Tuesday, July 17, 2001
Panel Urges Stiffer Discipline for Lawyer Who Lied to State Bar Investigators
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The State Bar Court’s Review Department has rejected a South San Francisco lawyer’s bid to reduce his 150-day disciplinary suspension and instead boosted the penalty to a full year for lying to the State Bar Court and investigators.
Justin R. Dahlz should be suspended for four years, with at least a year actual suspension before seeking probationary reinstatement, the department ruled in a July 9 opinion made public yesterday.
Presiding Judge James Obrien said the recommendation was made because of the “serious moral turpitude involved” in Dahlz’s assertion to the opposition in a workers’ compensation action that his client did not want to proceed, when in fact he had not contacted his client, and because of further falsehoods.
Dahlz gave investigators a list of services he said he had performed for client Michelle Douglas in her compensation action against her employer, Pacific Bell, including appearing at a hearing at which a stipulation was entered, and signing the agreement. In fact, his client attended the hearing and entered into the agreement without him. He later explained his failure to appear by asserting that he got lost on his way to court.
He also testified that he tried numerous times to reach his client as the hearing date approached but that she had moved and he could not find her. But State Bar officials found her quickly, using the office number that Dahlz had for her in his file.
Dahlz testified that he did not know at the time of the hearing that he remained his client’s attorney of record when evidence showed that he did. He also testified that he did not know the hearing date.
“When confronted with the notice of the hearing from his own file containing the exact date and time of that hearing with his handwritten notes on that notice, he testified that he thought the question had to do with the filing of a trial brief in the WCAB matter,” Obrien wrote. “The question was clear and unambiguous. We find that [Dahlz’s] testimony in this regard was deliberately false.”
The State Bar Court hearing judge also accepted Douglas’ testimony that she sent numerous letters and made numerous telephone calls to her lawyer and never got an answer. The Review Department agreed that Dahlz never answered, but Obrien said Douglas’ evidence did not reach the requisite “clear and convincing” standard of proof.
Still, he said, the three-year suspension, with 150 days actual time, recommended by the hearing judge was not enough to take into account his lies to the State Bar officials and to Pacific Bell, especially given the fact that he was previously disciplined for similar actions and for breach of his duties to keep a discrete client trust account.
In a separate concurring and dissenting opinion, Judge Ronald Stovitz said the Review Department’s sanction was insufficient.
“Respondent’s practice of deceit in this record is highly unusual in California attorney discipline cases for its length and variety,” Stovitz said. “Moreover, his clear disregard of his client’s interests covered half of his practice, and his prior record shows how his previously-judged ethical failures also extended to trust account mismanagement. Substantial discipline is warranted.”
Stovitz said two years of actual suspension would be appropriate.
The case is In re Dahlz, 96-O-03184.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company