Calif. attorney accused of misconduct in Mon County criminal case

By Lawrence Smith | Jun 3, 2013

CHARLESTON - A California attorney faces ethics charges for allegedly misleading a Monongalia County man that he could aid in his criminal case.

Anthony J. Partipilo is named in a single-count statement of charges filed Dec. 14 by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel with the state Supreme Court’s Lawyer Disciplinary Board.

In the statement, ODC, the arm of the court that investigates attorney misconduct, alleges Partipilo, 65 and of Woodland Hills, Calif., not only fooled Lael Brown and his family he was not only licensed to practice law in West Virginia, but also socked them with a hefty fee.

A statement of charges acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes.

According to the statement, Brown on Sept. 7, 2006, was indicted in Monongalia Circuit Court on two counts of delivery of a controlled substance. Cheryl Warman was appointed to represent him.

Sometime in late-May or early June 2008, Warman negotiated a plea agreement in Brown’s case. The specifics of the plea are not stated.

However, a hearing on it was scheduled for June 18, 2008.

According to the statement, Laverne Wright-Ochoa, Brown’s mother who lives in New York, on June 16 discovered the website for Partipilo’s law firm, America’s Criminal Defense Group. After filling out a form online for a free consultation, she was contacted later that day by Todd Terry, it says.

In the course of their conversation, the statement alleges Terry suggested Brown should not take the plea as ACDG “would take the matter before a jury.”

Though he failed to disclose he was not an attorney, the statement says Terry assured Wright-Ochoa that Partipilo was licensed to practice law in West Virginia, and they could aid in Brown’s defense for $27,900.

After Terry informed her ACDG could accept at least $15,000 upfront with the remainder paid in 30 days, Wright-Ochoa made a payment of $17,000, the statement says. Robert Wright, Brown’s grandfather, and Charles Browne, his father, made payments of $10,000 and $7,000, respectively.

Upon receiving the money, ACDG allegedly sent Wright-Ochoa and Wright a retainer agreement that stated the money they paid was non-refundable. After signing and returning the agreement, the statement says Wright-Ochoa and Wright received a letter welcoming them as clients, and that Partipilo was now the supervising attorney with Todd and Lisa Terry serving as case managers.

The statement is unclear if the Terrys are related.

Two days later, the statement says the Terrys contacted Warman and asked her to withdraw from the case. Though Brown said he desired a continuance, Warman held off filing a motion to withdraw until ACDG filed a notice of appearance, it says.

According to the statement, that same day, ACDG entered into an “Of Counsel Attorney Agreement” with Morgantown attorney John B. Brooks to represent Brown. His fee was $5,390.

After filing a motion two days earlier, an order was entered on June 26, 2008, substituting Brooks for Warman was Brown’s attorney.

Six weeks later, Brown agreed to pled guilty to a charge of information on three counts burglary, two counts of attempted petit larceny and count delivery of controlled substance.

On Sept. 25, 2008, Brown was sentenced to concurrent six-month terms on both petit larceny charges, 1-10 year terms on each burglary charge, but consecutive to the petit larceny charges and a 1-5 year term on the delivery charge to run concurrent with the burglary charges.

According to the statement, a motion Brooks made for Brown to receive probation was denied, and he was ordered remanded into custody.

Over a year later on Nov. 18, 2009, the statement says Wright-Ochoa and Browne wrote to Partipilo inquiring why Brown did not receive a jury trial as promised and requested a refund. In his response dated Dec. 8, 2009, he not only reminded them the retainer was non-refundable, but also that ACDG was “ prepared to go to trial in your son’s case [but] he elected to take the negotiated offered plea.”

Later on Jan. 16, 2010, Brown requested Partipilo refund his parents any unearned portion of the retainer, and an itemized statement of the work performed. Though he did, the statement says it is not consistent with the one Brooks provided.

When he refused to provide a refund, Brown, Wright-Ochoa, Browne and Wright on March 13, 2010 filed an ethics complaint against Partipilo.

The statement accuses him of six violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, including unauthorized practice of law and communication about a lawyer’s services, misconduct and fees.

A hearing on the statement is scheduled for June 4-5 at ODC’s office on the 12th floor of the City Center East building in Kanawha City.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 13-0070

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