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Montejano Ordered to Pay $1.7 Million : Court: A former client accused the attorney and retired community college trustee of fraud.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court jury Monday ordered retired Rancho Santiago College trustee and local lawyer Rodolfo Montejano to pay more than $1.7 million in damages to a former client who had charged him with fraud and misrepresentation.

Montejano, who resigned last September from the college board, was found to have improperly represented businessman Dick Kagasoff in two cases, according to court records.

In one incident, Montejano reportedly did not inform his client that the court had dismissed a case, which Montejano had failed to bring to trial in five years, said attorney Ralph G. Martinez, who now represents Kagasoff.

In the second case, Montejano reportedly won a $11,000 judgment for Kagasoff but never turned over the proceeds to his client, Martinez said.

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“People like this shouldn’t be practicing law,” said Kagasoff, 53, of Huntington Harbour, who Monday night was celebrating his victory over dinner at the Ritz Restaurant in Newport Beach.

Neither Montejano nor his lawyer, Frank Rhemrev, could be reached for comment.

Montejano started his 24-year career in public office as a board member with the Santa Ana Unified School District. In 1971, he began his tenure on the college panel. In 1984, he also helped form the Santiago Club, a Santa Ana community service organization.

In 1990, Montejano was reportedly the subject of a Orange County Grand Jury investigation into his lobbying activities at City Hall.

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While the district attorney’s office has never confirmed that there was an investigation, at least two City Council members said they were called to testify before the panel, which was reportedly probing whether Montejano improperly pressured officials to permit construction of eight billboards that were larger than city codes allowed.

Kagasoff said he first hired Montejano in 1982 to bring a lawsuit against another lawyer, Howard Larson, involving the sale of one of his businesses. The case was dismissed in 1987, but Montejano did not inform his client about the dismissal until a year later.

In the second case, Kagasoff won a judgment for back rent from a commercial tenant in Cypress but never received payment from Montejano.

“We had won, and he kept telling me they had not paid,” Kagasoff said. “So when I found out he had messed up this other case, I called (the tenant) and they told me they already paid.”

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On the Larson matter, the jury awarded Kagasoff $1.75 million, according to court records. In the second case, Montejano was ordered to pay Kagasoff $24,794.

Montejano was in the process of closing his law practice in Santa Ana last September to move with his wife and young daughter to Evansville, Ind.

Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this story.


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