Bar subpoenas bills of firms tied to Aguirre
By Alex Roth
San Diego Union Tribune
January 18, 2008
The State Bar of California has issued a subpoena in its investigation of San
Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, seeking copies of bills from several law
firms that have worked for Aguirre's office.
The subpoena also seeks information in two other areas:
Settlements Aguirre's office paid to a lawyer who sued the city, and
Bills submitted by a private arbitrator who has received business from
Private attorney Michael Conger has accused Aguirre of failing to disclose
his office's financial relationship with the arbitrator. The arbitrator made a
ruling favorable to Aguirre's side in a lawsuit brought by Conger. Aguirre has
denied any improper conduct.
A process server delivered the subpoena to the office of the city auditor and
comptroller on Jan. 11. The document, issued by the Bar's Office of the
Chief Trial Counsel, orders the city to turn over all the requested documents
by Feb. 15, according to a copy obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Aguirre's spokeswoman said he had no comment on the subpoena.
For at least a few months, Bar investigators have been interviewing people
about Aguirre's legal work, public comments and other behavior. The Bar
licenses and disciplines the state's lawyers. It can mete out punishment
ranging from a private reprimand to disbarment.
The subpoena seeks, among other items, copies of bills “received through
the City Attorney” during Aguirre's tenure from the law firm Latham &
Watkins. Aguirre has farmed out legal work to the firm on a variety of cases.
Since Aguirre took office in December 2004, the firm has billed the city
$10.7 million, city documents show.
Bar investigators are also seeking “copies of all payments made” to attorney
Cory Briggs to settle lawsuits during Aguirre's tenure. Briggs is a private
lawyer who has filed several lawsuits against the city on behalf of citizens'
Both Briggs and Kristine Wilkes, a Latham & Watkins partner, have
contributed $250 to Aguirre to help him retire his 2004 campaign debt. As
noted in an Aug. 24 story on Voiceofsandiego.org, which first reported the
donations, some if not all of that money went directly to Aguirre because all
of his unpaid loans from the 2004 campaign are to himself.
Briggs yesterday called the Bar investigation “a political witch hunt” and
dismissed as ridiculous any suggestion that his contribution influenced
Aguirre's handling of the suits.
Of various suits Briggs has filed, two were dropped, “three or four” are still
pending and “two or three” have been settled for “a couple thousand bucks
each,” Briggs said.
“I've never even talked to Mike about any of the cases I've settled,” Briggs
Wilkes was on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.
Bar investigators are also looking into how much money the City Attorney's
Office has paid private arbitrator Harry McCue during Aguirre's tenure. The
Bar requested copies of all bills submitted by McCue, a retired federal
magistrate, during Aguirre's term.
McCue was involved in a case in which Conger successfully sued the city for
underfunding the pension system. Aguirre's office eventually settled the
case by paying an additional $173 million into the retirement system.
Although McCue didn't preside over the underlying lawsuit, Aguirre
requested that McCue be named the arbitrator to decide how much to award
Conger in attorney's fees for his victory, Conger said. McCue ruled that
Conger was entitled to only $1.
After McCue's ruling, Conger filed a motion accusing Aguirre and McCue of
failing to disclose that Aguirre's office had hired McCue to arbitrate or
mediate at least eight other cases in the previous two years, paying McCue
$37,800. Conger accused Aguirre and McCue of deliberately concealing the
information. Conger said he found out about the relationship from another
mediator shortly after McCue's ruling.
After Conger filed the motion, Aguirre agreed that the city would pay Conger
$1.6 million in attorney's fees, not the $1 McCue ordered. One condition of
receiving the $1.6 million payment was that Conger agreed to refrain from
making any further “public or private comments” regarding the McCue
controversy, court documents show. Aguirre has criticized Conger for
unfairly attacking McCue's integrity.
McCue didn't return a message asking for comment.
Bar investigators are also seeking copies of all bills submitted by the law firm
Heller Ehrman during Aguirre's tenure. Aguirre hired Heller Ehrman to assist
with his lawsuit seeking to overturn certain benefits for city employees.
The firm was paid $431,997, city attorney records show. When the City
Council refused to authorize more payments, Aguirre dumped the firm and
tried the case himself. A judge eventually threw out the case; Aguirre is
The subpoena also seeks copies of payments made to private San Diego
lawyers Bryan Vess and Dan Stanford, whom Aguirre retained to handle
several pension-related cases on a contingency basis.
Case closed on seven Aguirre investigations
Letters from state bar say no further action on complaints against former
By Jeff McDonald
San Diego Union Tribune
February 10, 2011
The State Bar of California has dropped seven separate investigations into
former City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who rattled the San Diego political
establishment during his single stormy four-year term.
Bar officials do not discuss — or even confirm — investigations that do not
result in some form of public discipline.
But The Watchdog has reviewed a series of letters from the association
that state each case opened in response to complaints lodged against
Aguirre “does not warrant further action.”
The closures came nearly four years after Aguirre created a political
firestorm with actions some considered erratic or unethical, such as rushing
to the scene of a Mount Soledad landslide and saying the city — his own
client — had culpability.
Aguirre praised the outcome of the state investigations.
“People always ask me, ‘How can you believe in the system?’” he said. “But
this confirms for me the basic justice in the legal system.”
Aguirre, who was elected in 2004 and defeated in 2008, became the target
of multiple State Bar complaints of professional misconduct. None were
ever made public, but investigators focused on issues such as whether
Aguirre filed lawsuits without proper approval from the City Council.
One of the complaints was filed by Tom Story, a former city official that
Aguirre attempted to bring up on ethics charges because of his work for
developer Sunroad after leaving City Hall. Story was accused by Aguirre of
tapping his political connections to benefit the company.
Sunroad, whose president was a contributor to Mayor Jerry Sanders, built
an office tower near Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa too tall for federal
aviation safety rules. Sanders eventually ordered the top two floors of the
A Superior Court judge halted the Story prosecution because Aguirre was
also suing the developer. He ruled the two cases had the potential to
Sen. Joseph Dunn
appointed to top State Bar
Former state Senator
Joseph L. Dunn was
named executive director
of the State Bar last
month, replacing longtime
bar leader Judy Johnson,
who will retire next year.
Dunn was a member of the
California State Senate
from 1998 to 2006, and in
2005 and 2006, served as
chair of the Senate
Judiciary Committee. He
chaired the Senate
into Enron’s involvement in
the 2001 California energy
crisis. In 2006, he ran
unsuccessfully for the
Democratic nomination for
state controller. From
2006 to 2009, Dunn
served as CEO and
executive director of the
Association, where he
affairs and advocacy
activities. He left the CMA
“I am honored to have
been offered this position,”
Dunn said. “My life
commitment has been to
the legal profession, and
there is no better way I
can think of to show that
commitment than to assist
the board of governors
with its work at the State
Dunn, 52, is a founding
partner of The Senators
(Ret.) Firm, LLP, in Santa
Ana, where his practice
legislation and regulation.
Last year, he also
launched Voice of OC, a
local investigative online
nonprofit news outlet.
Dunn said Orange County
was the victim of an
accountability void as a
result of the decline in
Prior to entering the
Senate, he was a plaintiff’s
lawyer in Orange County,
handling products liability
defective medical devices
and pharmaceuticals. He
worked in the Newport
Beach office of Robbins,
Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi
after law school and joined
Robinson, also in Newport
Beach, in 1996, where he
continued to focus on
products liability and
complex litigation until his
election to the Senate.
Dunn was lead or co-lead
counsel and liaison
counsel in numerous high
profile, complex cases that
involved tobacco, nuclear,
breast implant and other
He graduated with honors
from the University of
Minnesota School of Law
and was admitted to the
California bar in 1986. He
is a trustee for the
University of California
Irvine Foundation and
chairs both the UCI School
of Law Dean’s Cabinet
and the Regenerative
Council. He was a member
of the Judicial Council of
California and currently
serves on the steering
committee for the
Commission for Impartial
Former State Bar
President John Van de
Kamp, who chaired a
search committee, said
Dunn is “extraordinarily
well-qualified and fits the
needs of the bar at this
particular time.” He said
the former senator stood
out in a strong field of
candidates and described
Dunn as a fine
administrator with a good
understanding of the
workings of Sacramento.
“He has the ability to
bridge any gaps we might
have and deal with internal
problems as well,” Van de
Dunn’s appointment is the
third and final senior
position to be filled this
year, following the
previous appointments of
former State Bar President
James Towery as chief
trial counsel and Starr
Babcock as general
|San Diego Education Report
|San Diego Education Report
Spring Seminar 2010 -
Litigants Behaving Badly:
Do Court Ordered Services
April 15, 2010
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM PT
Registration is closed. Walk-
ins will incur a $20 late
registration fee. Walk-ins
will be accommodated as
space allows and are not
guaranteed meal service.
Registrations will be held
until 15 minutes after
published seminar start
time. No refunds available
within 72 hours of the
Contact the Member
Services Department at 619-
Hon. Christine Goldsmith;
Hon. Jeannie Lowe; Hon.
Edlene McKenzie; Hon. Joel
Wohlfeil; Hon. William
McAdam; Laury Baldwin,
CLS-F; Terry Chucas, Esq.;
Larry Corrigan, M.S.W.;
Stephen Doyne, Ph.D.;
Susan Griffin, M.S.; William
Meredith Levin, CLS-F; Lori
Love, Ph.D.; Robert Simon,
Ph.D.;Janis Stocks, CLS-F
Presented by the Certified
Family Law Specialists
Committee of the SDCBA
This seminar qualifies for
3.0 general MCLE credits.
Specialization credits in
Family Law also apply.
Join our judicial officers,
attorneys and other mental
health professionals as they
discuss why courts order
various counseling type
programs, the effectiveness
of these programs, how to
measure the success of
these programs and how
attorneys can advise their
Panelists will address the
following court ordered
- Psycho-Sexual Evaluations
- Parenting Classes
- Substance Abuse
- Batterer Intervention
Programs and Anger
Click here to download the
PDF registration form for
Registration closes at noon
on April 14, 2010. This
seminar will not be
videotaped or audio taped.
Late registrants and walk-
ins will incur a $20 late
registration fee. Walk-ins
will be accommodated as
space allows and are not
guaranteed meal service.
Registrations will be held
until 15 minutes after
published seminar start
time. “San Diego County
Bar Association certifies
that this activity has been
approved for MCLE credit
by the State Bar of
California.” No refunds
available within 72 hours of
SDCBA Bar Center
1333 Seventh Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
Certified Family Law
No refunds available within
72 hours of the seminar.
Cole Stuart Considers $10M False Arrest Suit Against
Written by: Chris
San Diego Judicial Abuse Arrest of Cole Stuart
Cole Stuart Arrested During Family Law Protest
In the wake of what appears to be a wrongful arrest of California Coalition
for Families and Children co-founder and president Cole Stuart, the
evidence is building that one of the primary culprits in this matter is the
San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA).
We’ve obtained copy of computer file containing a letter directed to Patrick
L. Hosey, President of the San Diego County Bar Association. In the letter,
Cole Stuart describes the events of the April 15, 2010, family law seminar
sponsored by the SDCBA at which their staff and private security guards
allegedly handcuffed and removed him from the event. This is despite the
facts that he is a licensed attorney who paid for admission to the event,
the arrest warrant for him was obtained in an irregular fashion that
suggests judicial misconduct was involved, and the San Diego Police
Department (SDPD) and San Diego Sheriff Department officers on the
scene wanted to wait until after the event to make an arrest.
SDPD officers pointed out that it was highly unusual for an arrest warrant
to be issued over a misdemeanor alleged violation of a temporary
restraining order. Possibly even more unusual is that the TRO was not
served on Cole Stuart until April 16, two days after the issue of the arrest
warrant tied to the TRO and one day after he had already been arrested.
Apparent Misconduct of Judge Lisa Schall
It appears that Judge Lisa Schall issued a temporary restraining order
(TRO) against Cole Stuart at the request of his ex-wife, Lynn Stuart, who
is upset that he was trying to arrange to talk with his son on the phone.
She allegedly misrepresented his emails to arrange a phone schedule as
annoying phone calls and stalking. The TRO was issued without an
opportunity for defense, typical tactics for family law judges who believe
that due process doesn’t apply in their courtrooms. The California Bar
Association acknowledges that there is a major problem with TROs as
they are often being used improperly as offensive weapons by malicious
parents who want to gain an advantage in a custody battle. Estimates are
that more than half of the instances in which TROs are requested involve
false allegations and exaggerations designed to mislead the court to gain
Schall is hardly a model judge and is very likely biased and prejudiced in
this case. She’s been subjected to repeated disciplinary action by the
Commission on Judicial Performance for past misconduct and also has a
criminal record for reckless drunk driving. It is our understanding that Cole
Stuart filed a complaint against her with the Commission on Judicial
Performance which has yet to be resolved. Consequently, it appears that
Schall should have recused herself from the case. Instead, it appears she
may have used the opportunity to retaliate against Cole Stuart.
San Diego Judicial Abuse Arrest of Cole Stuart
CCFC Protesters Include Moms Abused by Courts
Questions Surround Family Law Judges and City Attorney
It’s still not entirely clear what the exact roles of Judge Lorna Alksne,
Judge Lisa Schall, Judge Christine Goldsmith, and City Attorney Jan
Goldsmith were in arranging for an arrest warrant in what appears to be
an effort timed to harass and intimidate political protesters upset with the
San Diego family law courts. Reports are that Alksne identified Stuart to
Sheriff deputies on her security detail and then may have involved herself
in the effort to arrest him. Judge Christine Goldsmith was also at the family
law seminar. She reports to Alksne. Her husband, Jan Goldsmith, allegedly
signed the arrest warrant. The nature and timing of events and
connections between these parties causes there to be a distinct
appearance of a conspiracy to cause false arrest for political purposes
involving all of these parties in addition to the SDCBA.
Letter to SDCBA
In his letter to SDCBA President Hosey, Cole Stuart states:
(quote from the letter)
At approximately 6:00 pm on Thursday, April 15, 2010 I arrived at the
SDCBA building, signed in and joined the seminar. Approximately thirty
minutes into the seminar during a break, two private security employees of
the SDCBA approached me and informed me that San Diego Police
officers were waiting outside of the building with a warrant for my arrest.
They requested that I accompany them outside of the building. I informed
the SDCBA employees that I had paid to attend the seminar, that I wished
to complete it, and that I did not wish to leave before its end. The SDCBA
employees informed me that I could wait until the end of the seminar, but
that I would be arrested by SDPD at the end of the seminar. I advised
them that I would be pleased to speak with SDPD after the seminar.
SDCBA employees continued to attempt to convince me to leave,
threatening me with arrest. I asked if the employees possessed an arrest
warrant and they admitted they did not. I inquired as to whether SDPD
intended to enter the building to arrest me and the employees admitted
that SDPD had no intention of entering the building. Sherriff’s deputies
were present and also refused to make an arrest. I advised SDCBA
employees that if they attempted to arrest me I would consider it an
assault, false arrest, and false imprisonment.
One of the SDCBA employees then left to consult with other SDCBA
employees and/or seminar speakers and attendees. He returned and
repeated that if I did not leave the building he would forcibly remove me. I
advised him again that I was rightfully present at the seminar and did not
wish to leave. The two SDCBA employees then handcuffed me, took me
into custody, and forcibly removed me from the building in front of
approximately 100 of my professional colleagues.
SDCBA employees forcibly took me to SDPD officers outside the building
where I was arrested by SDPD. I was taken to county jail and imprisoned
for approximately eight hours until released on bail.
SDPD officers advised me that they were perplexed as to why an arrest
warrant was issued for an alleged misdemeanor charge. They stated that
they rarely receive warrants for misdemeanors. They also stated that they
had no intention of entering the SDCBA building to execute the warrant as
our protest was peaceful and I was causing no disturbance inside.
Apparently several SDCBA employees attempted to convince the officers
to execute the warrant inside the building, yet the officers refused. I am
further investigating, and will soon report any violations of Judicial
Cannons relating to the arrest to the Commission for Judicial
Performance. Clearly, SDPD and Sherriff’s deputies had ample
opportunity to execute the warrant, yet refused. Nevertheless, SDCBA
chose, through it’s employees, to arrest me and remove me from a
seminar that I paid for and was rightfully entitled to attend.
This is a claim for assault, false arrest, and false imprisonment pursuant to
California law. False imprisonment is the ‘nonconsensual, intentional
confinement of a person, without lawful privilege, for an appreciable length
of time, however short.’ Fermino v. Fedco, Inc., 872 P.2d 559, 567 (Cal.’
94) (quoting Molko v. Holy Spirit Ass’n, 762 P.2d 46, 63 (Cal.’88)). A false
imprisonment action may also be maintained if ‘the defendant unlawfully
detains the [plaintiff] for an unreasonable period of time’ after an
otherwise legal seizure or arrest. Lincoln v. Grazer, 329 P.2d 928, 30 (Cal.
Ct.App.’58). Once the plaintiff has proven the elements of the tort, the
defendant has the burden to establish that the detention or arrest was
legally justified. See Cervantes v. J.C. Penney Co., 595 P.2d 975, 982
SDCBA had no legal right to place me in handcuffs and remove me from
the seminar. The act of doing so in front of dozens of my colleagues
additionally caused injury to my reputation and person. SDCBA’s actions
also caused physical injury, constituting assault. SDCBA’s actions were
unlawful and caused significant damages. As an attorney practicing in San
Diego, the public display of such an arrest has caused injury to my
reputation and significant loss of business opportunities.
This demand is for compensation for such injuries in the amount of
$10,000,000. Please deliver this claim and demand to you insurance
carriers. I request that they contact me as soon as possible to discuss
resolution of this claim. If I have not received a satisfactory response from
you by Wednesday, April 28, 2010 I will initiate suit to resolve the claim.
Cole Stuart’s description of the events has to date been verified by other
parties present at the event...
CCFC Protests San Diego Family Courts on April 15,
Written by: Chris
April 12th, 2010
California Coalition for Families and Children is sponsoring a protest
against the corruption, misconduct, and abuse of the San Diego family law
industry on the evening of April 15, 2010, in front of the San Diego County
Bar Association (SDCBA) . One of the more responsible
custody/psychological evaluators in San Diego County has stated “the San
Diego family law courts are the most broken they have been in decades.”
Much of the blame falls most directly on the shoulders of many unqualified,
biased, and even abusive judges who are harming children and families
with their decisions in cases with devastating conflicts that are being
encouraged by profit-seeking unethical lawyers and divorce industry
Judge Lorna Alksne
Supervising Judge Lorna Alksne, the most influential jurist as she oversees
the family law courts in the county, can be blamed for at least part of the
sickening bias, corruption, and misconduct of the family courts under her
watch. She bears significant responsibility for the evasiveness, deceit,
corruption, and bias being demonstrated by many of the family law judges,
including herself. Many parents and families who have been victimized by
Alksne’s failed courts and their buddies in the divorce business have
banded together to form the California Coalition for Families and Children.
Attorney Cole Stuart and Dr. Emad Tadros are two of the founding
members. They are fathers who have seen first hand how harmful the
current system is. As they have expertise in law and psychiatry, they are in
unique positions to understand just how dysfunctional the courts and the
frequently used custody and psychological evaluations are in San Diego.
CCFC is certainly not a father’s rights group. While it undeniably has some
members who are fathers who have been mistreated in a sexist fashion,
many of its members are mothers who have been wronged by the courts.
The typical CCFC member comes from a middle or upper-middle class
socioeconomic background, wasn’t a target for persecution by courts and
law enforcement until their divorce, and has spent many hundreds of
thousands of dollars on simply trying to maintain reasonable contact with
their children despite the other parent being intent on eliminating them.
One key point many members have observed is that money drives these
conflicts. Generally both parents and their families have some money, be it
income or assets. The courts and their friends can find ways to take that
money for their benefit, often by encouraging a destructive “winner takes
all” battle over imperfect but capable parents being able to spend time with
their children. As actor and divorce industry critic Alec Baldwin observed,
people who have substantial income and assets often get far worse
treatment in family law courts than those who have little.
Parents are often willing to do just about anything for their children. The
San Diego divorce industry milks this parental goodwill and mutates it into
something truly evil to do lasting harm to children and their families in order
to pump up revenues. “For the best interest of the children” is the
euphemism they use when they truly mean “for our best interests of lining
our pockets with your money.”
An excerpt from a flyer the group has prepared for the SDCBA event may
give you a flavor of their positions:
California Coalition for Families and Children brochure for SDCBA seminar
San Diego Family Courts and Professionals are trained and paid to resolve
family disputes efficiently. They rarely do. Why?
Courts, attorneys, and service providers are ineffective in assisting families
in transition. In fact, they encourage conflict and expense that harms
litigants, their children, and your community.
Reducing conflict may seem impossible. But with a few readily available
and free alternatives, you can make a difference. Here’s the truth you won’
t hear from tonight’s panel by the litigants whom you failed to invite.
You were hired to assist litigants in efficiently transitioning through a family
Litigants come to you hurt, angry, and fearful about an uncertain future for
the most important things in their lives: their children, family, and financial
security. Unmanaged, that uncertainty and fear leads to conflict.
Your duty to your client and community is to end conflict, end fear, and let
them move on.
Yet Family Courts presently offer few tools to calm emotions, while
providing abundant tools to make them even more destructive. Courts and
evaluators sit in passive judgment, yet rarely render guidance. Evaluators
are scientifically incapable of identifying the “better” parent — yet earns
millions from desperate parents by pretending they can. Attorneys rarely
end conflict, but regularly use courts to encourage litigation, absorb
resources, and harm their clients, children, and community.
Up To Parents
Members of the CCFC group are particularly fond of the work being done
by website Up To Parents which advocates for parents to end their conflict
and work together for the benefit of their children by reducing conflict and
staying out of court. They invited Charlie and Barbara Asher who run the
website to speak at a meeting in January 2010 in Del Mar, California.
Having attended that presentation, I was impressed that the Ashers really
do want to help fix the family court disaster and are spending their time and
money to put together free resources to help parents handle divorces with
Charlie Asher came to be interested in helping broken families mend as he
noticed in his work as a criminal attorney that so many people with trouble
with the law have histories of conflict due to failed marriages that went very
wrong. His wife, Barbara Asher, is a retired psychologist who had noticed
similar patterns of long-term problems being caused by difficult divorces.
It was very clear to the audience that the courts in Indiana, their home, are
nowhere near as destructive as the courts in San Diego County. The many
stories told by CCFC members, men and women, of atrocities they have
faced at the hands of the San Diego courts and government were shocking
even to an experienced criminal attorney like Charlie Asher.
The protest will be held outside the San Diego County Bar Association
during a seminar entitled Litigants Behaving Badly: Do Court Ordered
Services Work? that is being held from 6pm to 9pm.
View Larger Map
San Diego County
1333 Seventh Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
6:00pm to 9:00pm
early to set up
Many parents who have experienced “court ordered services” in San Diego
County know that they really do work (sarcasm intended), just not the way
a responsible and rational person should want them to work. They are
highly effective at increasing conflict, abusing children and parents, and
thereby siphoning financial resources from parents and families into the
pockets of those who run the divorce industry in the county. This includes
judges, Family Court Services (FCS) mediators, therapists, custody and
psychology evaluators, supervised exchange services, supervised
visitation centers, and perhaps most importantly the many family law
attorneys who engage in unethical and dishonest tactics designed to “win”
child custody on behalf of dishonest and abusive parents who hire them. It
also includes the county CPS and child support agencies. These people all
have a financial interest in seeing the present corrupt and abusive system
stay the way it is or to expand its power and control even further. While
some of the professionals in the divorce industry who really do want to help
families and children are outraged by the abuses they see, they cannot
afford to speak up against them for fear of destroying their careers by
losing lucrative referrals.
If you’re interested in participating in this protest, please show up before
the seminar starts at 6pm. You may want to print and carry posters as
some of the protesters are planning to do.
Speakers at the event include:
Judge Christine Goldsmith
Commissioner Jeannie Lowe
Judge Edlene McKenzie
Judge Joel Wohlfeil
Judge William McAdam
Attorney Laury Baldwin, CLS-F
Attorney Terry Chucas
Larry Corrigan, M.S.W.
Stephen Doyne, Ph.D.
Susan Griffin, M.S.
Attorney William Hargreaves, CLS-F
Attorney Meredith Levin, CLS-F
Lori Love, Ph.D.
Robert Simon, Ph.D.
Attorney Janis Stocks, CLS-F
Some of our readers may recognize these names from the thousands of
those who profit from family law misconduct and abuse in San Diego
County. We’d like to point out that while some of them are quite
disreputable, perhaps even corrupt and abusive, not all are. Some on the
list may be trying to do their jobs to help families and are maligned in part
for their association with the San Diego Family Law Courts.
To give you an idea of the mix of people presenting at this seminar, below I’
ll give brief write-ups on four of them and the types of roles they play in the
Stephen Doyne, the ill-reputed section 730 custody/psychology evaluator,
is probably the most infamous name on the list. Doyne would not have
been selected as a speaker at an event like this if there was truly any
intent to provide education on resolving conflicts and helping families.
While being tasked with conducting a custody or psychological evaluation
means that even a competent and fair evaluator is going to have some
disgruntled clients, the level of distrust and animosity Doyne has
succeeded at building with his clients is far beyond that of most evaluators.
I’ve met some of the parents aggrieved by Doyne and find they seem
balanced in their views. Some of them with particularly bad experiences
even go so far as to point out how they endured multiple psychological
evaluations and found that earlier ones were essentially fair even though
they were criticized for their own flaws. Doyne’s reports, on the other hand,
did not strike them as fair or accurate. Many also pointed to financial
conflicts and how Doyne’s attitude towards them changed when they had
trouble paying for skyrocketing bills. They consistently expressed that
Doyne was unprofessional, biased, exhibited conflicts of interests, and
caused serious damage to their children, families, and finances. That
SDCBA has chosen Doyne as a speaker says volumes about how this
organization is not committed to anything but finding ways to make money
for its members and their friends, even at the cost of abusing children and
In my previous article Stephen Doyne and San Diego Family Law Courts
Under Fire, I outlined the nature of a fraud lawsuit against Doyne and the
many complaints from parents whose families have been harmed by his
conduct. That article contained many links to information on Doyne’s
allegedly fraudulent credentials and coverage by San Diego television
news and the San Diego Reader so it’s a good place to start if you want to
understand more about how harmful psychological evaluators like Doyne
Susan Griffin from Hannah’s House has been attacked by many because
her child exchange and supervised visitation center earns revenue for
“providing services” (the euphemism used by the divorce industry to refer
to their pattern of abusing families and pillaging their assets and income)
to many parents and children who are abused by the San Diego courts.
While there is no doubt reason for some parents to dislike this
organization, it may be that she and Hannah’s House are really not so bad
as they are made out to be. The organization differs from the judges,
attorneys, CPS, and psychological evaluators in that they didn’t request or
order parents and children to be forced to use their services.
While they may have opinions that there is no need for supervised
visitation for a falsely accused parent, they are not in the position to do
much about it other than to try to accurately portray their observations in
reports they write and to help defuse conflicts between parents. Even when
they write glowing reports on a parent wrongly required to use supervised
visitation services and point out the lies being promulgated by a trouble-
making parent, it may still take many months or even years for the courts
to wake up and stop the mistreatment. It is hard to see how Hannah’s
House can be blamed for this, but also understandable that a parent
shelling out thousands of dollars per month for a few hours per week with
their children at Hannah’s House would be understandably upset at the
cost and the injustice.
Judge Christine Goldsmith
Judge Goldsmith is reportedly upset about candidates other than the
incumbents running in this year’s judicial elections. Judges in the county
are used to running unopposed. Some like Goldsmith apparently believe it
is their right to do so. She has reportedly complained about the judges in
the county being attacked (presumably by groups and individuals these
judges have mistreated) and has been trying to rally up support for “judges
under fire” from friendly family lawyers. Given her politically inclined words
and actions, it raises questions of a conflict of interest as it implies she’s
aligning with lawyers who are friendly to her positions and are willing to
support them. Goldsmith and judges like her are undermining the
legitimacy of the courts and the public should be deeply concerned.
You might think that a judge violating the code of ethics would be held
accountable. Think again. Judge Lisa Schall was implicated in similar types
of unethical behavior.
(from Why Is San Diego Judge Lisa Schall Still On The Bench?)
Improper Involvement in Political Activities
Judges are supposed to stay out of politics to avoid the creation of a
perception of bias. Even at the start of her judicial career when you might
think she’d be keen on playing by the rules, Schall didn’t stay uninvolved.
Attorney Michael Aguirre filed a complaint against Schall for her
involvement in the re-election campaign of Governor George Deukmejian
in what appears to be a possible violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
This is the same person who appointed her to San Diego Municipal Court
in 1985 and then to San Diego Superior Court in 1989.
(from Lawyer Seeks Probe of Forum Speech by Judge)
A San Diego lawyer has requested that a state panel investigate whether
Municipal Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall violated judicial ethics guidelines
when she appeared on behalf of Gov. George Deukmejian at a candidates’
forum last week.
In a complaint filed with the California Commission on Judicial
Performance, Michael Aguirre charged that Guy-Schall’s appearance at
the forum violated a judicial conduct rule stating that judges should not
take active roles in political campaigns. The commission is likely to decide
whether to investigate the incident at its meeting Oct. 23 and 24, a
spokesman said Tuesday.
Yet despite this, a drunk driving conviction, and reprimands for abusive
conduct against litigants, she is still a judge in San Diego family law courts.
It’s no wonder why San Diego family law judges have a reputation for being
incompetent and unethical bottom-feeders.
I’ve been told by one experienced 730 evaluator that Terence Chucas
often serves as minor’s counsel in difficult child custody cases. The
evaluator expressed the opinion that Chucas is probably better than many
such attorneys as he at least will talk with the kids and write required
reports. Other people, however, claim he’s involved in covering up child
sexual abuse. What is true? I can’t say with any certainty, but can see it is
possible both viewpoints could be somewhat accurate given the miserable
performance of many minor’s counsel attorneys. It wouldn’t take much
effort for one to seem better than many others.
Too many minor’s counsel attorneys view their positions as being for their
own interests of making money via court-coerced and sometimes taxpayer-
financed money streams being paid to them supposedly for services they
provide to “protect children’s interests.” Yet many of these minor’s counsel
attorneys do little if anything to truly serve the interests of the children. At
the same time, there is no effective oversight for these attorneys. The
courts appoint them, then do nothing effective to supervise them. As a
result, they are essentially unaccountable yet have government coercion
ready to help force parents to pay them. Some even are paid by the
government itself, apparently with no evaluation of whether the billing is
even accurate or appropriate. In our previous story Eileen Lasher on San
Diego CPS/Family Law Court Misconduct, we reported on victimized San
Diego parent Eileen Lasher who revealed that the county pays these
attorneys without any accountability to the public, or even the parents of
the children, as to the hours they worked and the services they provided.
Lasher was particularly critical of the failure to submit itemized billing and
other games the minor’s counsel attorney played to pump up fees by
creating and continuing conflict.
Appearance of Collusion
Putting aside the particular pros and cons of each of the people discussed
above, consider their roles in the family law system. A judge can appoint a
minor’s counsel attorney (or even one per child as in the Cindy Dumas v.
Eric Moelter case which has employed three minor’s counsel attorneys,
one for each child, for years) and a supervised visitation monitor. The
minor’s counsel attorney(s) can insist supervised visitation is needed and
name somebody preferred if the judge hasn’t already. The minor’s counsel
attorney(s) can also recommend a psychological evaluation is needed and
suggest a party to do it. The Court’s Family Court Services mediators can
do the same things with regards to recommending these services are
needed, but they may stay away from naming names to keep up an
appearance of impartiality. The supervised visitation monitor can write
somewhat objective reports that try to avoid offending anybody, but in the
process don’t make it clear that the parent being supervised is just fine
and the one not being supervised is an aggressive nutcase. Consequently,
the minor’s counsel attorney(s), one of the parents and his or her attorney,
and court want to keep the supervised visitation in place for longer, often
saying they want to wait for the psychological evaluation. The
psychological evaluator can take a year or more to do his or her job, then
issues a report that often recommends therapists, supervised exchange
and visitation centers, and other service providers by name. In the
meantime, there are many hearings and piles of legal papers and nasty
letters flying back and forth between the attorneys, all driving up the costs.
Every letter one writes is an opportunity for the others to respond and bill
more fees for doing so.
Who pays for all of this? Usually it is the parents, but sometimes taxpayers
are picking up the bill at a much reduced rate. Nobody really wants to work
at the county rate since it is a tiny fraction of their normal billing rates, so to
keep busy they make sure they can identify “revenue sources” (parents
with money) and then “recommend services” (help each other get jobs). If
they are appointed at county rate, they will try to find some way to keep the
job and change the billing rate. Sometimes they simply “neglect” to send
invoices for a year or so and then demand payment at a much higher rate,
often with the threat of interest accruing even though they never sent a bill
previously. If the parents object and cite the court orders listing the county
rate, the minor’s counsel attorney can simply lie and state they agreed to
the higher rate already and this was communicated via their attorneys. The
judge will probably uphold such an arrangement. The judge would rather
the parents pay because every dollar shelled out by the county to
somebody outside the court is one less dollar available for judges and
court employees. Also, the judge doesn’t want to bring any of his or her
buddies into disrepute for lying because after all, everybody in the system
knows that nobody wants to be known as a liar and getting such a
reputation will hurt their abilities to help each other make an income and
maintain job security.
Everybody in the system is happy with getting paid well and having little
accountability for their work. The only people unhappy with this
arrangement are the children and many of the parents. But they are not
part of the system, so almost nobody in the system cares about them.
It’s also important to realize that seminars like this one being protested are
common. They are held many times per year in San Diego, often
sponsored by attorneys, psychological evaluators, and others with a
financial interest in keeping the system the way it is now. Cross-referring
“professionals” show up at them and get to know each other and find ways
to pump up revenues and profits via referrals and “recommending
services” for troubled families.
If this whole arrangement strikes you as collusion, even fraud, that’s
because it often is. There is big money to be made victimizing parents and
children and everybody in the system knows it. While not all of them like it,
even those who do not are sucked in to playing this game because the
adversarial nature of the process demands they respond to the stunts and
manipulations the other parties are playing to “win” or make more money
or whatever their motivations may be.
Uncertainty And Inconsistency Incite Conflict, Increase Legal Revenues
One of the major causes driving conflict and therefore expenses and
damage (or income and profit as those employed in system view it) is the
uncertainty felt by the parents due to the wild inconsistency of the courts.
Capable and loving parents are uncertain if they will even be able to see
their children any more, whether they will end up labelled as deadbeats,
child abusers, or worse. They see some divorces go smoothly and parents
getting along and others turning into a microcosmic variant of World War
III, complete with nuclear weapons like false sexual abuse allegations that
create massive damage for nearly everybody (certainly the falsely accused
parent and the children) once they are used. The courts sometimes crack
down on this, other times they reward it. It appears like random chance, not
a comforting situation when one is being confronted with this Russian
Roulette game with the gun pointed straight at one’s family and self. It is
terrifying and drives a self-defensive mindset that can increase litigation
and conflict even in people who would normally want to stay out of courts
and resolve conflicts peacefully. And of course this is a terrific opportunity
for the “court experts” like the psychological evaluators to then point out
how these parents are obsessive, depressed, and anxiety-ridden and need
mental health care and oh, by the way, here are some suggestions who
they should hire.
Not-so-good parents see the uncertainty and inconsistency, too. They look
at them as opportunities to “win” custody, “win” child support, “win” the
argument with the ex, and “winning at any cost” is what many of the worst
of these people are all about. Because they know there is a significant
chance a child abuse and especially child sexual abuse allegation will
result in a judge blocking contact between the children and their hated
nemesis parent for months or years with little to no evidence required, they
realize that it is almost certainly a short-term “win” and might also be the
way to get long-term sole custody. That’s because the courts often try to
uphold the status quo and after a year or two of little contact with one
parent they will often interpret that as solid grounds for awarding sole
custody to the accusing parent. Further, they seldom punish anybody for
making false accusations, even very serious and damaging ones that are
later shown convincingly to be untrue. So dishonest parents have plenty of
incentive to litigate and little disincentive since they often wrongly see
themselves as victims who should have the right to do anything to get what
If the courts would consistently require higher evidentiary proof, punish
false accusations, and generally stick with 50/50 shared parenting with little
to no child support (except in relatively extreme cases such as one parent
is in poverty while the other is wealthy) then there would be more certainty
and less incentive to litigate over marginal issues.
Some of the complaints in the following report
are silly, and the legions of workers who pay
union dues would not be impressed with these
I do agree that there is inadequate enforcement
of ethical rules by the State Bar, but I doubt that
the folks who wrote this report want any real
change. They just want to get themselves into
positions of influence.
The justice system is run for the benefit of
the people who control it, not for the public.
(I see this report as similar to the politically-
motivated attacks on Mike Aguirre--see story on
Report 2015-030 Summary - June
State Bar of California:
It Has Not Consistently Protected
the Public Through Its Attorney
Discipline Process and Lacks
Our audit of the State Bar of California (State
Bar), highlighted the following:
While in 2011 the State Bar drastically reduced
its backlog of disciplinary cases,
the severity of the discipline it imposed on
attorneys who failed to fulfill their
professional responsibilities decreased.
The State Bar continues to report fewer cases
than the law permits in its backlog—a
concern similar to one we raised in our 2009
audit of the State Bar's discipline system.
The State Bar has not made adequate efforts to
align its staffing with its mission of public
protection, and its backlog of disciplinary cases
has grown by 25 percent since 2011.
The State Bar did not perform a cost-benefit
analysis before receiving board approval to
purchase a building in Los Angeles.
The State Bar spent $76.6 million to purchase
and renovate the building—$50 million more
than it estimated.
Over the last six years the State Bar's fund
balances indicate that revenues collected from
membership fees far exceed its operational costs.
Results in Brief
The California Constitution established the State
Bar of California (State Bar) as a public
corporation within the judicial branch of
California. With the exception of certain judges,
every person licensed to practice law in
California must belong to the State Bar.
Overseen by a 19-member Board of Trustees
(board), the State Bar regulates the professional
and ethical conduct of its 226,000 members
through an attorney discipline system. The State
Bar's Office of the Chief Trial Counsel receives
complaints, investigates attorneys, and prepares
cases for prosecution, while the State Bar Court
adjudicates disciplinary and regulatory matters
involving attorneys in the State. The State Bar's
spending for its discipline system totaled $38
million in 2014.
Although state law defines the State Bar's
highest priority as the protection of the public, it
has struggled historically to promptly resolve all
the complaints it receives, potentially delaying
the timely discipline of attorneys who engage in
misconduct. One of the primary measurements
of the effectiveness of the State Bar's discipline
system is the number of complaints it fails to
resolve within six months of their receipt, which it
refers to as its backlog. Based on our
calculations, in 2010 the State Bar's backlog
peaked at 5,174 cases, a 21 percent increase
over the prior year. In response to its escalating
backlog, the former executive director issued a
zero-backlog goal. This goal quickly resulted in a
drastic reduction in the State Bar's overall
backlog of 66 percent, from 5,174 cases in 2010
to 1,742 cases in 2011.
However, we found that as the State Bar
reduced its excessive backlog of disciplinary
cases, the severity of the discipline it imposed on
attorneys who failed to fulfill their professional
responsibilities decreased. In other words, to
reduce its backlog, the State Bar allowed some
attorneys whom it otherwise might have
disciplined more severely—or even disbarred—
to continue practicing law, at significant risk to
the public. In particular, in 2010 and 2011, the
years the State Bar focused its efforts on
decreasing the backlog, the State Bar settled a
total of 1,569 cases, more cases were settled in
each of those years than in any of the other four
years in our audit period. The level of discipline
that the State Bar recommended as part of these
settlements was, in some cases, inadequate. For
example, the Supreme Court of California
returned for further examination 27 cases that
the State Bar settled in 2011 due to the
appearance of insufficient levels of discipline.
Upon further consideration by the State Bar, 21
of the 27 cases resulted in greater discipline
recommendations including five disbarments.
The chief trial counsel confirmed that she
believes the volume and speed in processing the
backlog in 2011 caused the State Bar to lower
the quality of its case settlements, and believed
that insufficient quality control was a key factor
that enabled the State Bar to decrease its
The State Bar has also not been transparent in
reporting the performance of its discipline
system to its stakeholders. State law requires the
State Bar to prepare an Annual Discipline Report
(discipline report), a public document that it must
present to the governor, the chief justice, and
the Legislature to assist them in evaluating the
performance of its attorney discipline system.
Because the discipline report is the only report
that the State Bar submits to the Legislature that
describes the performance of its discipline
system as a whole, it is critical that this report
contain comprehensive, consistent, and useful
information. However, our review found a
number of significant problems with the
information that the State Bar submitted.
State law defines the backlog as the number of
cases within the discipline system, including, but
not limited to, the number of unresolved
complaints as of December 31 that the State Bar
had received more than six months earlier.
However, even though the State Bar has met the
law's minimum requirements related to reporting
its backlog, it continues to report fewer cases
than the law permits—a concern similar to one
we raised in our 2009 audit of the State Bar's
discipline system.1 In particular, because state
law defines the State Bar's highest priority as
protecting the public, we believe the appropriate
method of calculating the State Bar's backlog
would be to include every case that affects
public protection—a method that the State Bar
does not currently use. In addition, over the past
six years the State Bar has changed the types of
discipline cases that it includes in the backlog it
reports without fully disclosing these changes. In
all years we reviewed except for one, the
changes the State Bar made in its methodology
resulted in an increase in the backlog it had
previously reported for the prior year. Although
the State Bar told us that it made these changes
in order to present the backlog in a more
complete manner, additional steps are
necessary to ensure that its discipline reports
contain useful and consistent information.
At the time of our 2009 audit, we believed that
the State Bar's stakeholders, including the
Legislature, would benefit from having more
complete and clear measures of the backlog,
and we recommended that the State Bar
disclose the composition of the backlog and
include an explanation for the cases it excludes.
Although the State Bar implemented our
recommendation for the two years following our
audit, it stopped fully describing the methodology
it used to calculate its backlog beginning in its
2011 discipline report and for each year
Part of the reason the State Bar has struggled to
maintain a reasonable backlog may be that it
has not made adequate efforts to align its
staffing with its mission of public protection. To
meet its zero-backlog goal in 2011, the State Bar
shifted staffing resources, employed contractors,
and authorized a significant amount of overtime.
As previously discussed, this effort often came at
the expense of delivering appropriate discipline.
However, after decreasing its backlog in 2011,
the State Bar generally discontinued its
operational changes; subsequently, its backlog
began to increase again, and it has grown by 25
percent since 2011. The State Bar's ability to
decrease its backlog after making operational
changes, and the increase in the backlog after
abandoning those changes, suggests that it may
need additional staff within its discipline system.
However, the State Bar has not conducted any
workforce planning to support or refute this
Further, at a time when we would have expected
the State Bar to focus its efforts and resources
on its mission of public protection by taking steps
such as improving its discipline system, it instead
purchased a $76.6 million building in Los
Angeles in 2012. The Legislature approved a
temporary five-year $10 special annual
assessment charged to members between 2009
and 2013 as a means to partially pay for the
financing, leasing, construction, or purchase of a
new facility in Southern California. The special
assessment generated $10.3 million—more than
$66 million short of the final cost of the Los
Angeles building. To finance the remaining cost
of the building, the State Bar secured a $25.5
million loan, sold a parking lot in Los Angeles for
$29 million, and transferred $12 million between
its various funds, some of which its board had
set aside for other purposes. For example, the
State Bar paid for renovations, including
information technology (IT) upgrades, to the Los
Angeles building in part by using funds its board
had designated in its strategic plan for new IT
systems, intended to benefit the entire State Bar,
not just those working in Los Angeles.
The State Bar might have been able to justify the
purchase of its Los Angeles building by
performing a thorough cost-benefit analysis to
demonstrate that purchasing the building was
more financially beneficial than continuing to
lease space. However, the State Bar did not
perform a cost-benefit analysis before receiving
board approval to purchase the building.
Further, in its April 2012 report to the
Legislature—four months before it ultimately
purchased the building—the State Bar
underestimated the total cost of the building
purchase and renovation by more than $50
million. Moreover, the State Bar did not
adequately consider whether the purchased
building would meet its long-term staffing needs
and never presented the board with a cost-
benefit analysis that compared the actual costs
of leasing space versus purchasing a building.
The State Bar's fund balances over the last six
years indicate that the revenues from annual
membership fees exceed the State Bar's
operational costs—which in part gave the State
Bar the flexibility to purchase the Los Angeles
building. Although the purchase of the building
decreased the State Bar's available fund
balances, we found that they are again
beginning to increase. Maintaining a reasonable
fund balance would allow the State Bar to ensure
that it charges its members appropriately for the
services that they receive. A general best
practice is that an appropriate fund balance
would be no more than the amount needed to
cover two months of operations. Our analysis
showed that the State Bar's 2014 available and
unrestricted fund balances equated to between
four and nine months' worth of operations and,
in total, exceeded this best practice by about
$32 million. Based on our analysis, we believe
the State Bar needs to evaluate the revenue it
receives and the services it provides. For
example, the State Bar could work with the
Legislature to reassess its annual membership
fee to better align with the State Bar's actual
operating costs so that the fund balances do not
continue to increase.
Even though our analysis suggests otherwise,
the State Bar does not believe that it has excess
available revenue. However, the State Bar needs
to conduct thorough analyses of its revenues,
operating costs, and future operational needs to
support this belief. Because the Legislature must
authorize the State Bar to collect membership
fees on an annual basis, every year the State
Bar risks losing its ability to collect the revenue
that will fund more than one-half of its general
operating activities, which makes long-term
planning difficult. According to the acting
executive director, the reality of the State Bar's
funding creates problems for long-term planning,
staff stability, and staff recruiting because the
State Bar has no assurance of future annual
revenues beyond the existing year, which in turn
demands that the State Bar have funds on hand
to cover a loss or decrease in funding. Thus, a
funding cycle that gives the State Bar greater
certainty—for example, a biennial funding cycle—
might enhance the State Bar's ability to engage
in long-term planning.
The State Bar should adhere to its quality
control processes to ensure that the discipline it
imposes on attorneys is consistent, regardless of
the size of the case-processing backlog, and it
should take steps to prevent its management or
staff from circumventing those processes.
The State Bar and the Legislature should work
together to determine what cases the State Bar
should report in the backlog. For example, one
method of calculating the backlog would be to
include every case that affects public protection
that the State Bar does not resolve within six
months from the time it receives a complaint.
The Legislature should then amend the state law
that defines how the State Bar should present
the backlog in its discipline report.
The State Bar should implement policies and
procedures to restrict its ability to transfer money
between funds that its board or state law has
designated for specific purposes.
To justify future expenditures that exceed a
certain dollar level, such as capital or IT projects
that cost more than $2 million, the State Bar
should implement a policy to present accurate
cost-benefit analyses to the board to ensure that
it has the information necessary to make
appropriate and cost-effective decisions.
The Legislature should consider putting a
restriction in place to limit the State Bar's fund
balances, such as a limit of two months of the
State Bar's average annual expenditures.
To provide the State Bar with the opportunity to
ensure that its revenues align with its operating
costs, the Legislature should consider amending
state law to establish, for example, a biennial
approval process for the State Bar's membership
fees, rather than the current annual process.
To determine a reasonable and justified annual
membership fee that better reflects its actual
costs, the State Bar should conduct a thorough
analysis of its operating costs and develop a
biennial spending plan. It should work with the
Legislature to set an appropriate annual
membership fee based upon its analysis. The
first biennial spending plan should also include
an analysis of the State Bar's plans to spend its
current fund balances.
The State Bar of California generally agreed with
all of the recommendations in our report except
for the recommendation related to the
organizational structure of the audit and review
unit. The State Bar also indicated that it has
already begun implementing some of the
1 State Bar of California: It Can Do More to
Manage Its Disciplinary System and Probation
Processes Effectively and to Control Costs,
|News, information and ideas about our
education system, courts and health care
by Maura Larkins
California State Bar
Fourth District's Eileen Moore says ruling intended
as a rebuke of "scorched earth" tactics...
Panel Rips Lawyers Who Sued Opponent's Counsel
June 30, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for a Southern California construction
company found themselves on the wrong side of a California appellate
panel on Monday for what the court condemned as a meritless, "scorched
earth" litigation campaign against opposing counsel in a trade secrets
In a scathing ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal said the 2013 suit
filed by Finton Construction Inc. against the Newport Beach law firm Bidna
& Keys was an abuse of the court system and called the
tactics of lawyers led by Alston & Bird partner James
Evans Jr. "conduct that brings disrepute to the entire legal
Though Finton reached a settlement with Bidna & Keys
just days before oral argument, Justice Eileen Moore said
she and her colleagues refused to dismiss the appeal in
order to send a signal to the bar. We "publish this case as an
example to the legal community of the kind of behavior the bench and the
bar together must continually strive to eradicate," Moore wrote in a
unanimous 15-page decision joined by Justices Richard Aronson and
Alston & Bird's Evans represented Finton in a suit against a former co-
owner and several employees who left the company and launched a new
home-building business. The suit accused the ex-employees of making
off with various confidential documents including client lists, project plans,
and contact information for vendors, suppliers and subcontractors.
Shortly after the suit was filed, Finton's team demanded opposing
counsel return a hard drive in the firm's possession that allegedly
contained confidential Finton records. Finton, which claimed Bidna &
Keys' possession of the hard drive constituted conversion and
receipt of stolen property, filed a theft report with the Costa Mesa
Police Department, lodged complaints with the State Bar of
California against attorneys Howard Bidna and Jon Longerbone
and ultimately sued the lawyers in Orange County Superior Court.
[Maura Larkins' note: Isn't it extortion to use the threat of
criminal prosecution to gain an advantage in a civil
The Fourth District panel ruled Bidna's possession of the hard drive was
protected activity under California's anti-SLAPP statute as it was
evidence in the underlying trade secrets theft case. In fact, the trial
court had previously issued an order specifically
permitting Bidna to have a copy of the hard drive to
use in the case.
"The only purported reason defendants are being sued is because they
refused to unconditionally return the hard drive, which constitutes
potential evidence in the underlying matter," Moore wrote. "In reality, it
seems they are being sued for representing their clients."
Monday's order upheld the lower court's ruling dismissing the suit under
the anti-SLAPP law.
The panel acknowledged that principals at Finton Construction
were likely calling the shots. However, that didn't provoke much
sympathy for Evans and his team. "We remind FCI's counsel—and
indeed, all attorneys—that while they owe their clients a duty to
zealously represent them, that zealousness does not trump the
duty they owe the courts and the judicial process to prosecute
only lawsuits with merit," the decision states...
Read more: http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202731035106/Panel-Rips-
"It is the strongly held belief
of US Supreme Court
Justice Warren Burger that
75 to 90% of all trial
lawyers are either
incompetent, dishonest or
----102 Reports of the
American Bar Association