Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, June 24, 2005


Page 1


S.C. Orders Bar Critic and Former Judicial Candidate Ronald R. Silverton Disbarred for Second Time


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court yesterday ordered the disbarment of a Pacific Palisades attorney who ran for the State Bar Board of Governors three times as a critic of the disciplinary system.

The State Bar Court Review Department had recommended that Ronald R. Silverton be placed on probation and suspended for 60 days for entering into fee agreements the court found to be unconscionable.

But Justice Marvin Baxter, writing for a unanimous high court, noted that the misconduct began less than two years after Silverton was reinstated following a previous disbarment. That, plus the lack of remorse the attorney showed in both disciplinary proceedings, shows Silverton to be unworthy of the leniency recommended by the bar panel, the justice said.

Silverton, 74, could not be reached for comment. The greeting on his answering machine informs callers that he is traveling in Europe.

Silverton claimed that the charges were baseless and were brought in retaliation for his campaigns to abolish the entire State Bar disciplinary system, relegate clients who have complaints about lawyers to civil proceedings in court, and reduce State Bar dues to $100.

While praising the State Bar as a whole, Silverton, who lost a judgeship race in the old Los Angeles Municipal Court District in 2000, has called its disciplinary arm “a little Gestapo.”

He was disbarred in 1975 following an insurance fraud conviction, but reinstated on his fourth try in 1992.

Baxter said Silverton charged unconscionable fees or acquired interests adverse to his clients by entering into agreements with several personal injury clients with respect to compromising their medical bills.

The agreements said that if Silverton could negotiate reductions in the bills, he could keep the full amount of the savings in addition to his contingency fee of one-third or 40 percent of the recovery.

In a previous interview, Silverton told the MetNews that he “did absolutely nothing wrong,” had rejected bar counsel’s offer of a compromise, and expected the Supreme Court to vindicate him.

Silverton noted that his clients did not testify against him, and pointed out that he won the case once, when the original hearing judge, Eugene Brott—who is no longer on the court—said that the attorney did not violate ethics rules. But the Review Department, in a May 2001 ruling, held that if Silverton failed to tell the clients that it is customary for attorneys to compromise medical liens without additional fee, the fee could be considered unconscionable.

The case was sent back to the Hearing Department and assigned to Judge Patrice McElroy. McElroy concluded, and the Review Department agreed, that the amount of the fee was excessive in proportion to the value of the services performed, and the time and labor expended by Silverton.

The attorney “did not fully disclose all the terms of the transactions to [the clients] in writing,” Judge Madge Watai explained for the Review Department, adding that the clients did not have the benefit of independent counsel. The panel found in mitigation that the clients were not actually harmed and that Silverton’s prior discipline, while an aggravating factor, had occurred many years earlier.

The high court, however, granted review on its own motion in order to consider greater discipline.

Baxter said the Review Department erred by treating the prior misconduct as remote in time, when the new violations took place so soon after Silverton got his license back.

Also distressing, the justice wrote, was Silverton’s unwilling to accept responsibility for having entered into transactions which, even if the amounts of money involved were not large, were certainly unfair to his clients.

“In our opinion ordering Silverton’s first disbarment, we found it ‘significant’ that he had ‘failed to show any remorse and has devoted his efforts chiefly to an attempt to show that there was a complete lack of evidence in the trial court pointing to his guilt of the crimes of which he was convicted.’...Now, 30 years later, it appears little has changed.”

The case is In Re Silverton, 05 S.O.S. 3063.


Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company