HILLARD WOLF [#41639], 72, of Calabasas was disbarred April 20, 2012,
and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.
The State Bar
Court review department agreed with a hearing judge’s recommendation that Wolf
be disbarred for misconduct, including repeated misappropriation and acts of
moral turpitude, that constituted his fourth discipline. He also made false
statements in a declaration under penalty of perjury, collected an illegal fee,
failed to promptly pay out or account for client funds and he improperly
withdrew from employment.
for review of the hearing judge’s findings, claiming his misconduct is the
product of bipolar disorder that has been treated and is under control.
review panel found that Wolf committed 15 acts of misconduct in four matters,
but also found that his bad behavior, particularly his office management
problems, went on for many years. “Since 1991, Wolf has habitually abdicated
responsibility for managing his law practice and supervising his staff, which
has resulted in repeated failures to maintain client funds and to promptly pay
client funds,” wrote Judge Judith Epstein. He misappropriated trust account
funds over a 16-year period, the panel found, including during the time while
he was under supervision by the bar court.
Wolf became a
sole practitioner in 1992, focusing on workers’ compensation and personal
injury matters, and successively hiring as many as 15 bookkeepers over 14
years. The bookkeepers handled client funds without Wolf’s supervision. He
testified, “I didn’t want to be overseeing these people. I didn’t want the
responsibility really.” Instead, Wolf said that “for years and years and years
[I] stuck my head in the sand. . .[and] allowed people to run rampant in my
office because I wasn’t on top of things.”
participated in a State Bar program for lawyers with substance abuse or mental
health issues and stipulated to misconduct in 18 matters in 2006, he
subsequently was charged with additional misconduct in the matter underlying
the disbarment recommendation.
He settled a
medical malpractice case for $225,000 but took $90,000 as his fee, exceeding
the allowable fee. He also did not maintain an adequate balance in his client
trust account. The client complained repeatedly that she had not received her
full share of the settlement, sued Wolf for malpractice and settled for
a personal injury and workers’ compensation claim for another client, but did
not distribute the client’s portion of the $90,000 settlement. He finally paid
the client $51,037.50 almost 14 years after receiving the funds. In another
personal injury case in which the client was entitled to $28,500, Wolf borrowed
money to deposit in his client trust account but paid the client just $22,200.
The client received the difference from the bar’s Client Security fund, which
was reimbursed by Wolf.
In the final
case, Wolf turned over his personal injury matters to another lawyer after he
closed his offices, but was unable to find someone to handle a wrongful death
suit. He eventually formally withdrew, months after he had submitted a
declaration to the bar stating that he had no clients.
Wolf has been
disciplined three times previously, primarily for mishandling client funds. The
review panel rejected his claims of prosecutorial misconduct, although it found
some evidence of a lack of good judgment. Although Wolf successfully completed
the bar’s Alternative Discipline Program, the review judges said they could not
determine if that had an effect on the final charges. Wolf committed further
misconduct while in the ADP and under the court’s supervision, calling “into
question the effectiveness of his rehabilitative efforts in addressing his
underlying emotional difficulties,” the panel wrote.
ANDREW HAWBAKER [#140654], 54, of Omaha, Neb., was disbarred Dec. 9, 2011, and was ordered to
comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.
The State Bar
Court found that Hawbaker committed five acts of misconduct in a single matter,
including misappropriating $12,500 in settlement funds. He also did not account
for or promptly pay out client funds.
represented a client in Nebraska after being admitted there pro hac vice and
associating with his brother, Joseph, a Nebraska lawyer. He negotiated a
$40,000 settlement for his client and issued a check for $12,500 to the client
as partial distribution. The client did not cash the check, however, fearing if
he did so he would lose the right to later claim any additional settlement
funds. The client twice asked Hawbaker to account for the settlement funds but
he didn’t respond.
client wrote a third letter asking Hawbaker to reissue the check, Hawbaker said
the check was still negotiable; however, it had gone stale. Several months
later, the client met Hawbaker at his house and loaned him the $12,500
settlement funds because Hawbaker had no money due to a pending divorce. No
loan documents were prepared, nor did Hawbaker prepare a conflict-of-interest
letter for the client.
testified that the client had earlier agreed to change their oral contingency
fee agreement so that the lawyer would receive $25,000 and the client would
get $15,000, minus $2,500 that Hawbaker would pay for costs. The client denied
any such agreement and the court agreed. Hawbaker never accounted for the funds
or gave any money to the client.
Court Judge Richard Platel found that Hawbaker failed to account for client
fund or pay his client any settlement funds and he committed an act of moral
turpitude by misappropriating $12,500 from his client. He also failed to
cooperate with the bar’s investigation.
to the misconduct charged by the bar, Platel found that Hawbaker’s client paid
him $7,500 to pay expenses and costs. Although he deposited the money in his
trust account, he later moved it to his general account, testifying that the
funds were his money. Platel found that Hawbaker commingled funds in his trust
recommending Hawbaker’s disbarment, Platel said his lack of remorse and lack of
recognition of his misconduct “demonstrate that his continued ability to
practice law would place the public in peril.”
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