Thursday, August 29, 2013
High Court Orders Mid-Wilshire Attorney Disbarred
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A mid-Wilshire attorney who admitted making more than 65 unauthorized withdrawals from his trust account over a three-year period was ordered disbarred yesterday by the California Supreme Court.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, took the action against John Young Song, based on a May 10 recommendation by the State Bar Court Review Department. Song has been barred from practice since August of last year, when State Bar Court Judge Donald Miles said he should lose his license because his actions involved moral turpitude and none of the circumstances in mitigation outweighed the seriousness of his misconduct.
Song, a lawyer since 1995, admitted that he withdrew the money, totaling more than $100,000, the Review Department explained in its opinion. But he failed to appreciate the extent of his wrongdoing, Judge Catherine D. Purcell wrote, as indicated by his statement that he did not believe he was guilty of misappropriation because he intended to return the money.
The funds belonged, the opinion explained, to a former client who had recovered a judgment that was subsequently discharged in bankruptcy. Song said he thought the bankruptcy ended the matter, and lost contact with the client, but that a title insurer subsequently paid the amount of the judgment, making the check payable to Song and the client jointly.
The client’s share, after deducting Song’s contingency fee, should have been about $133,000, Purcell explained. But after what Song said were multiple attempts to contact the client, he began to make the withdrawals.
Song explained that he needed the money to care for his elderly parents, and said he was certain the client—a close family friend—would have consented to his borrowing. As the “filial son,” he explained, he had a cultural obligation to assume the primary responsibility for his parents’ care.
The client eventually surfaced, and hired a lawyer to sue Song. With help from other family members, he repaid the full amount, and later—after the disciplinary proceedings were instituted—paid another $80,000 to settle the civil suit.
Purcell said Song was entitled to considerable credit for his community service activities, which included serving as an interpreter for Korean Immigrants, traveling to Mexico to build homes and provide shoes for the poor, founding and serving as president of the Korean American Coalition in Orange County, and handling several pro bono cases.
He also established that he was respected by those who knew him, had practiced for 12 years without discipline, and had cooperated with investigators. The judge cautioned, however, that the amount and duration of the misappropriations meant that only the most compelling of mitigation would be sufficient to avoid disbarment.
Song’s showing came up short, she said, because “he did not prove two important rehabilitative factors in mitigation – recognition of wrongdoing and full recovery from the emotional problems he claims led to his wrongdoing,” causing the panel to fear that he might repeat the misconduct if he were allowed to return to practice.
In other conference action, the justices left standing a June 3 ruling by Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal in favor of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Superintendent John Deasey in McAllister v. Los Angeles Unified School District (2013) 216 Cal. App. 4th 1198.
Patricia McAllister, a former substitute teacher, claimed she was fired for comments that were recorded at an “Occupy” rally at City Hall in 2011 and later broadcast over the Internet. She complained in those remarks that “the Zionist Jews who are running these big banks and our Federal Reserve, which are not run by the federal government, they need to be run out of this country.”
The trial judge, and the Court of Appeal, ruled that she had not alleged any conduct on Deasy’s part that would support a federal civil rights claim against him in his personal capacity; that there is no private right of action, nor any right to seek reinstatement of employment, under the free-speech provision of the state Constitution; and that wrongful discharge and negligent infliction of emotional distress are common-law claims from which public entities in California are immune.
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