Tuesday, November 26, 2002
State Bar Court Blames Abusive Ex-Husband, but Lawyer Still Faces Criminal Charges of Stealing From Clients
By ALLISON LOMAS, Staf Writer
A lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the U.C. Irvine fertility clinic scandal is facing 12 felony counts of stealing from clients, just weeks after the state Supreme Court agreed with the recommendation that discipline on similar charges be reduced because her abusive ex-husband was responsible for the mishandling of clients’ funds.
Orange Deputy District Attorney Doug Brannan said on Friday, “I stand by the complaint,” which charges both Melanie Rae Blum and her former husband and law partner Mark Elliot Roseman with grand theft totaling over $500,000. The couple is accused of lying to and stealing from clients of their now dissolved firm Blum and Roseman from 1993 to 1999.
The California Supreme Court actually suspended Blum from the practice of law for 30 days effective Nov. 10 after she pled nolo contendere and in June 2000 stipulated to an act involving moral turpitude, charging an illegal fee, and to gross negligence in failing to maintain client funds in her trust account in two client matters.
The Hearing Department, or trial-level court for the State Bar, recommended that Blum receive an actual nine months suspension, but on appeal the Review Department found that recommendation to be excessive due to substantial mitigating circumstances.
Judge Pro Tem James William O’Brien, writing for the three-judge review panel, noted that Blum had had no prior disciplinary problems, and that she had “suffered abuse, both physical and mental,” at the hands of her ex-husband, who was personally responsible for the gross mismanagement of the firm’s trust accounts.
The court concluded that Blum must be held responsible for allowing herself to become disconnected from the management of her office for an extended period of time. But the court concluded that it was unlikely that the misconduct would recur because she had taken effective steps to avoid repetition including severing her relations with Roseman and continuing therapy.
Blum declined further comment on the court’s opinion, concluding that the “opinion as it stands says it all.” She said O’Brien “eloquently” and “forcefully” described the circumstances surrounding the misconduct.
During the period of the misconduct Blum was representing many of the 105 couples who alleged that three U.C. Irvine doctors stole or misused eggs from women being treated for infertility and then either implanted the eggs in other women or sent them to research labs without the patients’ consent. Orange Superior Court Judge Robert E. Thomas approved well over $10 million in settlement payments by the University of California.
The State Bar Court based its decision to shorten the term of Blum’s actual suspension based on the stipulation that she was over-extended due to her representation of plaintiffs in the U.C. Irvine fertility scandal and her lobbying efforts on the same subject, and therapists’ testimony regarding her ex-husband’s controlling and abusive character.
Roseman resigned from the State Bar with no charges pending in early 2000. He did not want to comment on the opinion’s characterization of him or the criminal charges on Friday.
A second set of disciplinary charges filed against Blum in January 2001 has been abated pending resolution of the criminal matter, public information officer at the State Bar E.J. Bernacki said. Blum II involves similar charges of mismanagement involving nine separate client matters.
Charles Weinstein, the deputy trial counsel who argued for a nine-month actual suspension during Blum’s appeal, said that Blum could be summarily disbarred if convicted on multiple counts of grand theft.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company