Former Glendale Bar Assn. President Eugene M. Giometti, who allegedly took more than $100,000 of clients' money for his personal use, has resigned from the California State Bar, and his law firm has been placed under the control of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Glendale police said they are investigating whether criminal charges should be brought against Giometti.
Giometti, who was active in civic groups and was named Man of the Year by the Glendale Chamber of Commerce in 1983, admitted misappropriating more than $100,000 belonging to five clients during the last two years, according to Superior Court records released last week.
In addition, Giometti admitted that he had neglected most of his clients' cases during the last six months, that he missed court appearances and deadlines for the filing of legal papers, failed to pay salaries to his employees and "habitually avoided appearing in his office during regular office hours," court records said.
Giometti's resignation must still be approved by the state Supreme Court, but the immediate effect is to bar him from practicing law, state bar officials said.
Glendale Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin, who presided over civil hearings brought by the local bar association against Giometti in December, ordered Giometti not to return to his law office on North Maryland Avenue without supervision by another attorney.
Giometti was the sole proprietor of his firm--Giometti, Powell & Taylor--which is being reorganized by his former employees.
Nearly all of the more than 100 outstanding cases in Giometti's personal injury and family law practice have been either taken over by his former employees or transferred to other attorneys, Glendale Bar Assn. President Denis O'Rourke said.
Members of a committee appointed by the Glendale Bar Assn. to review allegations against Giometti found him incapable of continuing to practice law because of "mental and emotional problems, arising in part from alcohol dependency," court records said. Giometti, his psychologist and his business associates agreed with that assessment, court records said.
Giometti could not be reached for comment.
Reimbursement of clients' money will likely be made through the California State Bar's Clients' Security Fund, which is maintained by annual dues paid by attorneys throughout the state, O'Rourke said. The fund reimburses individual losses up to $50,000, said Anne Charles, a state bar spokeswoman.
The reimbursement of Giometti's clients through the state fund is fairly certain because Giometti agreed to resign and he has provided financial records to the local bar that trace the misappropriations, O'Rourke said.
"We are very unhappy with what occurred, but he did cooperate with us . . . that saved an immense amount of time and difficulty," he said.
Lawyer Lawrence E. Taylor, who rented office space in Giometti's law firm for the last 1 1/2 years, said he first heard of possible misappropriations by Giometti from two of Giometti's employees last August. Taylor's name is included in the name of Giometti's law firm, but Taylor said he has no financial interest in the business and operated a separate criminal defense practice there.
"Two of the attorneys who worked there began to suspect that there was something wrong with the books," said Taylor, a former criminal law professor now practicing in Long Beach.
"They advised me that there had been certain cases that they had been working on for Gene, and that clients were not getting paid and not getting appropriate attention," he said.
Financial records revealed mishandling of funds, which Taylor estimated at the time to total a few thousand dollars, he said.
Taylor, acting as a spokesman for two lawyers who worked for Giometti, said he confronted Giometti with the allegations and Giometti admitted mishandling the funds.
"I told him he had one week to pay back all the money to clients or I would report him," Taylor said. "He promised to do it, but he did not."
Taylor said he had Giometti sign a written admission of wrongdoing. He gave Giometti another week to repay the clients, but no repayment was made, Taylor said. In October, Taylor said, he contacted state and local bar associations, the district attorney's office in Pasadena and Judge Kalin.
Glendale Police Detective David O'Connor said an investigation was continuing, but he did not know how long it would last or what evidence has been gathered.
O'Rourke said he appointed a disciplinary committee composed of local attorneys to review the case when the allegations surfaced. The bar association subsequently filed a petition late last year to disbar Giometti. The hearings, held in Glendale Superior Court in January, went quickly, he said.
"We didn't have to take much evidence at all, other than from his employees and associates," O'Rourke said. He said Giometti "pretty readily came forward. He said he was going through a lot of troubles and then he laid out the evidence."