Lawyer for tiger mauling victim has own legal problems

Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal, who survived the Christmas Day tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo along with his brother, has been in the news lately because of a few uncomfortable run-ins with the law. As it turns out, one of the Dhaliwals' attorneys has legal problems of his own, which landed him a 30-day suspension from practicing law. The suspension, for unethical conduct, starts this week.

Shepard Kopp, the son of retired San Mateo County Judge and ex-state Senator Quentin Kopp, got in hot water because of work he once handled as an associate at the Los Angeles firm Geragos & Geragos, where he still practices law.

Kopp represented ex-con Christopher Jauregui, who lied to police during a drunk-driving arrest, identifying himself using the name of his friend Cesar Castaneda. Kopp also represented Castaneda for free.

One month after the arrest, and after Jauregui was booked and released from jail, the Los Angeles district attorney's office filed misdemeanor DUI charges against Castaneda. Later, Jauregui told Kopp, his new attorney, about the trick he played on the police.

The defense lawyer didn't tell the court or prosecutors that the case had been filed against the wrong guy. Instead, Kopp devised a plan to stall until one year past the date of arrest, when the DA could no longer file new charges. Then, Kopp would unmask the truth, the case against Castaneda would be dropped, and Jauregui would get off scot-free.

The joke, it seems, was on Kopp and his clients. Not too long after everyone came clean, an L.A. Superior Court judge refused to toss the case, the DA filed felony conspiracy charges against Jauregui and Castaneda, and the State Bar hit Kopp with ethics charges. Those charges stemmed from damaging his own clients' interests and wasting the court's and the DA's resources. In a deal with prosecutors, Kopp admitted his misconduct and accepted the 30-day suspension, plus two years' probation.

Kopp's attorney, Arthur Margolis, said the ethics rules his client violated were anything but black and white. "There wasn't any real misrepresentation," he insisted. Kopp "simply didn't disclose what appeared to be a secret of his client. If you don't confess, that doesn't mean you're pulling a fast one."

So why cut a deal with State Bar prosecutors?

"It was clear that the [State Bar] court was not going to agree with us," Margolis said.

 
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