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Fund helps victims rebuild lives after an attorney’s theft

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

Like numerous homeowners when the housing crisis hit, David and Janet Love were underwater on their mortgage. But their financial situation worsened when their bank turned them down for a loan modification.

Client Security Fund
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So when a law group promised that California attorney Bruce Weiner could negotiate a deal to keep them in their home, the Chandler, Ariz., couple agreed to pay $3,495 in up-front fees.

“I trusted them, and I trusted him to do what he said,” David Love said.

Unfortunately, the Loves never heard anything more from Weiner or the company after handing over their money. They ended up losing the home they had built.

“Our situation was dire, and to be taken advantage of at our lowest point was a hard blow to us in every way,” he said.

Last year, however, a bright spot came when the couple received a check for $3,495 from the Client Security Fund. The State Bar fund protects consumers of legal services by reimbursing for thefts committed by California lawyers.

In 2013, the fund paid out a record $11 million to more than 2,000 applicants.

The increase was largely the result of attorneys who were involved in mortgage loan modification fraud, said Lori Meloch, director of the fund. Hundreds of homeowners applied to the fund after they gave money to dishonest lawyers up front and never received services.  

In the case of Weiner, who was disbarred for his conduct, the fund has paid $222,209 to 73 different applicants. His case was a typical example of how the conduct of even one bad lawyer prompted dozens or even hundreds of applications to the fund. Although the individual amounts were fairly small, the totals added up.

Last year the fund brought on temporary staff to help with the legal review and processing of the increased number of applications and ensure that victims of attorney fraud received reimbursements in a timely manner, Meloch said.

The way the process works is, once an attorney’s discipline case becomes final, any applications to the fund associated with that attorney are reviewed by the Client Security Fund Commission. The volunteer commission determines eligibility through a process that’s separate from the attorney discipline process. The commission is comprised of four lawyers and three members of the public appointed by the State Bar Board of Trustees.

Under the rules, the disciplined attorney is required to repay the fund plus interest.

William Letendre of Bradenton, Fla., also received a reimbursement from the fund of $3,995 he had given Weiner’s firm, which “did absolutely zero for me” toward a loan modification.

“I found out I wasn’t the only person being taken for a ride by these people,” said Letendre, who was able to work out his own deal with his bank that allowed him and his wife to keep their home.

Letendre said he reported Weiner to the bar to prevent others from being defrauded and was delighted to find out he could get his money back in the process.

“It is good to know that the State Bar of California has an organization to protect unsuspecting people from these kinds of situations,” he wrote in a letter to the fund. “And thanks to all the honest attorneys who work so hard to protect their client’s rights.”

For David Love, the check from the fund is helping to pay off debts and get him and his wife  back on their feet again.

“We never honestly expected to receive any money back and when we opened the envelope and saw the check you can imagine our surprise and joy,” he said.