A San Diego attorney under investigation by the State Bar and the district attorney’s office on allegations of misconduct was ordered jailed Thursday by a municipal judge who had found him in contempt of court and had fined him $2,000.
Judge Lillian Lim Quon sentenced Richard Degallegos, 48, to five days in County Jail downtown for misbehavior, willful neglect and violation of duty after a former client of his claimed he agreed to handle her appeal and then did nothing. The judge concluded that Degallegos had failed to release materials another lawyer needed to take over the client’s appeal.
Later Thursday, an attorney for Degallegos filed a writ of habeas corpus with the 4th District Court of Appeal. In her legal brief to the court, June Lee Boothby argued that Degallegos had already handed over the materials in question to lawyer Diane Campbell.
However, Degallegos was still in jail late Thursday night.
State, Local Investigations
Degallegos, a graduate of Western State University Law School whose practice is known as Plaza Legal Inc., is the target of investigations both by local and state authorities.
District attorney’s investigators are looking into allegations that Degallegos may have misappropriated funds, a criminal violation. State Bar officials say there are 11 complaints against him, ranging from misuse of funds, failure to make court appearances and failure to complete work he was hired for.
He has also been served with a civil malpractice lawsuit filed by Victoria Manriquez, the client whose case led to the contempt charge.
Degallegos blames his former wife, Susan Eblen, for all his troubles, saying she has encouraged his clients to file complaints against him because she is “out to destroy me.”
In an unusual action, the San Diego County Bar Assn. last week established a hot line--231-0784--specifically for Degallegos’ clients and former clients. Bar President Ned Huntington said more than 115 calls have been received from people who have complaints about Degallegos or are concerned about the status of their cases given the investigations.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Huntington said. “The number of complaints about this guy is just unprecedented.”
Also Thursday, Huntington sent out a letter to the largest 15 law firms in town, seeking volunteer help from attorneys who are needed to talk with those calling the hot line to evaluate their cases.
“There are people out there whose cases are getting dismissed or going nowhere because of this guy, and they need our help,” Huntington said. “Hopefully, we can get some attorneys to lend a hand.”
When Quon first found Degallegos in contempt, she sentenced him to 10 days in jail. But the attorney then took his case to Judge Herbert Exarhos, chief of the Superior Court’s appellate division, and Exarhos recommended a reduction to five days.