Thursday, May 30, 2002
Two Local Lawyers Charged With Stealing From Clients
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Two lawyers have been arraigned on charges of stealing from their clients in cases brought by a special prosecution unit focusing on integrity of the justice system.
John William O'Donnell, whose law practice is in South El Monte, pled not guilty Tuesday to grand theft. O'Donnell is accused of stealing a $25,772 life insurance settlement from the orphaned daughter of Faustina Gomez, who was killed in an auto accident when the girl was 13.
The case was investigated by the State Bar of California and the District Attorney's Bureau of Investigation.
O'Donnell was arrested without incident last Friday by district attorney's investigators on an arrest warrant issued two days earlier.
He is free on $20,000 bond and is due back in Los Angeles Superior Court on June 13, when a preliminary hearing date is scheduled to be set.
He faces a possible maximum term of three years in state prison if convicted of the charge, according to prosecutors.
Also arraigned Tuesday, in a separate case, was Malibu attorney Sam Birenbaum, who is accused of stealing from clients.
Neither lawyer has a history of public discipline by the State Bar, records show.
Prosecuting both cases is Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney William Penzin of the Justice System Integrity Division. The unit was established by District Attorney Steve Cooley, who reorganized the office after his November 2000 election. The same division probes and prosecutes alleged criminal misconduct by judges and police officers.
Cooley has also established a Public Integrity Division, which focuses on allegations of misconduct by elected officials and governmental employees.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company