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A Contra Costa County jury slapped Lafayette attorney Thomas Camp with a $1.2 million verdict Wednesday for cheating his client out of property he was entrusted to handle while the client was in prison. Evans v. Camp, 00-00729, revolves around an $850,000 inheritance that Thomas Evans asked Camp to invest. Evans, a 59-year-old barber who says he struggled with an undisclosed addiction, gave the lawyer power of attorney over the investment money in 1989 before he began a two-year prison sentence for robbery. Camp advised his client to invest $730,000 in a Stockton shopping center and put up $96,000 for a share of 40 acres in Newman, near Tracy, that Camp owned. Among other things, the complaint alleges that Evans was paid a small fraction of the rental income from the property and never saw financial records. Camp told his client to take out a $125,000 loan to cover red ink, but allowed part of the property to go into foreclosure. The suit also claims that the Lafayette family law attorney advised Evans to buy part of the Newman property, but neglected to tell his client that he bought the entire parcel two weeks earlier and was selling it to Evans for an inflated price. Camp eventually used his own company to gain ownership of the land and sell it without sharing the profits, the suit says. On Thursday, Camp and his attorney, Howard Melamed, declined to comment. According to plaintiff attorneys, one of Melamed’s defense arguments was that the statute of limitations had run out on some of the plaintiff’s claims. The jury, which deliberated for two days, found the lawyer liable for fraud and malpractice and awarded Evans more than $2 million in compensatory damages. In court Thursday, Camp’s attorney downplayed his client’s wealth and urged the jury to be compassionate when it decided how much Camp should pay in punitive damages. “Punitive damages are designed to punish, not to destroy a person,” said Melamed, a Walnut Creek attorney. Melamed argued that his client made no money in 2000 because business was bad. Camp’s solo legal practice grossed $241,000 in 1999, but the attorney netted only $60,000 after expenses, he said. Camp, who briefly took the witness stand on his own behalf, said he owned two properties and that his home was in his wife’s name. Many of the properties discussed during the trial had been sold for a major loss, the 63-year-old lawyer said. “The money’s gone,” Camp said. Melamed tried to limit how much the jury heard about Camp’s property, arguing that it was not relevant because his client no longer owned it and had taken a loss on it. But Judge David Flinn allowed the plaintiff’s attorneys to question Camp about his property. The plaintiffs “have the right to question where the money went,” the judge said. Evans’ attorneys, Thomas Trapani of San Francisco’s Adams Nye Sinunu Bruni Becht and Lisa Hutton of Oakland’s Rankin, Sprout, Mires, Beaty & Reynolds, briefly argued that the jury consider how “reprehensible” Camp’s actions were. Regardless of the outcome of the punitive damage phase of the case, the multimillion-dollar verdict will lead to a State Bar inquiry. State Bar spokeswoman Kathleen Beitiks cautioned that such inquiries are handled on a case-by-case basis. It’s unclear whether Camp will face discipline. If he does, it wouldn’t be the first time. According to state records, Camp was sentenced to a year’s suspension in 1992 for misconduct. That sentence was stayed, and Camp was actually suspended for 30 days and got three years’ probation. The lawyer was also ordered to pay restitution. Details of the 1992 discipline were not immediately available on Thursday. The plaintiff’s attorneys in the civil case said the discipline was not introduced during the case. Camp, who specializes in family and bankruptcy law, seems to be well known to the Contra Costa County bench. Before the case was assigned to Flinn, several judges recused themselves. According to court records, that list includes Judges William Kolin, James Trembath and Maria Rivera, who now sits on the First District Court of Appeal. The jury in Evan v. Camp is expected to continue deliberations for punitive damages today. After Thursday’s hearing, Evans said he is penniless and was recently evicted from his apartment. “Justice was done,” he said. “But collection is a whole other issue.”

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