SAN FRANCISCO — A California lawyer took the stand on Tuesday to defend himself against State Bar charges that he misappropriated millions put up by an elderly man who thought he was investing in a sure-thing class action.

"I don’t intend to sit here as a wallflower," Wade Robertson, who is representing himself, said in his opening statement in State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz’s courtroom.

True to his word, Robertson was a combative witness. The first in his own trial, he answered Deputy Trial Counsel Robert Henderson’s direct examination with exasperation, outrage and selective detail and forgetfulness all delivered with a subtle Tennessee twang.

Henderson, who is trying the case with Senior Trial Counsel Sherrie McLetchie, painstakingly examined Robertson for four hours, focusing on the sequence of Robertson’s alleged misrepresentations to his investor, William Cartinhour.

Robertson is accused of moral turpitude stemming from promises he made to the then-72-year-old Maryland resident, whom Robertson courted as an investor for a securities class action for which, according to the bar, he was never counsel of record. The Bar says that in 2004 Robertson persuaded Cartinhour to invest $2 million into a partnership — W.A.R. LLP — to fund Robertson’s out-of-pocket legal expenses in prosecuting the class action, assuring him it was highly likely he’d obtain a multi-billion dollar payout.

Robertson allegedly loaned himself most of the money and lost it in ill-fated investments. "During the course of the proceedings, Dr. Cartinhour instructed me to take these loans," Robertson asserted during his opening statement. "I will prove that they weren’t unreasonable."

In 2005, after the class action had been dismissed by a federal judge, Robertson persuaded Cartinhour to deposit an additional $1.5 million into the Robertson-controlled partnership.

In his opening statement, Robertson said he intended to discredit nearly every claim against him. He told Armendariz he plans to show Cartinhour was an educated, sophisticated investor who understood the risks involved in their failed partnership.

"There are several deeper secrets that will come out during this trial," Robertson warned.

Robertson also said his use of the funds was permitted under the terms of the investment contract.

The State Bar filed disciplinary charges against the 44-year-old Yale MBA and Stanford Law graduate in December.

The trial begins nearly two years after a jury in Washington, D.C. — where Robertson was also licensed — found him responsible for malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. That jury awarded Cartinhour $7 million, including $3.5 million in punitive damages.

Contact the reporter at mtaves@alm.com.