Brian Oxman disbarred and his wife suspended for client trust account violations

High-profile attorney  RICKEY BRIAN OXMAN [#72172], who once represented pop icon Michael Jackson in his child molestation trial, was disbarred July 27. His wife and law partner, MAUREEN PATRICIA JAROSCAK [#117677], was suspended for 18 months, beginning Aug. 11.

A State Bar Court review panel found that the pair, whose law firm is in Santa Fe Springs, commingled funds in their client trust account and used the account to evade creditors. Separately, it found that Oxman failed to report a judicial sanction to the bar, as required, and Jaroscak breached her fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of a trust. Using the client trust account to shield their personal assets from creditors was dishonest and amounts to moral turpitude, a three-judge review panel found.

The panel increased a hearing judge’s recommendation that Oxman be suspended for two years, instead recommending his disbarment due in large part to two prior disciplines on his record. “Oxman’s three disciplinary proceedings show a disturbing disregard for the administration of justice, including misrepresentations to courts and a failure to cooperate in discipline proceedings,” wrote Judge JoAnn Remke. “We find the totality of the circumstances warrants Oxman’s disbarment to protect the public, the courts and the legal profession.”

Oxman’s appeal to the state Supreme Court was denied. Oxman, 60, has made frequent television appearances as a legal expert and recently represented the 1-800-GET-THIN surgery marketing company and its affiliated Lap Band surgery centers.

Charges of mismanaging their law firm’s client trust account stemmed from the couple’s numerous deposits and withdrawals of personal funds over six months in 2008. At the time, they faced significant financial obligations, including five liens totaling more than $51,000 filed against them by the Franchise Tax Board for unpaid taxes, penalties, interest and collection fees for tax years 2005, 2006 and 2007. They also owed almost $25,000 to their lawyer for previous discipline matters.

With funds from her mother, Jaroscak opened an account that she said she operated as trustee of a family trust. The hearing judge concluded that the trust “was a sham created to hide from creditors funds given to Jaroscak by her mother,” Remke wrote. In 2008, the review panel wrote, Jaroscak deposited about $55,000 in non-client funds into the client trust account and withdrew almost the same amount for personal expenses. “She did so shortly after she and Oxman faced approximately $45,000 in potential obligations to tax authorities and a judgment creditor, and at the same time they faced future tax liability for 2006 and 2007. This evidence circumstantially shows that Oxman and Jaroscak used the CTA to shield their personal assets from creditors.”

The review court also found that Jaroscak, 61, breached her fiduciary duties as trustee of a family trust she created for two clients. She received about $597,374 to fund the trust, but a beneficiary had to hire a new lawyer to force Jaroscak to distribute the funds. Oxman took over when the beneficiary tried to have Jaroscak removed as trustee. The bar court found that she breached her fiduciary duty and, by refusing to properly disburse more than $68,000 to the beneficiaries, committed acts of moral turpitude.

Oxman’s problems were the result of a bankruptcy court sanction that began when he represented the wife in a contentious divorce. The case spawned several legal actions, including a 2002 federal civil rights case brought by Oxman, alleging the opposing lawyer had improperly influenced a witness in the divorce proceedings. In 2004, Oxman and his client were sanctioned $29,535.64 in attorney’s fees plus a $10,000 penalty payable to the court for filing a frivolous action. The sanction was to be paid within 10 days, but Oxman paid two years later. He was put on probation in 2009  as a result of the civil rights case and his failure to pay the sanction on time.

The client eventually filed for bankruptcy. Oxman was sanctioned $5,084 by the bankruptcy court for making a frivolous objection. He ultimately paid the husband $9,000 but did not report the sanction to the State Bar for five months instead of the required 30 days.

The hearing judge found that both Oxman and his wife lacked candor during the proceedings and neither cooperated with the bar’s investigation. Oxman received limited mitigation for his pro bono work for the Plotkin Bail School and various trial competitions, and Jaroscak was credited for 17 years of discipline-free practice and community work. In addition to Oxman’s 2009 discipline, he was privately reproved in 1998 for failing to perform legal services competently.

Both Oxman and Jaroscak were ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court and Jaroscak also was placed on two years of probation and was ordered to take the MPRE.