Lawyer Gets 12-Year Prison Term for Bilking Clients

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A once prominent Los Angeles attorney was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison for stealing $2.5 million from clients he represented in personal injury lawsuits.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry let James Herman Davis, 71, address the court for about an hour before giving him the maximum sentence allowed by law.

Perry said that although he had to take into account Davis' age and the fact that he was a first-time offender, he also had to consider the severity of the crimes and the vulnerability of the victims, many of whom were paraplegics who did not speak English.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury convicted Davis of 13 counts of grand theft in April. His wife, Gilda Davis, 52, was acquitted.

Deputy Dist. Atty. William Penzin said Davis' actions were evil. He said two of Davis' victims attended his sentencing in wheelchairs.

"How can you steal from people like this?" Penzin asked. "It's rotten to steal from anybody, but many of these people were paraplegics. It's disgusting."

The judge has set a hearing for July 19 at which he plans to try to recoup some money for Davis' 13 victims. But, so far, Davis has claimed that he is broke and can't repay his former clients.

The district attorney's office began investigating the couple three years ago after more than three dozen of Davis' clients complained to the State Bar. Last year, Davis forfeited his California law license.

Many of his clients were approached by nurses who referred them to Davis as they lay in their hospital beds, Penzin said. Now, his ex-clients are making do without desperately needed medical care or rehabilitation because they haven't gotten their money, Penzin said.

Davis would enter into a retainer agreement with the clients, file a lawsuit and negotiate a settlement, according to Penzin. Once he got a settlement, Davis would skim money off the top and lie to his clients about the settlement amount, the prosecutor said.

Davis also would persuade his clients to invest their settlements in an annuity account so they could receive monthly payments rather than a lump sum, Penzin said.

Davis would place his clients' money into Pacific Intermediaries, which he owned and operated, Penzin said. The clients began to complain in 1996 when they stopped receiving checks.

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