abusive conduct towards Judge Ford.

Chang has not paid either the $409 to Schwartz or the $1,500 sanction.

HOWARD MICHAEL COHEN [#170490], 49, of Los Angeles was suspended for four years, stayed, actually suspended for two years and until the State Bar Court grants a motion to end his suspension, and he was ordered to make restitution to three former clients, prove his rehabilitation, take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

In a default proceeding, the bar court found that Cohen committed 16 acts of misconduct in four client matters, including failing to perform competently, communicate with clients, return unearned fees totaling $13,350, cooperate with the bar’s investigation, return client files and update his membership records address.

In each of the cases, Cohen took his clients’ fee but never did any work.

The first client hired him to represent her in a civil matter involving a credit and/or a possible identity theft issue with a bank. She paid $1,000 of a $3,000 fee, but Cohen never provided her with a fee agreement. He also did no work on her case, did not return any of her repeated phone calls and did not refund her unearned fees.

In a second matter, a client who lived in Florida and had difficulty getting to California hired Cohen to defend a claim by his ex-wife for unpaid child support. Cohen was to determine the amount due and obtain credit for payments the client had made. He gave Cohen cancelled checks reflecting support payments he had made and other relevant documentation. He paid $2,000 plus an additional $650 for a hearing that Cohen did not attend.

At one point the client flew to California because he was not able to speak with Cohen despite repeated phone calls.

A new lawyer was forced to subpoena the client’s files from Cohen, who never provided them.

He also did not refund any of the unearned fees.

In the third matter, Cohen was hired to handle the criminal appeal for an individual who was in custody. The client’s daughter acted on his behalf, paying Cohen $9,700 for his work. Cohen, however, did no work and did not return the daughter’s phone calls or refund the unearned fee.

In recommending a lengthy suspension, bar court Judge Donald Miles said Cohen “perpetrated multiple acts of misconduct with numerous different clients; his conduct has caused significant harm to those clients; he has repeatedly ignored his obligation to participate in the disciplinary process in the past and still refuses to do so; and he continues to withhold the unearned fees he wrongfully withheld from his clients.”

RICHARD ALLEN ESPINOZA [#74367], 67 of La Verne was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a six-month actual suspension and was ordered to prove his rehabilitation and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

Espinoza violated the terms of a 2008 disciplinary order by filing a late declaration of compliance with rule 9.20. He said he did not recall receiving a letter notifying him of his obligations.

He had pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. He had stored in his garage a car stolen by his son, although Espinoza was not aware it was stolen.

In mitigation, he has numerous health issues, had severe family problems that required law enforcement and intervention and he cooperated with the bar’s investigation.

LISA MARIE FRAAS [#142040], 47, of Tahoe Vista was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on one year of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within a year. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

Fraas stipulated to four counts of misconduct stemming from a dispute with her client over her fee. After the client fired her, she sent him a final invoice indicating that she owed him $1,555 in unearned fees. She later indicated the client had signed a fee agreement that called for a $2,500 non-refundable fee, and said the state Supreme Court has upheld such fees as legally binding and non-refundable. In fact, the court has not upheld non-refundable fees unless they are true retainers, which Fraas’ fee was not. Her fee agreement said she would be paid on an hourly basis, depending on the services provided. Those fees are considered refundable if not earned.

A dispute between Fraas and her client ensued with the client demanding a refund and Fraas declining. She falsely told the client she had given up representing three other clients in order to take his case, and she threatened to reveal privileged information that could be used against the client both in his custody dispute and in his professional life.

The client filed for fee arbitration and Fraas stipulated that she made several misstatements during a hearing. The arbitrator awarded the client $1,500, which Fraas paid.

Fraas stipulated that she failed to refund unearned fees, properly maintain client funds in a trust account or preserve client secrets, and she committed acts of moral turpitude by making a series of misrepresentations.

Fraas was privately reproved in 1992.

In mitigation, the misconduct occurred when Fraas was separated from her husband and left with sole custody of the couple’s three young children. She was adjusting to the financial and emotional issues of the separation and subsequent divorce.

RICHARD LEE HALE [#139773], 59, of Pacifica was suspended for six months, stayed, placed on one year of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE within a year. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

The State Bar Court found that Hale failed to perform legal services competently or respond to client inquiries in a property damage matter. The client paid a $250 retainer and was billed $130 an hour.

Prior to filing a lawsuit almost a year after he was hired, Hale and his client had sporadic contact, and Hale often took a month to respond to requests for status updates. Hale filed suit the day before the deadline and advised his client that he would amend the complaint shortly to include a claim of fraud and a request for punitive damages. He did not do so, nor did he ever serve the defendants, do any discovery or bill his client. After 18 months, he withdrew from the case.

At the time of the misconduct, Hale had severe personal difficulties, including his parents’ serious illnesses, requiring him to travel to their home in Arizona. He sought counseling and was diagnosed with severe depression. Hale had no prior discipline record.

GREGORY JOHN TOKARCZYK [#150924], 46, of Redwood City was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on two years of probation with an actual six-month suspension or until he makes restitution to two former clients, and he was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20. If the actual suspension exceeds two years, he must prove his rehabilitation. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

Tokarczyk is bipolar and suffers from alcohol and cocaine addiction. He was in a residential treatment facility for substance abuse in Mississippi for about six months at the time of the misconduct. While there, he communicated with his clients and others concerning his practice, received notices and had other lawyers do some work for him. However, he did not make arrangements to have an attorney handle his caseload and make appearances. He also did not inform his clients, courts or opposing counsel that he could not handle his cases; as a result, they assumed he was being unresponsive.

Tokarczyk stipulated to misconduct in five matters. Three clients lost their causes of action and a $250,000 judgment was entered against a fourth.

In one matter, Tokarczyk said he would file a motion on behalf of a client who had not received her share of community property in a dissolution action. He didn’t do so. The client took two days off work, believing a hearing was scheduled on her matter when in fact Tokarczyk had not filed any motions and no hearings were scheduled.

He represented another client in a divorce and was to file a lawsuit for fraud related to an alleged wrongful conversion of community property funds. The client ultimately paid Tokarczyk $14,000 in fees. But he did not respond to interrogatories or produce discovery, and the court sanctioned his client $1,000.

The fraud case was dismissed and the client hired a new lawyer.

Tokarczyk represented a contractor who was sued as a result of a remodeling job. He did not appear for trial and was precluded from introducing documents and witnesses that should have been identified in interrogatories. Tokarczyk never told the court he had been in a residential treatment center and took no steps to obtain a continuance. The court entered a judgment of $200,000 against Tokarczyk’s client, later amended to $250,000.

Tokarczyk ultimately stipulated that he committed 27 acts of misconduct, including failing to perform legal services competently, respond to client inquiries, refund unearned fees, account for client funds, release client files or cooperate with the bar’s investigation, and he violated court orders and committed acts of moral turpitude. He has taken no steps to atone for his misconduct.

In mitigation, he has no prior discipline record and he participates in the Lawyer Assistance Program.

KIM DENNISE SCOVIS [#182059], 44, of Thousand Oaks was suspended for two years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with an actual 90-day suspension and was ordered to take the MPRE within one year and comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

Scovis stipulated to eight counts of misconduct in two matters. In the first, she filed an employment discrimination lawsuit but did not serve the defendants or prosecute the case and it was dismissed. She did not respond to client inquiries and effectively abandoned the case.

In the second matter, she settled a personal injury claim for $235,000 but did not properly account for the funds, resolve medical bills or promptly disburse the money.

In mitigation, Scovis had no discipline record since her 1994 admission to the bar, she was involved in a contentious custody battle at the time of the misconduct and several people in her family died and her mother was seriously injured in a car accident.

HECTOR M. ROMAN JR. [#187633], 40, of Forest Hills, N.Y., was suspended for one year, stayed, placed on two years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. The order took effect Nov. 5, 2009.

Roman opened a law firm in New York in 1997 and a California attorney opened a branch in Fremont in 2001. Neither Roman nor the firm maintained a master database of client information and there was no backup calendaring system for pending cases. According to Roman’s stipulation, an attorney who was terminated from the firm in 2003 took eight pending matters with him and abandoned them without prosecution. Because the law firm’s case management procedures were inadequate, Roman was not able to discover the problem and did not make timely appearances in the eight matters.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal suspended Roman for six months and fined him $1,000 for violating court orders and rules in eight petitions for review. He was ordered to file notices of withdrawal in all pending cases, inform clients and turn over their files, and notify the court that he complied with its order.

Among other things, the court found that Roman did not file an opening brief on time because he didn’t have an adequate court calendaring system in place, he appeared three times before the court of appeal without being admitted to the Ninth Circuit bar, and he failed to prosecute three petitions, which were dismissed. He was unable to contact the clients. The court found that Roman committed “negligent misconduct” by failing to implement adequate case management and calendaring systems.

Although the court found no evidence of harm to the clients, it said Roman’s misconduct and violations of court orders and rules had burdened the court, inconvenienced opposing counsel and had a potentially adverse effect on legal proceedings.

The State Bar Court said Roman’s actions amounted to a failure to perform legal services competently and the unauthorized practice of law before a court where he was not admitted.

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

JUSTIN D. SCHWARTZ [#144470], 46, of Oakland 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 Nov. 5, 2009.

Schwartz stipulated to five acts of misconduct in two matters.

He worked on a personal injury matter for four months in 2006 but subsequently missed five hearings. One was a hearing to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for his failures to appear. When he missed that hearing, the case was dismissed. Schwartz did not notify his clients about the dismissal and he had not responded to their phone calls or letters. He did not pursue his clients’ claims.

In a wrongful termination case in which he was the client’s fourth attorney, Schwartz made an appearance on her behalf but later did not file a case management statement or attend a case management hearing. He was sanctioned and relieved as counsel at the client’s request. The case later was dismissed as a result of Schwartz’ failure to prosecute it or to respond to discovery.

Schwartz stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, respond to clients’ status inquiries or cooperate with the bar’s investigation and, by not paying the sanctions, he disobeyed court orders.

In mitigation, he had no prior discipline record and he later cooperated with bar investigators.

ERNEST R. KRAUSE [#56343], 63, of Sacramento was suspended for three years, stayed, placed on three years of probation with a 30-day actual suspension and he was ordered to take the MPRE within one year. Credit was given for several weeks of involuntary inactive enrollment in 2008. The order took effect Nov. 8, 2009.

Krause successfully completed the Alternative Discipline Program after demonstrating that his mental health issues were the cause of his misconduct. He had stipulated in 2005 to misconduct in two client matters, including forming a partnership with a non-lawyer, sharing legal fees with a non-lawyer, failing to perform competently and failing to communicate with a client.

He had formed a partnership with a non-lawyer whom he allowed to be a signatory on the client trust account. By allowing checks totaling more than $104,000 to be written against the trust account, Krause illegally split fees with a non-lawyer.

In a workers’ compensation matter, he did not do the work he was hired to do.

In mitigation, he had practiced law for more than 20 years without a discipline record, participated in the Lawyer Assistance Program, cooperated with the bar’s investigation and had severe financial problems at the time of the misconduct.

RICHARD ALAN HOFMAN [#110692], 51, of Agoura Hills was suspended for five years, stayed, and was placed on five years of probation with a two-year actual suspension and until he makes restitution, proves his rehabilitation and takes the MPRE. He also was ordered to comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Nov. 13, 2009.

Although the State Bar sought Hofman’s disbarment, Judge Richard Honn instead recommended a lengthy suspension as a result of his misconduct in two matters.

A client hired Hofman and paid him $4,000 for fees and costs to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for her and her husband and to file a chapter 11 bankruptcy petition for their business. The client stressed the importance of getting creditors to stop hounding her for payment of bills, but Hofman never filed the chapter 11 petition and did not file bankruptcy for the couple for 14 months. He often cancelled appointments and because he didn’t file the petitions, creditors continually contacted his client.

The client believed Hofman had filed for bankruptcy and he provided a fake case number that she provided to the social worker at the welfare office and to all the creditors that requested it.

The case was dismissed because the clients did not file the required schedules, statements or plan on time. Hofman did not notify them of the dismissal or of a motion he filed to vacate the dismissal.

Honn found that Hofman failed to perform legal services competently or inform his clients of significant developments in their case.

Hofman was privately reproved in 2002 for failing to communicate with a client, perform legal services competently, causing the client to lose her home, return the client’s file or refund an unearned fee, and he improperly withdrew from representation. He also was given a stayed suspension and placed on probation in 1998 after stipulating to five counts of misconduct in three matters.

JAMES MICHAEL KUMMERER [#50944], 63, of Columbus, Ind., was suspended for four years, stayed, 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. The order took effect Nov. 13, 2009.

In 2008, Kummerer was convicted in Indiana of one count of felony cocaine possession, a crime that involved moral turpitude. He accepted crack cocaine from a client as payment of a $175 bill. Kummerer asked for an “eight ball,” known to be an eighth of an ounce, or 3.5 grams, of cocaine.

In mitigation, he had no discipline record in 35 years of practice. He did not participate in the bar’s disciplinary proceedings.

PAUL MICHAEL KRUEGER [#110788], 53, of Beverly Hills 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 Nov. 13, 2009.

Krueger stipulated to three counts of misconduct in a personal injury matter. A year after filing a lawsuit, Krueger had not filed a case management statement or served the defendant because he couldn’t locate him. When he appeared at an order to show cause hearing, he informed the court the case had settled. The court continued the hearing, but Krueger did not appear and the case was dismissed.

Krueger then tried to get the dismissal set aside and appealed the case to the court of appeal, all without notifying his client, who was unaware of the dismissal. The court of appeal found that the trial judge abused his discretion in denying the motion to set aside the dismissal, and the matter was returned to the trial court.

Krueger then did not respond to discovery motions or requests to schedule a deposition, and he and his client were sanctioned for more than $1,000, although Krueger understood the sanction was issued against his client only. He did not tell his client about any of those developments.

The insurance company issued a settlement check that Krueger failed to cash within six months, and he had to request another check. He gave the client $575 of the $2,458 settlement.

He stipulated that he failed to perform legal services competently, inform his client of significant developments in her case and properly maintain client funds.

In mitigation, he had no record of discipline since his 1983 admission to the bar, and he was required to be in Minnesota for extended periods of time due to his father’s severe health problems.

KAREN J. HAMILTON [#71093], 65, of Hollister was suspended for one year, stayed, was suspended for 30 days and until she makes restitution and the State Bar Court grants a motion to terminate the suspension. She also was ordered to take the MPRE, and if the suspension exceeds 90 days, she must comply with rule 9.20. The order took effect Nov. 13, 2009.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Hamilton committed four acts of misconduct in a divorce matter. After accepting a $3,000 advance fee and meeting with the client once, Hamilton took no action on her client’s matter. She did not file suit nor did she respond to the client’s many attempts to reach her. The client hired a new lawyer.

She stipulated that she failed to perform legal services competently, refund unearned fees, respond to client inquiries or keep her address current with the State Bar.

In mitigation, she has no prior discipline record in nearly 31 years of practice.

. 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.