A recent unpublished but public opinion from the State Bar Court Review Department tells a story unique in most observer's experience: a disbarment recommendation from the Hearing Department is completely overturned on appeal and the case is dismissed.
The case is In the Matter of Bradshaw, State Bar Court case no. 16-O-15588, opinion filed July 30, 2019.
Bradshaw created testimentary documents, including a revocable living trust, for his client Ora Gosney in 2006. After she fell and became incapacitated in August 2013, he became her conservator and spent money from her trust for repairs on her house, contracting the work to a company he had played some role in setting up. After he was removed as conservator by the San Francisco Superior Court, the State Bar Office of Chief Trial Counsel brought discipline charges alleging misrepresentations, a scheme to defraud the trust and misappropriation of money from the trust, all acts of moral turpitude in violation of Business and Professions Code 6106 the amounts paid for the repair work done on Ms. Gosney's home. Mr. Bradshaw's State Bar member page was tagged with a “Consumer Alert” badge when the discipline charges were filed. After a three week trial, the hearing judge issued her deciscion recommending disbarment and placing Bradshaw in involuntary inactive enrollment on August 30, 2018.
The Review Department reversed, finding that the evidnce for moral turpitude was not clear and convincing, the burden of proof in a disciplinary proceeding. It noted that Ms. Gosney wanted to keep living at home, that the work was necessary and priced at fair market value. Moreover, there was no evidence that Bradshaw, while involved in its creation, had an ownership interest, as found by the Hearing Judge.
The dismissal means that Bradshaw will be able to recover some of his out of pocket costs for the long trial and appeal but not his attorney fees. There will be no compensation for being branded as a consumer threat and for the year of ineligibility to practice law.
The Superior Court decision to remove Bradshaw as conservator undoubtedly loomed large in the decision to prosecute this case and the Hearing Judge's decision as well. But civil and criminal courts do get it wrong and cutting through the deference given those decisions in the discipline system takes hard work and the skill of an experienced discipline defense lawyer. Bradshaw luckily had one and apparently the resources to keep fighting after a bruising trial. Yes, the system did work as it was supposed to but you can't help wondering if this trip was really necessary.