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Lawyers Behaving Badly 

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Wednesday, Jul 18 2007
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Attorneys presumably realize better than most the hazards of breaking the law. Yet over the last three years, at least two dozen Bay Area lawyers have walked into court not in their professional capacity, but as criminal defendants. Drunk driving accounted for almost a third of the violations, while the rest ranged from white-collar offenses — forgery, tax evasion, embezzlement — to the kind of crimes common to trailer parks: auto theft, assault, spousal abuse.

Half the incidents involved San Francisco attorneys; the sampling below relies on details culled from sanction orders approved by the California Supreme Court. Disciplinary records of lawyers licensed to practice in California can be found on the State Bar of California's Web site at http://members.calbar.ca.gov/search/member.aspx.

· Frustrated by a client's reluctance to pay for legal services provided, attorney Mark Carton took collection efforts — and a tire iron — into his own hands. Wired on liquor and pain medication, Carton visited the client's office and smashed the windshield of his car, a computer, and a photocopier before delivering a couple of whacks to the man, who sustained minor injuries.

Carton was convicted of trespassing and disturbing another person by a loud noise. As part of his court-ordered punishment, he paid damages to his victim and sought counseling. Last year, the Supreme Court slapped him with a 30-day suspension and two years' probation.

· John Henning III pleaded no contest to battery after punching two fellow members of his synagogue congregation — including a rabbi. Court records note that the lawyer "broke the rabbi's glasses." A Superior Court judge placed a restraining order on Henning and ordered him to undergo anger management counseling. In 2004, the Supreme Court gave him a 60-day suspension and 18 months' probation, a mildly stiffer penalty than the private reproval he received two years earlier for a previous battery conviction.

· Stealing groceries worth $17.33 from Whole Foods Market wound up costing James Goodfellow far more when a security guard caught him and called the cops. Inside his plastic grocery bag, police found eight small pouches of crystal methamphetamine. For the next six days, the attorney learned about jail life from the inside. Goodfellow later pleaded no contest to possession of a controlled substance, earning him $600 in fines and three years' probation. In January, the Supreme Court suspended him for one year; he failed to show for the hearing.

· Lillian Hou was convicted of child abuse after repeatedly slapping and punching her 10-year-old daughter as her 7-year-old son looked on; authorities moved both children out of her home while investigating the case. A Superior Court judge sentenced Hou to three years' probation and ordered her to attend a one-year treatment program for child-abuse prevention. The Supreme Court placed the attorney on two years' probation in 2006.

· A federal judge sentenced plaintiffs' lawyer Nikolai Tehin to 14 years in prison in 2005 for filching $2 million from his clients. His victims included the parents of infants born with birth defects whom he represented in medical malpractice suits, and low-income tenants embroiled in a housing dispute. Rather than notifying clients of the settlements he brokered on their behalf, Tehin spent the money on cars, vacations, and repairs on his 73-foot yacht, the aptly named Escapade. Tehin spared himself the shame of disbarment by resigning from the state bar with disciplinary charges pending. His wife and law partner, Pamela Stevens, who faced no criminal charges, also resigned. The earliest they can apply for reinstatement is 2009, though Tehin may want to wait a decade longer. An attorney with a prison cell for an office tends to scare off potential clients.

About The Author

Martin Kuz

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