Friday, October 18, 2002
Lawyer Convicted of Stealing From Relative’s Estate Resigns From State Bar
By ALLISON LOMAS, Staf Writer
Twelve local attorneys, including one convicted of stealing an inheritance from a family member, have been suspended or disbarred by the California Supreme Court or have resigned with disciplinary charges pending.
Robert Baray Marquez, of the firm Marquez & Associates in Encino, resigned effective Oct. 27. He had been on interim suspension following a felony conviction for grand theft.
In August, Marquez pled guilty to charges that he stole his mother-in-law’s $150,000 inheritance, Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller said Wednesday.
Marquez drafted the will for his wife’s grandmother, Martha M. O’Lear, and named himself as executor, Miller said. After her death in 1996, her house, the sole asset of the estate, sold for nearly $140,000.
Miller said a check for the net proceeds was made out to Marquez as executor, and was deposited into a checking account. Then, the prosecutor explained, he proceeded “to loot the whole thing.”
Miller said the account, which earned more than $12,500 in interest, dwindled down to almost $90 at one point. O’Lear had three children who received nothing, Miller said.
Under the plea agreement, Marquez will receive three years probation and seven months in county jail if he makes full restitution prior to his sentencing scheduled for Oct. 24, Miller said. If Marquez does not make full restitution before that date, Superior Court Judge Leslie A. Dunn could require him to spend up to five years in a state prison.
Two lawyers were disbarred after failing to appear for hearings in connection with their alleged disobedience of prior disciplinary orders.
In May of last year, the court stayed the execution of Christopher Mark Vaccaro’s yearlong suspension, and placed him on actual suspension for a minimum of 60 days. That suspension, which he also failed to contest, followed Vaccaro’s third drunk driving conviction.
Vacarro’s actual suspension continued until his disbarment last month because he never filed a motion to terminate it. He also failed to file an affidavit with the clerk of the state bar court as required by the May 10 order.
State Bar Court records show that Deputy Trial Counsel Monique Miller tried unsuccessfully to contact Vacarro before a default judgment was entered against him for failure to comply with the earlier order.
Like Vacarro, Patricia Leigh Reber was disbarred by default after she failed to comply with an order of the Supreme Court. The violations concerned failure to notify clients and opposing counsel that she had been suspended.
Samuel Paul Plunkett of Beverly Hills has been suspended after being convicted of three firearm-related charges.
Plunkett, who said he would have been willing to go to trial to fight more serious charges, received a probationary sentence after pleading guilty to carrying a concealed firearm, and brandishing a firearm. He spent 13 months in county jail before entering the plea agreement.
Plunkett said the convictions arose out of an “altercation at a bar” when he was “extremely intoxicated.” No one was hurt, he said, during the incident that he referred to as a “misunderstanding.”
Plunkett said he was carrying the gun because he had been threatened by criminal clients who were not satisfied with the outcomes of their cases.
Plunkett said he is currently in a residential treatment center receiving help for his alcohol and substance abuse problems. He also said that he is enrolled in the bar association’s lawyer’s assistance program.
“When life hands you lemons you make lemonade,” he said, adding, “I took the time to dry out.”
Plunkett, who admitted to being “out of control,” said that he disagreed with the decision to suspend him for conduct wholly unrelated to his legal work.
However, he said that he expected to be reinstated within six months following the bar’s investigation to determine whether or not his convictions involved moral turpitude.
Plunkett, was not the only attorney with a substance abuse problem to be disciplined by the State Bar recently. Natasha A. Kotto and Robert Arthur Dickrell have also been suspended after incidents involving drugs and or alcohol.
Kotto received a two-year suspension and three years’ probation for violating the conditions of a public reproval and being convicted of two drunk driving charges.
Deputy Trial Counsel Kimberly G. Anderson said the Santa Monica lawyer initially received an administrative suspension when she failed to pay her bar dues in 1999. During this suspension “she held herself out as entitled to practice law,” resulting in a public reproval in February 2001, Anderson explained.
At some point during these proceedings Kotto admitted to the bar that she was an alcoholic, Anderson said. She was ordered to attend five Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week during the first six months of her reproval, submit proof of attendance to the probation unit in quarterly reports, and to abstain from consuming alcohol.
Kotto violated the conditions of the public reproval when she failed to file the required quarterly reports on time, the State Bar Court found. When the reports were submitted they showed that she had only attended six meetings in a month.
Within this period Kotto was twice convicted of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor. On both occasions, Kotto stipulated, her blood alcohol level was over .30.
Anderson said Kotto was prosecuted by the bar in September for violating the public reproval and receiving the second drunk driving conviction. As a result of her convictions and professional discipline, Kotto has lost her driver’s license, her home and her job, Anderson confirmed.
Robert Arthur Dickrell, an attorney from Hermosa Beach, was also suspended in September after admitting that he has smoked marijuana on an almost a daily basis since attending college, Deputy Trial Counsel William Cox said.
According to the stipulation of facts, Dickrell was suspended for failing to perform legal services with competence and lying to the court, his clients, and the bar. He had also received a public reproval in May 2000.
“If there is a nexus between drug use and misconduct we will consider that especially if the attorney is taking steps to make changes in his life,” Cox said.
Dickrell revealed in the stipulation that he believed “his habitual use of marijuana contributed to his failure to perform legal services with competence and affected his ability to make truthful and rational statements to the court and to the State Bar.”
The court required him to attend one Narcotics or Marijuana Anonymous meeting per week throughout his four-year probation.
Kevin Charles Prys, who now lives in Canoga Park, was suspended for 90 days for fee-splitting, according to State Bar records.
The stipulation of facts filed in April show that in 1993 Prys promised to reduce his fee by 10 percent if his client brought a “good case” to him, meaning a case involving a $100,000 insurance policy.
Prys, who admitted to the client that fee-splitting or “capping” is illegal, promised to split future fees if the client recommended clients to him.
The telephone conversations between Prys and the client were recorded by the California Bureau of Medical Quality Assurance and the Fresno District Attorney’s Office, according to the stipulation, with the client’s consent.
Professional discipline by the bar was delayed by ancillary criminal proceedings against Prys in Fresno, Assistant Chief Trial Counsel Jeff Dal Cerro said.
The execution of Prys’ suspension was stayed. He also received two years on probation.
Jon Henry Channels, an attorney from Los Angeles, has received an actual suspension of two years and five years probation for repeatedly failing to perform legal services with competence and in some cases failing to perform any services at all.
In some instances, Channel’s clients were deported when he failed to competently assist them.
According to the bar Channels, who has also used the alias Jon Canales, “displayed a lack of candor and cooperation” during the disciplinary investigation.
The California Supreme Court stayed Channels three-year suspension.
Former Inglewood City Attorney Charles E. Dickerson III and another Inglewood lawyer, John Henry Edwards III, also were suspended along with David Elwyn Hosmer from Orange and Jeremias Flores Valdez of Glendale.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company