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Attorney Allen Kent was dinged Thursday for missing an oral argument before the California Supreme Court earlier this year. But his former boss got hammered. In a long-awaited ruling, the high court fined Kent $250 and Raul Aguilar $1,000 after holding both in contempt for missing the Feb. 10 argument in Sacramento. The justices called Aguilar’s derelictions “significantly more serious” and referred him to the State Bar for further investigation and possible additional disciplinary sanctions after finding he repeatedly lied to the court. “Under the circumstances, we believe the evidence amply supports the State Bar Court’s finding that Aguilar lied to this court when he stated repeatedly that he was unaware, prior to Feb. 10, 2004, of the date and time of the scheduled oral argument in Aguilar v. Lerner,” the justices wrote in an unsigned ruling. “It is, of course, an extremely serious breach of an attorney’s duty to a court to lie in statements made to the court,” they continued, “and an intentionally false statement made by an attorney to a court clearly constitutes a contempt of court.” Aguilar, a partner in San Francisco’s Aguilar & Sebastinelli, couldn’t be reached for comment. An office receptionist said he was on a business trip to London. Kent and his lawyer, San Francisco solo practitioner Philip Ryan, were frustrated that he was found in contempt. “It’s not about money,” Ryan said. “Henceforth, proven lies and redundant perjury can now form the predicate for a contempt sanction against the victim of such mendacity. “Lawyers who are now discharged from a firm or retire from a firm or leave one firm to go to another or ascend to the bench,” he added, “now shoulder the duty to inform all courts in which they have appeared of their new status.” Ryan said he might request a rehearing, noting that three justices filed a concurring and dissenting opinion stating that Kent should not have been held in contempt. Kent, 65, and Aguilar, 62, have been in hot water since neither showed up for oral argument in a case stemming from a malpractice suit Aguilar had filed against San Francisco divorce lawyer Esther Lerner. Kent maintained he wasn’t the attorney of record, having been “constructively terminated” from the five-lawyer firm five days before the Supreme Court argument date. Aguilar insisted that Kent was still the attorney of record and had not put him on notice that the argument was forthcoming. On Thursday, the high court agreed with Kent that the firm of Aguilar & Sebastinelli was the official attorney of record, but the justices said that still didn’t justify Kent’s failure to notify the court that he wouldn’t appear for the argument. “Kent cannot avoid his share of responsibility for the interference with this court’s operations that resulted when, without any advance notice, no attorney appeared on behalf of appellant Aguilar,” they wrote. Aguilar, meanwhile, was found to be in contempt for both lying to the court about not knowing the court date and for “intentionally failing” to assign a new attorney to the case after Kent terminated his employment on Feb. 5. The court noted that Kent had telephoned Aguilar in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, advising him of the court date and that Aguilar had “personally reviewed” a copy of the court’s argument calendar on Feb. 5. In addition, the justices pointed out, William Henley, another firm associate, reminded Aguilar the day Kent left that there was an upcoming Supreme Court argument, only to be told by Aguilar, “Oh, we don’t need to go to that.” “We find Aguilar’s attempt to provide an innocent explanation of this statement unconvincing,” the justices wrote, “particularly in light of Aguilar’s lack of veracity with regard to the other statements discussed.” State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos Jr. said the Aguilar referral is the first he’s ever gotten from the state Supreme Court, but that it would be handled like a referral from any other court. “I’ll need to take a look at the opinion and the evidence,” he said, “and proceed from there.” Justice Joyce Kennard, joined by Justices Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Janice Rogers Brown, concurred in Aguilar’s punishment, but not Kent’s. Kent was not in contempt, wrote Kennard, because he was not counsel of record and had already left Aguilar & Sebastinelli. All the same, she noted, it would have been nice if Kent had contacted the clerk of the court. Although under no legal duty, he should have notified the clerk as “a matter of courtesy and consideration,” wrote Kennard. Kent, who lives in Corte Madera, appreciated the dissenters’ vote of support, but said it won’t pay the bills. His unemployment pay has run out, and he’s getting by doing some work — such as depositions and court appearances — for other lawyers. But he can’t find full-time work. “I’ve been job hunting,” he said, “but nobody wanted to touch me while this was hanging over my head. “And I don’t think this decision is going to have much effect on me getting a job,” he added. “I’m 65 years old, and that’s a handicap to begin with. I’m looking for jobs that will pay me and give me a little medical insurance and keep my mind active. And that’s all.” The ruling is In re Aguilar, 04 C.D.O.S. 8723.

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