The California Supreme Court on Monday ordered the disbarment of the former lawyer and financial adviser to actress Doris Day, ending an arduous, 19-year legal-ethics dispute between the entertainer and the attorney.
The court unanimously upheld a recommendation by the State Bar urging the action against Jerome B. Rosenthal of Los Angeles for a wide range of ethical violations in his dealings with Day and her late husband, Martin Melcher.
Disbarment, the court said, was "amply warranted by the egregious nature of (Rosenthal's) conduct and the need to protect the public from further injury."
The disciplinary proceeding against Rosenthal apparently was one of the longest in State Bar history. It originated in 1968 with a complaint filed by Day over Rosenthal's handling of the couple's legal and business affairs over a 12-year period.
In a separate case, Day sued Rosenthal for fraud and malpractice, winning a $22.8-million judgment in 1974 against the attorney for his handling of the Melchers' funds in ill-fated gas, oil and hotel investments. Day later settled with Rosenthal's insurers for $6 million.
An attorney for Day, Peter J. Gregora, said Monday's action came as no surprise.
"Mr. Rosenthal's disbarment was almost a foregone conclusion," he said. "I've never heard of any other case taking so long."
The 76-year old Rosenthal called the justices' order "an outrage," and maintained that his constitutional rights had been violated in the Bar proceeding.
"I am innocent," he declared.
But he added that he bears Day no ill will.
"I do not consider her an enemy," he said.
A hearing panel of the State Bar Court, after 80 days of testimony and consideration of documentary evidence, accused Rosenthal of 13 separate acts of misconduct and urged his disbarment.
The panel said that the attorney, during his representation of Day, Martin Melcher and their son Terrence Melcher, had been guilty of conflict of interest, overstated his expenses, failed to provide adequate legal advice, filed fraudulent claims and had given false testimony.
After the Melchers dismissed him as their attorney, Rosenthal refused to return all of their records and continued to refuse to cooperate with a court-appointed receiver, forcing sheriff's deputies to go to his office to take possession of files and records, the panel said.
The panel's findings were upheld by the State Bar Court's review department, which subsequently asked the justices to order Rosenthal's disbarment.
In proceedings before the justices, the attorney raised numerous claims contending that his rights had been violated in the Bar's disciplinary process and that the hearing panel had been biased against him.
In a 44-page unsigned opinion, the court called Rosenthal's contentions "completely meritless," and ordered his disbarment.