California State Bar Chairman Brandon Stallings Faces Fresh Disclosures of Attorney Misconduct in Wake of Thomas Girardi Affair

Free public domain CC0 photo.

By Robert J. Hansen 

SACRAMENTO, CA – Newly-appointed California State Bar Board of Trustee Chair Brandon Stallings, who recently replaced Ruben Duran, received a formal request from a member of the public on October 20, 2023, seeking public disclosure of all complaints against Anaheim attorney Kenneth Catanzarite and members of his firm Catanzarite Law Corporation dating back to June 1984.

The State Bar faced a similar request from the Los Angeles Times about Thomas Girardi. That led to a California Supreme Court case that revealed hundreds of complaints against the disgraced attorney. Later still, the State Bar admitted its staff was showered with gifts and bribes by Girardi.

“I believe Catanzarite is bribing staff of the State Bar just like Girardi did for years,” said legal reform advocate Justin S. Beck, who made the request and who has been the target of several lawsuits filed by the attorney Catanzarite.

Beck, who has filed complaints against Catanzarite and lawsuits against the Bar, added, “There is no other logical explanation given the volume of court orders reflecting his ongoing fraud and State Bar’s protection of him.”

After settling with L.A. Times on June 12, 2023, State General Counsel Ellin Davtyan said the settlement “reflects State Bar’s commitment to transparency and accountability.” Girardi was indicted on wire fraud charges in February 2023 together with other members of his firm, Girardi Keese.

Beck’s request on Stallings summarizes at least two decades of known conduct reflected by court orders and client depositions which appear to reflect Catanzarite’s deliberate, ongoing abuse of the judicial system for profit—just like Girardi.

The Vanguard has covered Catanzarite’s conduct extensively in recent months as part of a broader series on State Bar corruption.

Vanguard reporting revealed the heiress of California Capitol building furniture maker, Deborah Breuner Davis, lost an estimated $5 million in cash and real estate to Catanzarite, yet the State Bar has done nothing.

Another client deeded his home to Catanzarite, but the attorney concealed it from the bankruptcy court. Catanzarite allegedly took the home to pay for legal fees, and the court said, “Given the gravity of Catanzarite’s non-disclosure, the court will deny all fees to Catanzarite for legal services.”

Another judge said, “Catanzarite does not care about the truth when making statements to the Court.”

Catanzarite was once caught saying one thing, then switching his story. That court stated Catanzarite’s case was a “sham,” so he was sanctioned for “wasting everybody’s time.”

Starting in 2015, Catanzarite started filing lawsuits and papers on behalf of a partnership, but another court found he lacked any authority to do so, and he was disqualified. Undeterred, his associate Jim Travis Tice started filing papers instead. He was disqualified, too.

As of Sept. 14, 2018, Catanzarite started representing Denise Pinkerton against two companies: Mobile Farming Systems, Inc. (“MFS”) and Cultivation Technologies, Inc. (“CTI”).

After that, in violation of his duty to Pinkerton, he started representing both MFS and CTI at the same time without authority because he was suing each—bailing on his client Pinkerton along the way.

In a scathing opinion upholding four disqualification orders for his MFS and CTI scheme, the Court of Appeal determined Catanzarite’s conduct was “absurd.”

“Catanzarite tainted all litigation involving CTI after purporting to represent the corporation and at the same time prosecuting a derivative shareholder against CTI,” the Court of Appeal said.

As part of that scheme, Catanzarite claimed MFS owned all the stock of CTI, and that all CTI’s other stock was canceled because Catanzarite said so.

“Mr. Catanzarite, every fiber of my being says the facts are overwhelming against your position in this case,” the trial court judge said.

For Catanzarite’s MFS and CTI scheme, the Court of Appeal found three cases were filed against Beck without probable cause, with malice, that ended reflecting Beck’s innocence.

“Catanzarite and the State Bar ruined my life and destroyed several companies in pursuit of greed,” Beck said.

In another scheme, an elderly Richard Carlson testified on Feb. 12, 2020, that he was solicited at his home by Catanzarite when Carlson wasn’t even seeking an attorney.

Carlson said he had “no idea” why he was at a deposition and had no understanding or knowledge of filings made on his behalf by Catanzarite.

Despite Carlson testifying he was “owed nothing” and didn’t believe he suffered damages, Catanzarite filed nine putative class actions across the country using Carlson as the lead plaintiff seeking hundreds of millions of dollars under false pretenses.

Recently, Catanzarite was sanctioned $37,800 for more bad-faith actions and tactics for filing papers without merit. His clients are now on the hook for $308,600 in attorney fees for that scheme.

This only summarizes information known, reflected by court orders.

“The State Bar had more information on Kenneth Catanzarite’s illegal conduct than it had on Girardi,” Beck said. “I think Catanzarite’s conduct is even more wide-reaching and harmful. At least Girardi had real cases.”

Beck’s request on Stallings copied the Public Integrity Section (“PIN”) for U.S. Department of Justice Chairman Corey Amundson, staff for Assemblymember Majority Leader Emeritus Eloise Gomez Reyes, Senator Thomas Umberg of Senate Judiciary Committee, and Davis Vanguard.

The U.S. DOJ’s “PIN” section was formed in response to Operation Greylord, regarded as “one of the most important cases in the annals of public corruption investigations in the United States.”

Where Beck’s formal request to Stallings centers on California, Operation Greylord involved corruption of an Illinois court system leading to the indictment of 92 officials including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, eight policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight court officials, and one state legislator.

“Before the State Bar conceded its corruption, I provided evidence to the U.S. DOJ’s PIN section that Girardi was bribing staff of the State Bar – and the State Bar was well aware of it dating back to at least 2014,” said Beck. “Stallings can’t let Catanzarite slide, too, or I’ll hold him accountable.”

Staff for State Assembly Majority Leader Emeritus Eloise Gomez Reyes was presented with a legislative proposal in July 2023 to ensure the State Bar is reformed meaningfully.

The “Public Protection Act” proposal insists that non-attorneys outside the State Bar investigate all complaints to avoid more corruption and that the California State Auditor has full jurisdiction over the State Bar.

“I believe Honorable Gomez Reyes understands the acute threat posed by State Bar’s misrepresentations to the State Legislature and the public,” said Beck. whose legislative proposal cites federal antitrust laws.

“We need non-partisan decisions from leaders who no longer accept lip service from attorneys scratching each other’s backs. The State Bar adversely affects $3.63 trillion in annual U.S. commerce and the rights of every citizen – band-aids will no longer work,” Beck added.

Beck’s October 20, 2023, request to Stallings alleges “leaders within the Office of General Counsel (Ellin Davtyan, Robert Retana, and Suzanne Grandt) have played instrumental roles in a possible cover-up [of Catanzarite’s conduct] in similar fashion to Thomas V. Girardi with other staff – demand is hereby respectfully made that your decision as Board Chair to release records to protect the public does not involve conflicted parties or ulterior motives.”

Led by Senator Thomas Umberg of the Senate Judiciary Committee, new Rule 8.3 requires Stallings to report Catanzarite’s conduct because Stallings now has credible evidence of Catanzarite’s dishonesty, fraud, and misrepresentation reflected by court orders.

“If you decide to continue ratification of the shown conduct without regard for the public, this is notice of our intent to file a case in California Supreme Court similar to Los Angeles Times’ regarding Thomas V. Girardi. We have obtained public records and briefs to emulate that which would seemingly be an unnecessary expense and burden that could be avoided now.”

The Vanguard will provide further updates on Stallings’ response and any related filings in the California Supreme Court.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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