New Law Used to Put Lawyer Out of Business

Times Staff Writer

The State Bar of California has taken action under a new consumer-protection law against an Orange County attorney accused of harming his clients' cases.

Ruling that Gordon W. Farnham presents "a substantial threat to his clients and to the public," the State Bar Court placed the Tustin attorney on involuntary inactive status, thus suspending his right to practice law. The action took effect March 30.

Anne Charles, a spokeswoman for the State Bar in San Francisco, said Farnham is accused of telling several clients that he was pursuing their cases involving domestic disputes, adoptions and probate matters, when in fact he was not.

Farnham's disciplinary record dates back more than a decade. In 1976, the California Supreme Court suspended him for abandoning his clients in two cases. In those cases, the justices found that Farnham had never filed lawsuits he had told his clients that he would. They also discovered that Farnham had continued working despite a suspension.

Reached at home Wednesday, Farnham, 64, said he is fighting the State Bar Court's action.

"I'm just so desolated now, what can I say?" he said. "You've got a guy who is totally done in." Farnham said he had closed his practice and retired.

The State Bar Court, a disciplinary arm, acted under recent amendments to the State Bar Act, which allow it to prevent lawyers charged with ethics violations from practicing while further disciplinary action is considered, Charles said.

She described the law as a consumer-protection statute used for only the most egregious cases. Since it took effect in 1987, about two dozen attorneys statewide have been so disciplined, she said.

The State Bar Court has recommended that the California Supreme Court disbar Farnham for "engaging in a pattern of misconduct wherein he failed to perform services for his clients, deceived his clients and failed to return his clients' files and unearned fees."

The court found that Farnham "has continued his course of abandonment of his clients' cases and deceit despite the disbarment recommendation."

In an unrelated case, bar officials have asked the State Bar Court to place Newport Beach attorney Matthew T. Chicklo, 41, on involuntary inactive status.

Chicklo is accused of several violations involving the misappropriation of clients' funds, Charles said.

In one instance, Chicklo allegedly failed to turn over to a client a $21,000 trust account he was managing for him, Charles said. In another, it is alleged that Chicklo failed to pay his client's medical bills out of a settlement award he had collected on her behalf, Charles said.

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