A former Sonoma County attorney was sentenced to 15 months in prison after spending money held in a client trust account on his law firm’s expenses.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen sentenced Scott Steever, 60, to the prison term and ordered him to pay $283,689 in restitution on Oct. 25 after the disbarred Rohnert Park attorney pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy late last year.
According to court filings by Steever’s defense lawyer, his law firm, Lanahan, Steever & Anderson, became financially distressed in 2009 after placing a bad bet on a contingency fee case. Steever claimed the contingency resulted in a “huge loss in hourly legal week productivity” and resulted in his partners taking on a loan of more than $4 million to fund the case.
Steever and his co-defendant and former partner Robert Anderson have pleaded guilty in the case. Steever has admitted they took funds from a client’s trust account and used them to pay firm expenses, including their own draws. The men later lied to the client and said the fund were still being held in a trust, even though it had been spent.
Steever has been ineligible to practice law in California since July 2013 after failing to respond to state bar disciplinary charges. He was formally disbarred in March 2015, with the state bar ordering him to pay $263,947 plus interest in restitution to clients in three separate matters.
Steever’s lawyer, Candis Mitchell of the Federal Public Defender’s Office had asked Chen for a sentence of five years probation with no prison time, citing a list of physical ailments that ran for more than three pages of his 17-page sentencing memo. “Notably, his illegal actions were not undertaken solely for personal enrichment, rather they were undertaken in a misguided attempt to sustain a law firm that had overextended itself and placed its financial stability on the returns from one case,” Mitchell wrote.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, asked for a two-year prison sentence, noting that he had stolen money from clients in two schemes beyond those in the indictment. “His clients entrusted him with their money and their legal affairs, and he violated that trust and stole money from them,” the government lawyers wrote. “Unlike many individuals in society, the defendant had the means [to] earn a living in a law-abiding way, but he instead chose to steal from others.”
Chen’s ultimate 15-month sentence fell in line with a recommendation from the court’s probation officer.
Steever’s co-defendant, Anderson, has also pleaded guilty and is set to be sentenced in December. According to the docket, Anderson is represented by Patrick Robbins and Mikael Abye of Shearman & Sterling.