Thursday, October 11, 2001
Mid-Wilshire Attorney Lacks ‘Common Honesty,’ Deserves Disbarment, Bar Court Says
By a MetNews, Staff Writer
A Mid-Wilshire lawyer who committed a multiplicity of ethical violations in the 10 years since being admitted to the State Bar is unfit to continue practicing, the State Bar Court has ruled.
Emir Phillips, Judge Ronald Stovitz wrote for the Review Department, violated ethics rules and was less than candid in his dealings with the State Bar’s disciplinary arm. Phillips, Stovitz concluded, lacks the “common honesty” required of California lawyers.
In a decision released yesterday, the Review Department said Phillips should be disbarred for collecting an illegal fee in a probate case, failing to turn over a file to new counsel after a client fired him, splitting fees on immigration cases with a non-lawyer consultant, failing to return unearned fees, settling cases without client authority, failing to supervise an employee who improperly communicated with an insurance company instead of with its attorney; and improperly soliciting another lawyer’s client.
Stovitz agreed with Hearing Judge Carlos E. Velarde—whose term has since expired and who has returned to the Los Angeles Superior Court as a retired judge sitting on assignment—that Phillips’ misconduct warranted disbarment.
The attorney’s “wide range of misconduct,” Stovitz said, was characterized by dishonesty and involved 13 separate ethical violations in seven different matters within less than four years.
“Hence,” the judge wrote, “as of the end of the period of misconduct with which we are concerned, respondent had been committing misconduct in the practice of law for double the amount of time he had practiced without committing misconduct.”
Phillips, he added, “has demonstrated a willingness to disregard the truth whenever the need arises, including during these proceedings.”
Stovitz cited the case of Thelma Campos, who said she demanded return of her $375 retainer after Phillips did no work on her husband’s immigration matter for months. Phillips, Stovitz said, originally told the State Bar he had returned the money, but later testified that he was mistaken.
Phillips compounded his misconduct, Stovitz said, by claiming at his hearing that he never represented Campos—who retained him at an office in Santa Ana, rather than at his main office on Wilshire Boulevard—or her husband.
Stovitz noted that Phillips’ name was on the door of the Orange County office, which the lawyer claimed belonged to an immigration consultant; that Campos testified that she specifically went to that office to hire Phillips and made appointments to see him there, although he never showed up; and that Campos had a receipt on Phillips’ letterhead.
The judge also pointed out that Phillips didn’t deny that Campos was his client when he filed his pretrial statement.
In another matter, Stovitz said, Phillips not only refused to return a $1,000 fee he hadn’t earned, but prepared a fabricated statement in order to make it look like he had done work that was never performed. And in another case, he told an insurance company that his client was interested in a settlement even though he had never met with the client, Stovitz said.
He also filed papers with the Review Department misstating events that had transpired in the Hearing Department, Stovitz said.
“As the foregoing demonstrates, respondent is entirely willing to make false statements to clients, to opposing parties, and to courts when it will suit his purposes,” Stovitz wrote.
Presiding Judge James Obrien and Hearing Judge Robert Talcott, assigned to the panel due to the unexplained recusal of Review Department Judge Madge Watai, concurred in Stovitz’ opinion.
Neither Phillips, who was placed on inactive status pending the outcome of the discipline case, nor his attorney, David Clare of Costa Mesa, could be reached for comment.
The case is In the Matter of Phillips, 94-O-11471.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company