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A team of prosecutors in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office goes after thieves, but only if they happen to be attorneys. It is perhaps the only county in the nation that has a staff exclusively dedicated to prosecuting lawyers who have committed crimes, most often against their clients. “Historically it’s been a neglected area,” said Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley, who created the unit within the Justice System Integrity Division. “My predecessors, when it came to lawyers, they said let the state bar deal with it.” But the unit has drawn fire from attorneys who charge that singling out lawyers as a separate criminal class constitutes a new low in “old-fashioned lawyer bashing.” Fourteen lawyers staff the division, three of whom are devoted to attorney prosecutions. Of the 60,000 felony cases filed per year in the county, 24 have been brought against lawyers by the three-year-old unit. It has won 16 convictions and has eight cases pending. It also has about two dozen additional cases under investigation, according to staff. Richard Doyle, head deputy of the division, asserted that the division is an effective use of resources despite the budget cuts that have cost the office almost 100 deputies, leaving about 950, who also filed 240,000 misdemeanor complaints last year. “Some of the cases are extremely complex, a paper trail of money,” Doyle said. The caseload includes a “fairly sophisticated group of criminals. These are cases that would not have been prosecuted but for this group of lawyers.” He said that the unit also serves as a “clearinghouse for victims to help them find additional sources of help.” The unit refers cases involving DAs to the state attorney general’s office. Unpleasant surprise Ed Miller, a unit prosecutor, said he has been unpleasantly surprised. “I never thought there was this much greed and dishonesty out there among lawyers,” Miller said. “It’s been eye-opening.” Among the cases he has personally prosecuted is that of Leonard Samuels, who stole his client’s share of her $190,000 settlement in a medical malpractice suit that alleged a failure to diagnose her stomach cancer. She died before Samuels was tried, convicted of grand theft and sentenced to 28 months in state prison in September. Samuels had made partial restitution of $67,000. All of the lawyers who were convicted were convicted of felonies, drew jail time and had their law licenses revoked. Most of the prosecutions were instigated by referrals from the State Bar of California, prosecutors said. The unit has its critics. Defense attorney Roger John Diamond, a Santa Monica, Calif., solo practitioner is one of them. One of his clients was prosecuted by it. “I don’t know why we’re a suspect class,” he said. Of the creation of the unit, he said, “It seems to me that it was a political move designed to curry favor with the anti-lawyer sentiment in the community-old-fashioned lawyer bashing. I thinks it’s ridiculous.” Diamond’s client, attorney Lloyd Segal, was described by division prosecutor Elizabeth Munisoglu as “the tenant from hell.” Segal pleaded guilty to fraud for having filed three bankruptcy petitions, each to stay an eviction for failure to pay rent. He used his own name, but three Social Security numbers in the successive petitions. Only one number belonged to him. The others were those of strangers-a form of identity theft. Segal pleaded to fraud charges and is serving his two-year sentence concurrently with his federal bankruptcy fraud sentence. Mark Armitage, president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel and associate director of the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board, said that the cooperation between the bar and county prosecutors is healthy. “When lawyer regulatory agencies and law enforcement agencies cooperate, the public wins,” said Armitage. His organization participates in lawyer regulatory efforts and in education programs on the adjudication of ethics violations. “We can affect their licenses and we can prevent them from holding themselves out as lawyers, but some of these people deserve greater sanctions than we can give them,” he said. Post’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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