Thursday, October 12, 2017
State Bar Charges Attorney With Stealing More Than $3.4 Million
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar is pursuing disciplinary charges against attorney Philip J. Layfield, alleging he has pilfered more than $3.4 million from his clients.
The notice of charges was sent by mail on Sept. 20 to his last known address—in Miami—though there are reports he has fled to Costa Rica.
Joseph M. Barrett, who was in law practice with Layfield—and is not implicated in the alleged wrongdoing—told the MetNews:
“I have not spoken to him in months, but the last I heard he was in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.”
Layfield is warned in the notice, in boilerplate language, that if he does not respond within 20 days after service, he will be placed on inactive status. That threat is one without meaning; he was already placed on that status Sept. 1 based on MCLE noncompliance.
The State Bar is alleging that he has gained large-figure settlements, deposited the checks in his client trust fund account, and remitted no sums to the clients.
$2.3 Million Defalcation
One such client was Josephine Nguyen. Two settlement checks, received by Layfield on Aug. 26, 2016, totaled $3.9 million, of which Nguyen was to receive $2,315,000.
She’s received nothing, the notice says.
The State Bar also accuses Layfield of absconding with $742,500 belonging to former client Rodney A. Pimentel, and $360,000 owed to Patricia Casas and her son.
The State Bar’s notice identifies Layfield as “President and sole beneficial owner of Layfield & Barrett, APC.”
On Aug. 3, creditors filed a petition in the Central District of California to place that law firm in involuntary bankruptcy. Bankruptcy Judge Neil W. Bason on Aug. 22 appointed Richard Pachulski as Chapter 11 trustee.
The creditors are the Dominquez Firm, which claims it is owed $575,000+ for “attorney and referral fees arising out of litigation”; Mario Lara, who says he has been deprived of $307,054.29 in connection with “settlement proceeds and damages arising out of a personal injury case”; and Navazi Reyes, who asserts she should have received $13,000 as her share of a settlement.
‘I Trusted Layfield’
Barrett—a minority shareholder in Layfield & Barrett, until last March, who held the title of “partner” but says he was “the lead trial lawyer, an employee really”—commented:
“Like so many others, I trusted Layfield and had no idea what he was doing behind our backs. The State Bar allegations against him speak for themselves and are the tip of the iceberg in that there were tons of clients who had their money taken, vendors, experts, and employees, including myself. Just last weekend another former Layfield client told me his case which was settled last year he still hasn’t seen a dime from. It is shocking and very sad.”
Barrett, who was president of the Consumers Attorneys Association of Los Angeles in 2015, said he “reasonably relied on Layfield to be honest” and “had no reason to believe he wasn’t,” adding:
“He had complete authority for financial issues, I had no signature authority on any check, and we had a finance department led by a CPA he was working with while I was there. I am another of his victims.”
Barrett, now with Affeld & Grivakes LLP, reflected that Layfield & Barrett “had the best technology,” but that Layfield “took all the servers and set up shop in Central America, in June.”
Layfield, 44, received his law degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, and was admitted to practice in 1999. At that time, his name was Philip S. Pesin.
He is also a certified public accountant.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company