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A criminal defense attorney in Orange County, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to bribery, while a solo practitioner in Los Angeles has agreed to be disbarred after admitting that he siphoned money from a couple injured in a drunk driving accident. In the bribery case, Lawrence Anthony Witsoe of the Law Office of Lawrence A. Witsoe in Tustin, Calif., surrendered to the FBI on June 6 after being indicted on federal charges. Witsoe was taken into custody along with Aaron Scott Vigil, a police officer in Rialto, Calif. A June 1 indictment alleges that Vigil, who served on a task force for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Riverside, Calif., agreed to accept a $2,500 bribe in exchange for falsely telling the Orange County, Calif., district attorney’s office that one of Witsoe’s clients was cooperating with the DEA. Both defendants pleaded not guilty. Kenneth Julian, a partner in the Costa Mesa, Calif., office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who represents Witsoe, declined to comment on the charges. “Lawrence Witsoe is a longtime practitioner in Orange County. He’s been in practice here for 37 years and has no record of discipline with the state bar, and has been a member of good standing in the Orange County legal community for a very long time,” he said. Vigil’s lawyer, Michael D. Schwartz of Silver Hadden Silver Wexler + Levine in Santa Monica, Calif., did not return a call for comment. According to the indictment, Witsoe told a client facing assault charges that he could get the case dismissed for $1,000 — later increasing that amount to $2,500 — by having a DEA agent lie to the district attorney’s office. Vigil later told a prosecutor that Witsoe’s client was an informant who had helped the DEA seize $110,000 in drug money. When the district attorney’s office dismissed the case, Witsoe told the client to wire the $2,500 to a client trust account; Witsoe then wrote a check on that account to the ex-wife of an associate of Vigil’s. Witsoe and Vigil face charges of conspiracy and of soliciting and accepting a bribe by a public official. Witsoe also was charged with bribery of a public official. Vigil faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Witsoe, who was admitted to practice in California in 1974, faces up to 35 years. In the disbarment matter, Ricardo Anthony Torres II admitted on June 3 that he misappropriated almost $90,000 from clients who were seriously injured by a drunk driver in 2005. According to his stipulation with the State Bar of California, Torres and three other law firms represented Lawrence and Rachel Prijoles, who were injured in a head-on collision in the San Diego area. The couple obtained nearly $649,000 in general and punitive damages. Torres distributed nearly $560,000 to the couple, to the other attorneys and to the expert witnesses. But he never paid bills to at least three of the couple’s medical providers, said Eli Morgenstern, deputy trial counsel for the state bar. Instead, Torres kept the remaining $89,000. “We have bank records, and it’s hard to fight those records,” Morgenstern said. The California Supreme Court must approve the agreed-upon disbarment. Torres could attempt to get his license back in five years through a petition process that includes retaking the California bar exam. The bar recommended on Feb. 1 that Torres be suspended from practicing law in a separate disciplinary proceeding involving another client. Juan Salcedo paid half of a $30,000 fee to Torres in a criminal matter related to a restraining order brought against him by his ex-girlfriend. Torres told Salcedo that he had helped get the criminal charges dismissed, even though no criminal charges were ever filed. Torres did not repay Salcedo’s fee or return his file. “Respondent’s misconduct reflects a blatant disregard of his professional responsibilities,” wrote State Bar Court Judge Richard Honn. The bar’s recommendation is pending before the California Supreme Court. Torres has been on inactive status since Sept. 1, 2010, when he was suspended for failing to pay bar dues. Torres was admitted to the practice of law in California in 1993. His lawyer, Eric Nishizawa, of the Law Office of Eric Nishizawa in Marina del Rey, Calif., did not return a call for comment. In 2002, Torres was suspended from practicing law for 30 days after comingling personal and client money in his trust account and writing bad checks against the account. In the most recent matter, Torres stipulated with the state bar’s major misappropriation task force, which prosecutes lawyers suspected of taking at least $25,000 from their clients. Torres was the third lawyer in the past two months targeted by the task force who has lost his license, according to the bar. Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected] .

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