Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Ricardo Torres II Agrees to Disbarment for Stealing
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Ricardo A. Torres II has agreed to be disbarred for misappropriating client funds and other ethical violations, the State Bar of California announced yesterday.
Officials said in a release that the State Bar Court accepted a stipulation Friday in which Torres, once a rising figure on the local political scene, admitted taking almost $90,000 from clients who were seriously injured by a drunk driver in 2005.
The release said the stipulation was reached with the State Bar’s major misappropriation task force, which prosecutes lawyers suspected of taking $25,000 or more from their clients. Torres is the third lawyer targeted by the task force whose license has been removed in the past two months.
Torres, 46, also was disciplined in 2002 and tried to resign with charges pending last year, but the Supreme Court rejected the resignation and instructed the State Bar to proceed with disciplinary proceedings expeditiously.
According to the disbarment stipulation, Torres and three other law firms represented Lawrence and Rachel Prijoles, who were seriously injured in a 2005 head-on collision with a driver who was under the influence of alcohol. The couple eventually recovered general and punitive damages of $648,962.67.
Torres received checks totaling that amount and distributed $559,746.50 to the couple, the other attorneys and experts used at trial. However, he never paid the couple’s doctors and admitted he misappropriated $89,216.47, the remainder of the damages Torres received.
He also never accounted for any settlement funds, and apparently left the country when the misappropriation was about to come to public attention, although he later returned and participated in guardianship proceedings regarding two of his children, who had been living with his parents.
His father is Ricardo A. Torres, former presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. He is also a nephew of William Torres, who is retiring next months as a Superior Court commissioner.
The State Bar Court’s deputy trial counsel, Eli Morgenstern, said in a statement that “disbarment was warranted in light of the fact that he misappropriated the Prijoleses’ settlement funds,” adding that because of the stipulation, the clients are eligible for faster evaluation of their claim by the Client Security Fund.
The statement also noted that in a separate matter that is still pending, the State Bar Court recommended that Torres be suspended as the result of his actions while representing a client in a criminal matter and a related restraining order hearing brought against him by his former girlfriend. The client, Juan Salcedo, paid Torres half his $30,000 fee, officials said, but five days later was notified by law enforcement that no criminal charges would be filed due to a lack of evidence.
Torres allegedly told Salcedo the criminal case was dismissed because of his efforts, when in fact he had done no work. The State Bar Court found that in addition to committing an act of moral turpitude by making misrepresentations to Salcedo, Torres did not account for or repay Salcedo’s fee and he did not return his file. The court recommended that Torres be suspended until he made restitution and proved his rehabilitation and fitness to practice.
Torres tendered his resignation last June, two months after the State Bar filed charges in the Salcedo matter.
The MetNews reported in January of last year that Torres, 46, had disappeared, arranging to have his client files delivered to another lawyer who called the delivery “a total surprise.” Torres had stopped practicing at the mid-Wilshire address listed on the State Bar website, and a recording said the phone had been disconnected.
Early in his career, Torres gained positive press as the founding president of the Los Angeles Legal Corps, which provided low-cost representation to persons who were making too little money to qualify for free legal services but could not afford to hire lawyers at prevailing rates. He also ran for the state Assembly and the Los Angeles City Charter Commission in separate 1997 elections.
His reputation suffered following his 2002 admission that he was responsible for mailers claiming that Antonio Villaraigosa, who was then trying to unseat Torres’ friend, City Councilman Nick Pacheco, had “sold out the Latino community” and referencing “his white advisors” and “consultantes gringos.” It was followed up by a mailer charging Villaraigosa with marital infidelity.
In 2006, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined a committee called the “Voters for Honesty and Integrity in Politics” and Torres, who was its treasurer, $1,500 for failing to disclose contributor information in a late independent expenditure report in connection with a state Assembly race in 2002.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company