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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Misappropriation team wins its first disbarment

A Southern California attorney accused of misappropriating almost $170,000 from a client’s estate has agreed to be disbarred, the first disbarment agreement following creation of a major misappropriation task force in the State Bar’s discipline unit.

ERIC J. SIEGLER [#179602], 43, of Temecula stipulated that he deposited $200,000 of his client’s settlement money into his client trust account but paid the client only $30,000 and allowed the account balance to drop to $384.

Siegler became inactive April 16. The State Bar Court approved the stipulation and sent a recommendation to the California Supreme Court that Siegler be disbarred.

“This case is proof of the Major Misappropriation Team’s commitment to swiftly remove from practice those attorneys who steal from their clients,” said Joseph Carlucci, head of the task force.

The team was created in February by Chief Trial Counsel James Towery in concert with a proposal to post a consumer alert – in big, bold letters on the top of a lawyer’s State Bar profile page – when bar prosecutors file charges against lawyers for stealing more than $25,000 from their clients. Although only a handful of lawyers steal large amounts of money from their clients, Towery said bar prosecutors currently have 113 pending investigations of misappropriation charges against some 55 lawyers.

“Of all the types of lawyer misconduct, this is the clearest breach of ethical duties capable of causing client harm,” Towery said. “The degree to which we can identity these cases and quickly remove these lawyers from practice is the best kind of public protection.”

Siegler, a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law who was admitted to the State Bar in 1995, was hired by a woman named Evelyn Brooks in an estate case. Brooks gave Siegler a $200,000 check she had received from her sister in connection with settling the estate of their deceased mother. Siegler deposited the check in his client trust account, as required, paid Brooks $30,000 and was to maintain a $170,000 balance until the case was finished. However, between April and December 2007, the balance dropped to $384. Over the next 2-1/2 years, Siegler replenished $26,000 to his trust account and paid that money to Brooks, but he did not pay the remaining amount.

“By misappropriating $169,616.46 of Brooks’s funds,” Carlucci wrote in the stipulation, Siegler “committed an act of moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption.” Siegler agreed to repay Brooks $143,581 plus 10 percent interest per year going back to Dec. 31, 2007.