Thursday, August 21, 2014

Crooked Attorney Hal Wright Heading To Jail For Six Months

(This is a repost from a few days ago, updated with a different, more-accurate link.)

The wheels of justice grind slow, but grind fine. I was pleased to hear that my former Crooked Attorney, Hal Wright (disbarred 5/23/14), formerly Board member and bass player at DMTC, and frequent bass player in many local shows, was sentenced in Yolo County Superior Court on Tuesday of this week to six months in jail. The breaches of law for which he was sentenced were only the egregious tip of an iceberg of theft and wrongdoing, waged mostly against volunteers in the Sacramento Musical Theatre community, for most of which (as in my case) he was not charged.

Nevertheless, I received reimbursement on 7/24/14 from the Client Security Fund (CSF), maintained by the California State Bar (plus 10% interest, at the order of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye), specifically to reimburse people ripped off by crooked lawyers. I appear to have been the first reimbursed: other folks have not received payments yet. Hopefully those will come soon.

There may be other volunteers in the Sacramento Musical Theatre community who have not come forward yet and submitted claims. If so, please do. No reason to remain the victim.

Within the last couple of days a California Bar Journal Discipline Summary was issued for these cases:
California Bar Journal Discipline Summaries

Summaries from the California Bar Journal are based on discipline orders but are not the official records. Not all discipline actions have associated CBJ summaries. Copies of official attorney discipline records are available upon request.

June 23, 2014

Davis attorney disbarred over forgery and multiple thefts of client funds

A Northern California attorney has been stripped of his law license for misconduct that included pretending he was moving forward with a client’s personal injury suit and secretly siphoning his settlement money. HAL ERWIN WRIGHT [#157814], 60, of Davis was disbarred May 23, 2014 and ordered to comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court and make restitution.

Wright stipulated to misconduct in two client matters, including multiple acts of moral turpitude and failures to perform legal services with competence, promptly notify a client of the receipt of funds, refund unearned fees or render appropriate accounts to a client. He was ordered to pay $58,000 plus interest in restitution.

In 2010, Steve Isaacson suffered injuries in a fall at the Big Idea Theater in Sacramento and asked Wright to represent him in a personal injury suit. Unbeknownst to Isaacson, on April 1, 2011 Wright settled his claim with the theater for a sum of $40,000, far less than the suit was worth. That day, Wright forged Isaacson’s and Isaacson’s wife’s signature on a release and sent it to the Northland Insurance Co., which issued two checks to settle the claim.

Wright forged Isaacson and his wife’s signatures on the checks and deposited them into his client trust account, eventually moving the money to another checking account and spending it. He also told Isaacson he planned to file a suit for medical malpractice to address the care Isaacson received after his fall, but never did. Isaacson gave Wright a check for $390 written to the Sacramento County Superior Court to cover filing fees for the new case, but Wright altered the check to make it payable to him, taking the money for himself.

From the beginning of his representation of Isaacson in September 2010 until January 2013, he lied to his client on numerous occasions, saying he was working on his personal injury lawsuit when, in fact, he had never filed one.

On Oct. 9, 2012, for example, Wright sent Isaacson an email which said, “Hi Steve, still working on getting you some jingle.” In another email in January of that year he wrote, “It sickens me that you are still in pain and I’m trying my best with these ‘suits’ but thinking outside the box/bun is not their forte.”

Meanwhile, Isaacson, in his capacity as a board member and vice president of the Davis Musical Theater Company, hired Wright for another matter – to help obtain money that a patron had left the theater in her will. Once he received a check from the trustee of the estate, Wright paid Isaacson $3,000 of the $15,000 received, pocketing the rest. He never told Isaacson the money was from the trust, saying instead that it was a partial payment from the insurance company on the personal injury matter.

Wright’s other misconduct stemmed from a matter in which a couple hired him to obtain a trademark for their towing company. Steven and Kathleen Ramirez also retained Wright in 2010 to file paperwork for two limited liability corporations and to seek to vacate a judgment against them. The Ramirezes paid Wright $3,000 in advance for his services but he did not do any work on their behalf, lying to them by telling them he had sent in their copyright application when he had not.

In February 2012, Kathleen Ramirez emailed him requesting an accounting and a full refund, but he provided neither. The couple hired a new attorney who demanded the money from Wright. He only made one payment of $500 on June 8, 2012.

Wright had two prior records of discipline, the earliest of which was a 2003 private reproval for failures to perform, refund an unearned fee or maintain disputed funds in trust. On March 28, 2013, the State Bar Court recommended he receive an actual 18-month suspension for misconduct in two client matters including moral turpitude, misrepresenting to clients the status of their legal matters and falsely reporting his Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements. At the time of his stipulation the case was on appeal.

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