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Disbarments
  1. PAUL TRANEL SELZER
  2. KEVIN SCOTT NITZEL
  3. TOM GEORGE KONTOS
  4. KAREN J. HAMILTON
  5. EDMUND TODD CROWLEY
  6. OTTO IVAN PENA
  7. DAVID BURKENROAD
  8. DONALD ALAN YATES
  9. ALLEN EDWARD JOHNSON
  10. LEE CHARLES COOPER
  11. SANDEEP BAWEJA
  12. WILLIAM G. WELLS
  13. FRED HAROLD MIDDAUGH

PAUL TRANEL SELZER [#38228], 71, of Palm Springs was summarily disbarred March 30, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Selzer pleaded guilty in 2008 to obstruction of the IRS. The conviction, which was part of a federal kickbacks case against class action law firm Milberg Weiss, met the two criteria for summary disbarment the crime is a felony involving moral turpitude.

Selzer has been on interim suspension since Oct. 13, 2008.

KEVIN SCOTT NITZEL [#196113], 43, of San Luis Obispo was disbarred March 30, 2011, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Nitzel stipulated to 16 counts of misconduct in six matters, including abandoning five clients and failing to refund unearned fees or perform legal services competently.

The first case was a personal injury matter Nitzel handled on a contingency basis. He received a $25,000 check from one of two defendants and was to use some of the money to finance litigation against the second defendant. He was required to hold about $5,600 in trust for the client. However, after taking his fee and paying one of the client’s doctors, the client could not reach him, he moved his office and disconnected his phone without providing new contact information and he never gave the client her share of the settlement funds.

Another client gave him $6,750 to handle a divorce and custody matter. Nitzel promised to have a medical evaluation done on the client’s ex-wife, to obtain the client’s personal property from the ex-wife and to have his child support obligation reduced. Nitzel did no work on the case, moved and changed his phone number and the client was never able to reach him by phone or email. Three personal injury cases were dismissed because he didn’t appear in court, pay filing fees or serve the defendant. Although he filed a response to a petition for dissolution for another client, he stopped communicating with him.

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

TOM GEORGE KONTOS [#44539], 67, of Long Beach was summarily disbarred March 30, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

He pleaded guilty in 2009 to conspiracy to obstruct justice, and was placed on interim suspension in January 2009. Because the crime is a felony involving moral turpitude, it meets the criteria for summary disbarment.

According to Martin Carlson, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Kontos was involved in the obstruction of a federal investigation into money laundering, beginning in June 2007 through May 2008, related to a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization spread across the country from Carlsbad and San Diego to Harrisburg, Penn. During the course of the investigation, Kontos provided and advised others to provide, false information to a grand jury subpoena concerning property ownership. As part of his guilty plea, Kontos was sentenced to 21 months in prison and agreed to forfeit 12 properties related to the investigation.

KAREN J. HAMILTON [#71093], 66, of Hollister was disbarred March 30, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court recommended Hamilton’s disbarment for failure to comply with an earlier rule 9.20 requirement. She did not file with the court an affidavit stating she notified her clients, opposing counsel and other interested parties of her suspension. Failure to comply with the rule is grounds for disbarment.

The underlying discipline was imposed for Hamilton’s misconduct in a single client matter: she failed to perform legal services competently, communicate, refund $2,500 in unearned fees or update her official address.

EDMUND TODD CROWLEY [#154948], 47, of Cottonwood Heights, Utah, was disbarred March 31, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Crowley misappropriated $108,827.58 from a client. He worked as an attorney for Schiff Nutrition International Inc. As part of a bankruptcy of a Schiff customer, stock of a public company was issued to Schiff. Crowley used a transfer agent to sell portions of the stock and issued checks totaling $37,580 to Schiff and then transferred the money to a bank account he controlled.

Two years later, he received a check for $71,244.58 from Schiff’s insurance broker, deposited the check into a Wyoming bank account he set up in Schiff’s name and then transferred the funds to a Utah bank account he controlled. Crowley did not notify Schiff of the receipt of any funds and used the money for his own purposes. 

He stipulated that he failed to maintain client funds in trust or notify a client of his receipt of funds and he committed acts of moral turpitude.

In mitigation, Crowley had no prior record of discipline in approximately 13 years of practice.

OTTO IVAN PENA [#182379], 44, of Fullerton was disbarred April 2, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

The State Bar Court found that Pena engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, failed to obey a court order, committed acts of moral turpitude and improperly withdrew from employment. Because he has been disciplined three times previously, the court recommended his disbarment.

Pena was suspended and ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court (since renumbered as rule 9.20) in 2005, while he was handling an immigration case. Four days after the suspension began, he worked on the immigration case and never told his client about his status. He also submitted the required affidavit to the bar court, but falsely claimed he notified his clients of his suspension.

Prior disciplines include a public reproval in 2000 for failure to perform legal services competently or keep his client advised of significant developments. When he did not comply with probation conditions, he was suspended in 2002. Three years later, he was disciplined for failing to communicate with clients.

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

DAVID BURKENROAD [#110320], 62, of Los Angeles was disbarred April 22, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

The State Bar Court found that Burkenroad committed 20 acts of misconduct in seven matters, including numerous acts of moral turpitude. Coupled with his prior discipline record, Judge Richard Honn recommended his disbarment. He misappropriated client funds, did not report a sanction of $9,645, practiced law while suspended and misused his client trust account, using it to pay personal expenses.

While suspended, Burkenroad filed a bankruptcy petition, and after creating a ruckus at the UCLA law library that led to his removal by police, he sent a letter on his letterhead demanding that the library change its rules and reprimand a staff member. He threatened to sue if his demands weren’t met.

He also represented a client in a property matter and was sanctioned $1,000 individually and $30,000 with his client for disobeying a court order. He filed an appeal about a month before his suspension and pursued the matter while he was inactive. A motion to vacate the dismissal of the appeal was dismissed because Burkenroad was ineligible to practice.

He was sanctioned $9,645 by the state Office of Administrative Hearings for filing a meritless due process complaint the OAH said was brought in bad faith.

Burkenroad misappropriated $306 from a client who had been arrested and jailed. He settled a forfeiture matter for $693 but did not maintain a proper balance in his trust account and stipulated that he misappropriated $306. While representing a client in three matters, he did no work of value in a personal injury case, failed to file a probate petition and did not complete paperwork in an immigration matter.

Although Burkenroad presented evidence that he has emotional difficulties, Honn said there was no evidence he no longer has mental problems. In addition, he has been disciplined three times previously. In 2005, he was privately reproved for for failing to perform competently or refund unearned fees. He was suspended in 2008 for violating a court order and abandoning a client, and in 2010, he was suspended for violating probation conditions.

“It is evident that (Burdenroad’s) prior discipline, coupled with his prior probation, has not served to rehabilitate or to deter him from further misconduct,” Honn wrote. “In such circumstances, disbarment is appropriate.”

DONALD ALAN YATES [#135775], 67, of Forrest City, Ariz., was summarily disbarred April 23, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Yates pleaded guilty in 2009 to aiding and abetting bankruptcy fraud and filing a false tax return. Both crimes are felonies involving moral turpitude and thus meet the criteria for summary disbarment.

Yates’ law firm was in San Diego. He has been on interim suspension since August 13, 2010.

ALLEN EDWARD JOHNSON [#195207], 64, of Newport Beach was summarily disbarred April 29, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Johnson was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering, felonies that involve moral turpitude and meet the criteria for summary disbarment. He was placed on interim suspension July 29, 2008, but his attempt to resign from the bar that year was rejected by the Supreme Court.

LEE CHARLES COOPER [#53337], 65, of Alameda was disbarred April 29, 2011, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

In a default proceeding, the State Bar Court found that Cooper committed seven acts of misconduct in three matters, including misappropriating $111,350.62 from three clients, and failing to maintain client funds or communicate with a client.

Cooper settled the first matter for $42,700 and deposited a check for that amount in his client trust account. His fees and costs were less than the $6,000 advance fee the client provided. Although he gave the client $10,000, he misappropriated the remainder.

He settled a personal injury case for $43,500. Cooper was entitled to 33-1/3 percent, or $14,500 as his fee, and the client’s share was $29,000. He gave the client $4,500 and misappropriated $24,500.

Cooper also received $69,150.62 for a third client that was a refund from the client’s prior counsel; he deposited the funds in his trust account. He wrote a check for $15,000 to the client’s daughter, but otherwise did no legal work and misappropriated $54,150.62. 

In recommending Cooper’s disbarment, Judge Pat McElroy wrote, “The misappropriation of client funds is a grievous breach of an attorney’s ethical responsibilities, violates basic notions of honesty and endangers public confidence in the legal profession. In all but the most exceptional cases, it requires the imposition of the harshest discipline ― disbarment.”

SANDEEP BAWEJA [#200192], 41, of Orange was summarily disbarred April 29, 2011, and was ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Baweja was convicted in 2010 of wire fraud, a felony involving moral turpitude. It thus meets the criteria for summary disbarment.

He was placed on interim suspension April 16, 2010.

WILLIAM G. WELLS [#29392], 80, of Santa Monica was disbarred April 29, 2011, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

The disbarment is the result of a 10-year dispute between Wells and his former longtime secretary, Barbara Dailey, over ownership of a piece of commercial property in Corona. Dailey consistently maintained that she acquired the property as a retirement asset at Wells’ urging. Wells repeatedly and unsuccessfully sued Dailey, asserting that he owns the property.

Dailey eventually complained to the bar, after spending thousands of dollars defending her right to the property and weathering years of litigation. After the bar filed charges against Wells, he engaged in extensive pretrial proceedings, a 24-day trial in which he filed 144 motions. The hearing judge found he committed six acts of misconduct, including moral turpitude for repeatedly lying under oath, and misappropriating more than $88,000 in settlement proceeds from Dailey and an additional $60,000 security deposit from a tenant on the property. He also failed to provide her file, pay her additional funds he owed and he filed an unjust action against Dailey.

Wells appealed the hearing judge’s disbarment recommendation to the State Bar Court review department, which upheld the recommendation and said it was affected by two factors: Numerous trial and appellate courts found that Dailey owns the property, and the hearing judge found that much of Wells’ testimony lacked credibility because it was “evasive, hostile, and inconsistent and implausible.”

Dailey, who was Wells’ secretary in the 1960s, acquired the property, a 3.2 acre commercial parcel that included a dilapidated gas station and restaurant. She said she bought the land at Wells’ urging to secure her retirement. Wells claimed Dailey held the property in trust for his benefit. He managed the property, collected rent and paid expenses until 1998, when his relationship with Dailey deteriorated and she stopped working for him.

She hired a lawyer, asked for copies of contracts and an accounting of all financial matters Wells had handled. Wells said he owned the property.

In seven lawsuits, some filed against Dailey in which Wells acted as her attorney, the courts confirmed Dailey as the property owner. In one case, the court ordered that Dailey should receive $88,029 from the opposing side and a bank transferred more than $118,000 to Wells to satisfy the judgment and his $28,000 fee award. He never gave Dailey any of the funds. Nor did he give her a $60,000 security deposit she was owed.

The review department also found that Wells brought a frivolous lawsuit in his wife's name challenging Dailey’s ownership after the court found that Wells did not own the property.

“Wells engaged in a 10-year vendetta against Dailey,” wrote review Judge Judith Epstein. “He continues the same relentless tactics in this court, filing 144 motions, almost all of which were denied as unmeritorious. . . . Put simply, Wells went beyond tenacity to truculence.”

In mitigation, Wells practiced for 35 years without any discipline prior to 1994, when the court found he misappropriated settlement funds.

FRED HAROLD MIDDAUGH [#62133], 67, of Sequim, Wash., was disbarred April 29, 2011, and was ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Middaugh stipulated to 29 acts of misconduct in eight matters and he misappropriated $450,000 from a trust over eight months. He also must make restitution of more than $10,000 to three other clients as well as issue a refund to another client or go to fee arbitration.

In 2007, Middaugh became trustee for a trust that held $450,000. He promptly began a series of transactions to liquidate the trust’s assets and transfer the funds to himself to buy a house. When he eventually was sued, he admitted he owed $500,000 in principal and interest to the trust.

He caused one client to have a default judgment of $22,153 entered against her. He did no work for two brothers who paid Middaugh $2,830 to obtain a conservatorship for their elderly sister. He didn’t return the clients’ many phone calls over an eight-month period and when a temporary conservatorship expired, the clients couldn’t find Middaugh because he moved. He took more than three months to prepare a will and trust for another client and four more months to deliver the documents.

He appeared at six of 11 hearings for a 16-year-old client facing gang-related murder charges and sent another lawyer to the other hearings. However, after he missed two fitness hearings, he was removed as counsel and replaced by a public defender. He did some work for another client who paid more than $8,229, but still owes him a refund for work he didn’t do.

Middaugh was publicly reproved in 2007 for failing to perform legal services competently and when he didn’t comply with probation conditions, he was suspended and placed on probation in 2010.

. 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.