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A federal judge in Fresno, Calif., has ordered the entire 80-lawyer firm of Lozano Smith back to school for a refresher course in ethics as a sanction for repeated misrepresentation of facts and the law in a dispute over aid for a learning-disabled student. Fresno-based Lozano Smith represents 200 school districts in California on special-education issues and boasts on its Web site that it is “California’s premier public agency law firm.” U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger sanctioned the firm recently for “misguided advocacy” over four years of opposing services for a special-education student in the Bret Harte Union School District, southeast of Sacramento. Scorching opinion In a scorching 83-page opinion, Wanger said Lozano Smith, its lead attorney in the case, Elaine Yama, and the district engaged in “repeated misstatements of the record, frivolous objections to plaintiff’s statement of facts, and repeated mischaracterizations of the law.” The public dressing down was the result of a tenacious solo practitioner, Maureen Graves, who works out of her garage in Irvine, Calif. Her client, Robert Moser, now a 23-year-old college student, was denied special-education help until his last year of high school. He will receive $23,000 worth of vocational counseling and other help-but it cost the district nearly $500,000 in legal fees and four years of litigation. “Lozano should have told their client early this case was a loser and cut their losses,” Graves said. “But they didn’t and just got in deeper and deeper.” Graves recovered $250,000 in fees and costs for her dogged pursuit of the case. In his highly unusual sanction, Wanger ordered every one of the firm’s 80 lawyers in seven cities to undergo six hours of ethics training and ordered Yama to take 20 hours. Wanger said the firm, Yama and the district must personally pay $5,000 each for the inconvenience and delay and their “role in obstruction.” The judge also alerted the State Bar of California. Firm managing shareholder Peter K. Fagen said that when the judge warned of potential sanctions a year ago, the firm “immediately engaged an expert in legal ethics to assist us in improving our quality control protocols and to advise us on augmenting our training.” After Wanger’s order, Fagen said he scheduled a retreat for the entire firm to “take the case apart from start to finish . . . to look at what went wrong and to put procedures and mechanisms in place to make sure it won’t happen again.” But some parents have suggested this may only be the tip of the iceberg. “The Lozano law firm, in my opinion, has established an indisputable culture of deliberate, systematic institutional abuse across California,” said Jo Rupert Behm, past president of the California Learning Disabilities Association. “In the past decade, this law firm has used shocking and outrageous methods to gain a stronghold in California school districts at the expense of children with disabilities and their parents,” Behm said. Fagen responded, “The bottom line is that’s not true. I am a parent of a child with a disability . . . .I am one of those parents she says we do not care about. She doesn’t know me.” Yama no longer works for Lozano Smith, according to Fagen. Yama could not be reached for a comment. The firm issued a letter to clients to reassure them it was taking the matter seriously. Fagen said the response has been strong support from clients. He said the firm has not lost any clients as a result of the order. But the Fresno Unified School District confirmed it would no longer give Lozano Smith any new business. Lozano Smith, which conducts training seminars for school-district attorneys around California, had arranged to take its training national in seminars in partnership with the Labor Relations Press, but Fagen confirmed that plan has ended.

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