Journalists on Crack: Are Lawyers Turning to Crime in Tough Times?


That’s a real headline written by a real journalist and published in a real newspaper on January 23, 2010.  I swear to God.  Not the “journalists on crack” part, I’m talking about the “Lawyers Turn to Crime in Tough Times” part.

A woman named Barbara Anderson wrote it.  She’s a reporter, and I use that term as loosely as could be conceived, for the Fresno Bee.  Okay, I know… it’s not The New York Times, but it is the newspaper that covers the Central Valley of the largest state in the union, California.  So, it’s not just a nothing newspaper either.  The sheer beauty of Barbara’s article is that the headline is only the tip of the stupidity iceberg, but it’s not entirely her doing… she had help… at least half the credit has to go to the California State Bar and its president, Howard Miller.


Here’s how the article kicks things off…

The recession has driven an increasing number of California lawyers to cheat and steal, say State Bar officials, who expect to discipline or expel hundreds of them in coming months.

Financial pressures are behind the increase in lawyer wrongdoing, they say. Complaints are coming from clients who say their lawyers illegally withheld settlement money or charged them for work they didn’t do — especially those who promised help modifying mortgages.

Okay, so let’s skip over the illegal withholding of settlement money and the charging for work never done, and head directly for the real point of the article: promising to help people with their mortgages, or more specifically to help get their mortgages modified.  Because that’s the real deal here, right?  The author doesn’t really give a hoot about a lawyer absconding with someone’s settlement money, what she wants is someone who has lost their home… and is willing to lay the blame for that travesty on an attorney.  That’s the juice, right?  Who doesn’t love tearing into a lawyer even during the best of times?

How do you know a lawyer’s lying?  His lips are moving.  What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?  A good start.  And how about this one: Whom do you call when you want someone to protect your rights?  Or you’ve been injured as a result of someone’s negligence?  Or you’re being screwed to the wall by a bank and you don’t know where to turn?  A lawyer.  Hahahahahaha…heehehehehee, my cheeks hurt.

Next in Barbara’s article, she found a lawyer named Carol Langford, who defends other lawyers when the State Bar brings them up on some sort of charge.

This recession has been especially hard on lawyers, said Carol Langford, a San Francisco lawyer who defends lawyers before the California State Bar Court in disbarment cases.  In past downturns, lawyers were among the last professionals affected because clients usually put a priority on paying legal bills, Langford said. But not this time. Now everyone is ‘waiting until the very last minute to pay a lawyer,’ she said.

This recession has been especially hard on lawyers?  Oh my God, the poor lawyers… I had no idea.  Are there lawyers standing on street corners holding signs that say “Will litigate for food”?  If I see one like that, I’m going to pull over and sue somebody just to do my part to keep our litigious society humming along, don’t you know.


And, “in past downturns, lawyers were among the last professionals affected because clients usually put a priority on paying legal bills?”  I’d like to see some data backing up that statement, wouldn’t you?  Ah, never mind, I’m probably being too picky.  Roll with it, Mandelman, just roll with it.

Then Langford says:

“Along with losing clients, lawyers have lost money in the stock market and lost value in their homes — assets that could have kept them going until the economy turned around, Langford said.”

Lawyers have lost money on their homes AND in the stock market?  Really?  Why I never.  Lost money in the market AND in the house?  Why that’s a double whammy.  Oh well, to heck with the law degree… might as well turn to a life a crime.


So, although this is fun and all, it really isn’t my point about Barbara’s article.  My point is that her facts are so incredibly contradictory and her argument so abundantly preposterous, that she should be forced to spend the next three years going door to door to the Fresno Bee’s subscribers apologizing for the idiocy she has perpetrated upon the citizens of Fresno and the surrounding areas.  As to the State Bar’s complicity, well… I’m not even sure how to characterize that, except to say that it’s sad.

And away we go… stay with me for another minute… it’ll be worth it.

Barbara’s numbers… the meat of her story… start out with her stating that the State Bar is “investigating more than 300 California lawyers involved in loan modification rip-offs,” which is just one of the strangest sentences I’ve ever had the displeasure to come across.  I mean, no one is in favor of lawyers scamming people, but if we already know that they’ve been involved in “rip-offs,” why are we still “investigating” them?  Shouldn’t we have already charged and convicted them?  Barbara has… what are we waiting for?

Then Barbara says that,Typically, homeowners facing foreclosure complain that they paid attorneys who then did nothing to help them keep their homes.”  That’s what homeowners “typically” say?  I’m not sure who Barbara typically talks to, but I know I talk to a few hundred homeowners who have been, or are in financial trouble related to their mortgage, and I’d say the number who say that they paid a lawyer who did nothing to help them keep their home would be maybe one out of a hundred.

And just so I’m clear, how does paying a lawyer make someone lose their home?  Hell, according to the State Bar, the Attorney General, the federal government, the President of the United States, and every single bank or mortgage servicer in the country, you don’t even need a lawyer to get your loan modified… you can just call your bank directly or dial 1-800-HUDCOUNSELOR.

So, how in the world could you lose your home as a result of paying a lawyer?  These days, and especially in and around Fresno, it takes the bank a year or more before they get around to foreclosing and kicking you out.  When you noticed that the lawyer you paid wasn’t lifting a finger to help you, why wouldn’t you just have called your bank directly or walked into a HUD counselor?  It doesn’t make sense… am I missing something?  I paid a contractor $2500 once and he never came back but I didn’t lose my home as a result.

Now, if you told me that you paid a bank several thousand a month for six months and the bank didn’t do anything to help you save your home, now that I’d have no trouble believing.  And THAT truly IS what homeowners “TYPICALLY” do say.  In fact, I could get you a line of homeowners from Fresno to whatever planet Barbara lives on that would say that about their bank.

Barbara’s got more numbers, and they get better and better… she says:

“In 2008, before the flood of loan-modification cases, the state disciplined 469 of the state’s 206,165 lawyers. Of those, 245 were suspended from practicing law and 57 were disbarred. The disciplinary figures for last year have not been released, but ‘we anticipate seeing very different numbers in 2009,’ said Etzel Berrio, special assistant to the bar’s chief trial counsel.”

Okay, stop.  Hold everything.  Before the “flood of loan modification cases, the state disciplined 469 of the 206,165 lawyers?”  That’s .002 percent.  That’s two one thousandths of one percent.  And of those, only 245, or .001 percent, were suspended and 57, or .00027 percent, were disbarred… that’s two ten thousandths of one percent that were disbarred?

And then… the disciplinary figures for 2009 have not been released, but the special assistant to the Bar’s chief trial counsel says that they expect to see very different numbers?

Didn’t Barbara say, just a few paragraphs ago, that the Bar is “investigating more than 300 California lawyers involved in loan modification rip-offs?” I’m almost positive that I was just making fun of that incredibly unconstitutional sentence just recently.  But she also said that in 2008 there were 469 lawyers disciplined, and only 245 suspended, and 57 disbarred.  That adds up to 302 bad lawyers.

So, when the special assistant to the chief trial counsel said that he expects to see “very different numbers,” did he mean that they’d be very-different-smaller?  I’m not trying to be a smart ass, I’ve just never been that comfortable with numbers…. I mean, with stupid numbers.  Intelligent numbers I have no trouble understanding.

And what the heck happened to the 167 lawyers that were part of the 469 that were disciplined in 2008, but weren’t among the 302 that were suspended or disbarred?  How exactly were they disciplined?  Were they spanked, because if that’s the case, I’d consider going pay-per-view in ’09.

And what’s the hold up with releasing the 2009 numbers, President Miller?  Barbara’s article came out on January 23rd, which is three full weeks into 2010.  Don’t you have anyone that can count to three hundred in less than three weeks over at the California State Bar, Mr. Miller?

Oh, wait… maybe that’s why Governor Schwartzy refused to sign the bill that would have allowed you to collect dues from your 206,165 members.  I apologize, Mr. Miller.  You guys at the State Bar should take all the time you need to do the counting.  In fact, if you need help, I’ll volunteer my time two days a week in the afternoons.

What kind of crap is going on with journalism in this country?  It’s not just in Fresno either.  It’s everywhere.  I realize California’s schools aren’t turning out many Mensa members these days, and I can tell by the state’s fabulous track record in budget management that we’re not exactly in line to put “The Math State” on our license states, but seriously?

I’ve read every single article that the State Bar has obviously pushed into the press and not one of them has made any sense whatsoever.  I realize that most attorneys think 2 + 2 = 6, because I’ve hired quite a few over the years and that’s how they calculate their billable hours, but isn’t there a tax attorney hiding over at the State Bar somewhere?  Maybe I’ll send President Miller one of those calculators they have at Brookstone in the mall… you know, the ones with the really huge keys that talk.


Then Barbara quoted President Howard Miller:

“It’s the most disturbing thing I’ve seen in the legal profession practicing for more than half a century.”

Assuming he’s talking about the inability of the State Bar to back up their claim that there are “lawyers turning to crime in hard times,” as the article’s headline clearly states, or if he’s as shocked as I am that clearly no one at the State Bar can count to ten without help… then maybe I was wrong about Miller.  If, on the other hand, he means that the number of lawyers turning to crime is “the most disturbing thing he’s seen in the legal profession” in 50 years… well, in that case… he’s simply got a beautiful mind.

Then Barbara pulls a new number directly from her bum, saying:

“The State Bar is investigating 1,200 loan-modification cases.”

From where has that number come?  It’s a simple formula, really.  You take the 302 cases, multiply by the square root of Miller’s I.Q. and then subtract 8.  I don’t have any idea where that number comes from and apparently neither does Barbara Anderson.  Does the Fresno Bee even employ a copy editor?

And, oh goodie… Barbara’s got even more numbers to offer us… she just won’t stop… go Babs!

As of mid-January, the State Bar had resignations from 13 lawyers, and three trials were pending at the State Bar Court, Layton said. Settlements have been reached with lawyers in five cases to accept discipline, he said.

What?  13 resignations, 3 trials pending, settlements reached with 5 who have agreed to (thank-you-Sir-may-I-have-another) accept discipline?”  How many is that?  Let’s see… hmmm… 21… assuming no duplicates in there, which I’d bet money is not the case.  21 LAWYERS OUT OF 206,165 THOROUGHOUT CALIFORNIA?

That’s .0001 percent… ONE TEN THOUSANDTHS OF ONE PERCENT?  Oh for Christ’s sake Miller, don’t you have anything better to do than to scare people out of hiring a lawyer when at risk of losing their home?  Because that’s all this kind of crap is accomplishing, don’t you realize that?

You make people believe that there’s a lawyer on every corner waiting to scam a homeowner out of some relatively paltry amount of money, when in fact… by your own numbers, the chances of being scammed by a lawyer in California are somewhere between the odds of finding a four-leaf clover on your first try… one in ten thousand… and the odds of being killed sometime in the next year in any sort of transportation accident, one in 77.  (I’m not kidding about this, check the odds yourself here.)


Barbara goes on (although I can’t imagine why) to say that there was apparently hope that loan modification complaints would “dwindle” as a result of the governor signing SB 94, which made it illegal for attorneys to accept advance payments from homeowners.  Barbara says that the complaints just keep on coming, although the State Bar probably can’t count them either, because they didn’t offer anything in the way of actual numbers.

As proof of Barbara’s theory that the complaints haven’t stopped, she quotes an attorney she calls “Layton” who says her answering machine is full every day, but she must mean “Langford,” the attorney she quoted earlier… the one that defends lawyers accused of wrongdoing.

Either that, or she knows an attorney named Layton who has a full answering machine every day but it’s unclear as to the cause.  Barbara is a real stickler for details, aren’t you Babs?

The rest of the article is complete a waste of time, which is quite a distinction when you consider how unproductive you feel after reading the first half of the article.  Langford talks about an “uptick” in the number of lawyers accused of mishandling trust funds, which seems also to be based on data collected from her answering machine.

Finally, Barbara wraps up her piece with a couple of gems from Howard Miller.  First he says that his office is aggressively pursuing cases against lawyers.  Then he closes out this stellar interview with:

1. “What has occurred is a violation of every responsibility that lawyers owe their clients.”

2. “This is a tough economy for lawyers, as it is a very tough economy for everyone. But when it comes to the actions of lawyers who prey on clients, there’s no excuse or explanation.”

Yeah, in this kind of economy, as long as you’re not an attorney, if you prey on homeowners it may still be wrong, but at least Mr. Miller can come up with a bunch of excuses and explanations.  Is that what he was trying to say there?  I can’t figure it out anymore… in fact, this entire experience of trying to follow whatever the State Bar is doing with its kinky sounding disciplinary actions has caused me to need to lie down.

Wake me up though, if anyone at the State Bar, the AG’s office, the DRE, or anyone at the federal level starts making sense when talking about loan modifications.

I wouldn’t want to miss that.

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