State Bar Faces Another Complaint for Refusing to Produce Disciplinary Records

The State Bar of California (Photo:

By Robert J. Hansen

IRVINE, CA — A new California Supreme Court case was filed targeting the California State Bar, its chair Brandon Stallings, and Orange County attorney Kenneth Catanzarite earlier this month seeking intervention and a full review of Chair Stallings’ decision to allegedly conceal Catanzarite’s records.

The Vanguard’s records request for disclosures about Catanzarite’s disciplinary history was denied by chair Stallings, which led to the Supreme Court case.

The California Supreme Court Case, filed by Justin Beck, asks the court whether Stallings has discretion to conceal Catanzarite’s records when Stallings knows Catanzarite is an actual threat to the public and whether public disclosure is warranted given the court orders and client depositions as well as Catanzarite’s “apparent or inferred” relationships with State Bar officials.

Beck’s filing also asks if Chair Stallings violated California Rules of Professional by ratifying Catanzarite’s course of conduct; and if Chair Stallings is bound to the new State Bar rules that require attorneys to report other attorneys of misconduct—which is supposed to apply to all lawyers (including Stallings).

Similar to State Bar’s concealment of disbarred Thomas V. Girardi’s records for decades, Chair Stallings asserted his “discretion” in denying public disclosure of Catanzarite’s complaint and investigation history despite Catanzarite’s known harm to the public.

Stallings’ denial followed his actual knowledge of The Vanguard’s investigative series supported by court orders reflecting serial misconduct, disregard of legal ethics, and Catanzarite’s impunity affecting hundreds of millions of dollars.

The new case is similarly styled to the Los Angeles Times’ successful case of now disbarred and indicted attorney Thomas Girardi.

Girardi was indicted on wire fraud charges in February 2023 before the State Bar publicly admitted its staff was being bribed in exchange for protection. Similarly, the State Bar knew in 2014 through an investigation by Munger Tolles & Olsen of Girardi’s corrupt influence.

But for the bribes and concealment of records, State Bar’s protection of Girardi seemingly could have prevented nearly $500 million in damages reflected by bankruptcy proceedings and claims against Girardi-Keese, Girardi’s disgraced law firm, whose operations were commingled with State Bar.

Much like The Vanguard investigated Catanzarite and the State Bar while publishing its findings, the Los Angeles Times investigated the State Bar and attorney Girardi before requesting disclosures from the State Bar about Girardi’s disciplinary history—which the bar initially denied.

This led to a California Supreme Court case against the State Bar to compel disclosures to the public and media, and the ultimate revelation that Girardi was bribing staff in exchange for protection.

Before the new case was filed, a reminder of the formal request to Stallings reads, “Please confirm when the State Bar will make public the history of complaints and/or investigations concerning Kenneth Catanzarite, Nicole Marie Catanzarite Woodward, Tim James O’Keefe, and Jim Travis Tice of Catanzarite Law Corporation (together ‘Catanzarite’) from June 1984-present.”

According to a November 30, 2023, reply from Louisa Ayrapetyan, Secretary of the Board of Trustees for the State Bar, “In exercising his discretion, the Chair has carefully considered your request and declines to waive confidentiality.”

The State Bar had previously promised the public a “new era of transparency and accountability” when it released decades of records on Thomas V. Girardi. It remains tight-lipped about Catanzarite, calling into question its promise of reform to the public and Legislature.

Through an in-depth investigative series on Catanzarite, The Vanguard revealed a pattern of Catanzarite’s practices spanning nearly two decades.

One client, Deborah Bruener Davis, claimed she lost five million dollars in cash and real estate from his predatory practices. An elderly client testified he was solicited at his home by Catanzarite when he was not seeking an attorney and did not believe he had suffered damages.

State judges and justices found Catanzarite cases to be a “sham,” that Catanzarite “does not care about the truth in making statements to the Court,” and that his conduct is “absurd.”

Federal judges found Catanzarite knowingly concealed assets in a bankruptcy proceeding to pay himself, that he lied on an affidavit about being suspended from practice in New York, that he refused to be governed by the rules of professional conduct, that he violated a preliminary injunction, or that he made completely meritless filings.

Just this month, another client of Catanzarite has come forward, notifying a trial court about his antics. All of this is known to the State Bar and is now the subject of the Supreme Court case.

Catanzarite filed a case for Denise Pinkerton, Roger Root, and Sharon Root on Sept. 14, 2018, against Mobile Farming Systems, Inc., Cultivation Technologies, Inc., Richard O’Connor, Amy Cooper, Cliff Higgerson, Anthony Scudder, Joseph Porche and Rana Foroughi Mobin.

The case alleged, among other things, securities fraud and abuse of the elderly against Richard O’Connor and Amy Cooper. Catanzarite even issued a press release heralding the claims.

As Catanzarite was pursuing claims for his clients Denise Pinkerton, Roger Root and Sharon Root, Catanzarite started representing the very parties that Pinkerton and the Roots sued, including O’Connor, Cooper and Mobile Farming Systems, Inc. at the same time.

At one point, Catanzarite even appeared in Court pretending to be Cultivation Technologies’ attorney as he was suing the same company— a stunt that got him disqualified in several cases.

A statement filed in Orange County Superior Court from Pinkerton reveals Catanzarite refuses to produce documents central to her case, and that Catanzarite is now abandoning his relationship with Pinkerton and the Roots two months before a jury trial and representing the parties that Pinkerton sued instead.

The Vanguard has learned that Pinkerton has a pending complaint with the State Bar against Catanzarite. Despite being a defendant in state and federal litigation for allegedly accepting bribes from or otherwise enabling Catanzarite, State Bar’s Senior Trial Counsel Eli David Morgenstern is once again assigned to the Pinkerton case.

Pinkerton wrote State Bar’s Bo Yang in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel: “I received notice that our case was assigned to Eli David Morgenstern as Senior Trial Counsel.”

Referencing The Vanguard’s investigative series on Catanzarite’s potential relationship with Morgenstern, Pinkerton continued, “I read the below articles indicating Mr. Morgenstern may have a relationship with Mr. Catanzarite, or that Mr. Morgenstern’s objectivity may be compromised.”

“Is this a conflict of interest for Mr. Morgenstern? Should this be assigned to someone else under the circumstances? The third article even talks about what Catanzarite did to me and Mr. Root,” Pinkerton wrote State Bar’s Bo Yang on Jan. 5, 2024.

She received no reply.

As recently as Nov. 21, 2023, the California Supreme Court approved “robust measures to guard against conflicts of interest involving members of the State Bar Board of Trustees and the State Bar Court.”

Just like Rule 8.3 appears to not affect the State Bar’s decisions, the California Supreme Court’s conflicts of interest rules don’t appear to matter to State Bar staff or leaders, either.

For the new California Supreme Court Case challenging State Bar’s decisions in protecting Catanzarite, the docket indicates that State Bar intends to oppose the petition to disclose all the records about his history of complaints and investigations.

The opposition (or reply) to the case is due from the State Bar on Jan. 26, 2024.

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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