Tuesday, August 7, 2001
Bankrupt Lawyer Gets Six-Month Suspension for Not Paying Restitution
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A lawyer who successfully avoided paying State Bar discipline costs by discharging them in bankruptcy should be suspended from practice for six months for not paying restitution to a lawyer representing a former client, the State Bar Court said in an opinion released yesterday.
The Review Department recommended that Timothy Taggart, from Bloomington in San Bernardino County, be suspended for two years, stayed with two years probation including six months of actual suspension.
Taggart had tried to write off over $6,000 in costs, as well as over $1,500 in restitution—plus interest—after declaring bankruptcy in 1997.
He prevailed on the cost issue three months ago, when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in State Bar of California v. Taggart, 99-56343, that such costs are not sanctions or fines and are therefore dischargeable in bankruptcy.
Taggart, who unsuccessfully ran for the San Bernardino Superior Court in 1996, had previously obtained a discharge of the restitution order, which resulted from failure to pay discovery sanctions. But the bankruptcy judge ruled that the discharge did not preclude State Bar discipline for failing to pay, and that ruling was not appealed.
Judge Michael Marcus, citing Taggart’s demonstrated financial difficulties, suggested that a 30-day suspension—combined with an expanded period of probation to allow him to pay the money—would be a sufficient penalty.
But Presiding Judge James Obrien, writing for the Review Department, said that Taggart’s past misdeeds, and his “indifference” to the restitution order, merited a longer suspension.
Taggart was originally suspended for offenses which included threatening to disclose damaging information about a former client in order to sabotage her case, in which she had obtained new counsel after concluding Taggart was incompetent, and induce her to drop her malpractice suit.
That proceeding resulted in a 1997 discipline order, which included two years’ probation with seven months of actual suspension. One of the probation conditions was that he pay sanctions which had been ordered in the malpractice suit, plus interest, to the ex-client’s new lawyer, Michael Linfield.
Four days before that order became effective, Taggart filed for bankruptcy. He scheduled the State Bar and Linfield as unsecured creditors.
Linfield’s complaint to determine the dischargeability of the debt was dismissed by stipulation. But Taggart’s later motion to hold the State Bar in contempt for trying to enforce its restitution order was denied on the ground that the requirement was rehabilitative and thus “a proper, nondischargeable condition of probation,” the bankruptcy judge said.
In a second disciplinary matter, Taggart was suspended 120 days for continuing to represent a client with whom he had a substantial conflict of interest. His client was sued by Taggart’s mother, and Taggart paid his mother from trust fund moneys for a levy she obtained against the client.
In his opinion for the Review Department, Obrien rejected Taggart’s contention that his failure to pay wasn’t willful because he didn’t have the money.
While Taggart presented evidence that he earned very little income in the two years prior to his disciplinary hearing and that he had significant child care expenses, Obrien explained, he did not present evidence that he lacked other resources or that he had made a good-faith effort to earn more money.
Taggart, Obrien declared, is not being discriminated against based on financial status or being denied due process.
“The revocation is based on his willful failure to pay the restitution coupled with his failure to make reasonable efforts to acquire the resources to pay or to make other good faith efforts to satisfy the restitution obligation,” Obrien wrote. “Our inquiry is not a dollars and cents calculation.”
The case is Matter of Taggart, 99-PM-10316.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company