Tuesday, May 15, 2007

State bar suspends Los Osos lawyer

A Los Osos attorney has been suspended from practicing law for two years and ordered to repay thousands of dollars to clients after state bar officials found that he turned over his Los Angeles law practice to employees who were not lawyers.

Robert Howard Sack — who has practiced law in San Luis Obispo County since 1996 — was found responsible for 20 counts of misconduct related to his Los Angeles practice, according to documents from the State Bar of California, the agency that regulates attorney conduct.

The allegations ranged from failing to perform services competently to not notifying clients that the firm had their settlement checks.

Those allegations also included failure to refund money to clients for legal services not performed and asking that clients withdraw their complaints against him, according to state bar documents.

The state bar court placed Sack on probation for three years and ordered him to pay about $50,000 in restitution to clients. His license was suspended as of Feb. 17.

Sack denied some of the violations last week in a brief conversation with The Tribune and said none of the incidents involved clients in San Luis Obispo County. He did not return repeated phone calls for further comment.

The problems with Sack’s Los Angeles law office began in 1998 when he opened the business while living in Morro Bay, according to a state bar investigation. Because of his wife’s health problems, he spent little time in the Los Angeles office, the state bar record states.

That practice, which handled mostly personal injury cases, was being run by employees who were not attorneys, state bar records showed.

About a half-dozen employees, including an accountant and a translator/office manager, ran the office, according to state bar records.

Those employees took money from clients for their personal use, opened bank accounts in Sack’s name without his consent, lied to clients and forged signatures on settlement checks, state bar records showed.

For about two years, Sack’s employees settled cases and collected money on clients’ claims without the knowledge, authorization or consent of clients.

They also interviewed prospective clients, evaluated cases and collected advance fees, all without oversight from Sack.

“In many cases (Sack) never met or ever spoke to his clients,” the state bar investigation showed. “(Sack’s) misconduct significantly harmed his clients… over $100,000 was misappropriated….”

The firm wrote one client at least 23 bad checks after he demanded the return of $32,000 because Sack had not worked on his case, records showed.

At least one client filed a lawsuit against Sack for a debt owed, according to records, and two clients filed complaints with the state bar.

Sack has filed civil lawsuits against his employees, including two against his accountant.

In one suit, Sack sued for malpractice and in the other for filing fraudulent and inaccurate tax returns.

The malpractice lawsuit had not been resolved at the time of Sack’s testimony before the bar court, and the tax-return lawsuit resulted in a judgment in Sack’s favor for $15,000.

Sack asked the state bar court to review his suspension, but his appeal was denied last month.

source : www.sanluisobispo.com

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