Saturday, March 30, 2013
Atty. Joel Bander faces the court as 'the accused'
(Editor’s note: Atty. Joel bander is the publisher and senior columnist of Pinoywatchdog.com, a new tabloid whose editors published numerous articles maligning the author, his co-employees, his publisher and the publisher’s family. Weekend Balita is the only Filipino-American newspaper that exposed how Bander’s loan litigation program obtained over 800 victims who were subsequently listed in the Bander Law Firm bankruptcy as creditors.)
In June 2012, the California State Bar suspended Attorney Joel Bander, though only for a brief time. He served a three-month suspension that ended in September after pleading “no contest” to charges involving 20 cases, mostly relating to the failed loan litigation program he had heavily promoted. Three months later, after being reinstated to “active status”, Bander found himself again facing another case filed by the State Bar against him. Although, this time, unlike last time, Bander has elected to go to trial.
(Update: A settlement is being worked out after Thursday’s pre-trial conference, after two tries between Bander and the State Bar failed. Judge Richard A. Honn has encouraged both parties to come into an agreement as a trial is “costly.” The State Bar prosecutor alone said he will call 35 witnesses against Bander, including complainants and former lawyers who worked for Bander.)
The new set of complaints include 20 counts all relating to the botched “Save Your Home, Sue the Banks” program. These counts were filed on December 20, 2012, almost exactly one year after Bander’s plea of no contest was submitted to the Judge in the first State Bar case that Bander had faced. Previously, Bander agreed not to dispute the earlier charges from the first State Bar case, having pleaded “no contest” – therefore he was culpable of all charges, according to the State Bar. This time, the stakes seem higher. Bander could be facing long years if not permanent disbarment, if found guilty. Bander is representing himself, in what could be the most serious and challenging case of his career.
Bander has denied any “culpability” in this latest round of State Bar complaints. Bander is currently facing a variety of allegations that include but are not limited to attorney’s fees paid by clients and claims from homeowners who hired Bander Law Firm (BLF) with the hope of saving their home or reduce their mortgage at the height of the home crisis in 2009 and 2010. The homeowners claimed to have paid the BLF thousands of dollars, but they allegedly didn’t get the legal service they were promised. Also, these individuals claimed to have been misrepresented and ultimately they had to deal with the legal consequences after Bander allegedly took actions without their knowledge.
One such case was that of homeowner Eduardo Lorenzo. The State Bar alleged that although Bander filed a case against Countrywide Home Loans, Bander didn’t inform Lorenzo that his lender countered with a demurrer (an objection to Lorenzo’s allegations). The State Bar also alleged that Bander dismissed the case (without prejudice, meaning he could re-file a new case) but that this was without the approval and knowledge of Lorenzo, who paid $2,000 to the BLF firm in advanced fees.
“On or about January 28, 2010, the court dismissed the Lorenzo Action. At no time, did (Bander) inform Lorenzo that a request for dismissal had been filed in the Lorenzo Action, or that the Lorenzo Action was dismissed,” in violations of the State Bar’s Business and Professions Code, according to the State Bar. (A few days later, on February 12, 2010, the BLF filed for bankruptcy.)
Although Bander did sue Lorenzo’s bank, he didn’t do the same on behalf of property owner Francis Spoonemore who paid Bander $8,000, the State Bar said. Spoonemore hired the firm in January 2009 and was “assured” that Bander was “planning to file a lawsuit on his behalf.” Spoonemore also alleged that he was assured that the BLF had a “solid ground” against his lender. After ten months had passed, however, Spoonemore claimed that Bander then told him that “mortgage litigation was no longer a viable option.”
In the case of Spoonemore, the State Bar alleged that, “At no time during Respondent’s representation of Spoonemore did (Bander) file a lawsuit…or otherwise provide legal services. By failing to file a lawsuit on behalf of Spoonemore or otherwise provide legal services of value, (Bander) intentionally or recklessly failed to perform services with competence.”
The State Bar said that by not refunding the $8,000 to Spoonemore and by failing to refund “unearned fees,” Bander violated the State Bar’s “Rules of Professional Conduct.”
In his response, Bander said that the Lorenzo demurrer “was not a significant development.” He also stated that dismissing Lorenzo’s case was a “procedural matter.” However, Bander did not answer Lorenzo’s accusation that he (Bander) was never given authorization nor was he given consent at any time to dismiss his case against Countrywide.
In other charges, Bander also blamed the lack of forensics that were supposed to have been done by another lawyer – Atty. Rupert Domingo – prior to him investigating and prosecuting the lawsuit against the lenders. Bander blamed Domingo as the culprit in the other cases and he ended up suing Domingo as a result. Bander also disputed the State Bar’s allegations that he (Bander) didn’t provide legal services to his clients.
A pre-trial conference was held last Thursday at the courtroom of Judge Richard A. Honn. Daily formal hearings in the case of Joel Bander will begin on April 8. A battery of State Bar lawyers led by Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim will try Bander. But it is Deputy Trial Counsel Ross E. Viselman, a product of Harvard Law School, who was assigned to the case. According to a website called LegalHelpMate.com, Viselman has “extensive experience representing clients in criminal defense and litigation matters.”
Meanwhile, Weekend Balita learned that at least one former lawyer at the BLF received a subpoena to appear as a witness for the State Bar. Prominent lawyers who had worked at the firm included Atty. Tim Umbreit and Filipino-American lawyers Norberto Reyes III and Mary Lynn Tanawan Sanga.
Bander and his firm had about 800 clients who signed up for the loan litigation program, the majority of whom were Filipinos. Full-page advertisements by Bander appeared in a competing Filipino-American newspaper back in 2008 and 2009, where he also served as counsel. Each homeowner who retained the firm was believed to have paid at least $8,000. In the earlier State Bar complaint, at least one property owner – Justin Kim – said he paid Bander $25,000 for legal services he didn’t get.