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Misconduct Charged : Paraplegic Lawyer Fights Disbarment

August 23, 1987|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

A State Bar of California panel has recommended that South Bay attorney Mason Rose V, a paraplegic who has received national attention for his legal work on behalf of the handicapped, be disbarred for "multiple acts of misconduct."

The panel said Rose violated professional conduct standards by soliciting clients and withholding money from a former client.

He also entered into a business transaction with a former client without fully disclosing his own financial stake in the deal, the panel said, and failed to communicate with some clients or perform legal services for others after agreeing to take their cases, the panel said.

Rose, who has practiced law 16 years and served on the Rolling Hills City Council from 1974 to 1982, said there are no grounds for his disbarment. He said the bar's recommendation is an overreaction to criticism of its record of policing its members.

The panel's recommendation, handed down by the bar's Review Department on Aug. 11, now goes to the state Supreme Court, which will decide in the next few months whether to uphold, modify or dismiss it. Last year the bar recommended that 38 attorneys be disbarred, and the court upheld the recommendation 22 times.

Rose, in an interview last week, confidently predicted that he would prevail at the Supreme Court and retain his license to practice law. He currently has an office in Torrance.

However, the 50-year-old lawyer conceded that he had gone through a period several years ago when he took more cases than he could properly handle and experienced profound professional and personal problems, partly as a result of a divorce in 1983 from his wife of 21 years. He has since remarried.

"I came to a period of time when I had total burnout," Rose said. "I had gotten myself over-committed to everybody. I had so many balls in the air and finally they all came crashing down on my head."

David Clare, a Santa Ana attorney who represented Rose in the bar proceedings, said he is certain the Supreme Court will not agree with the Review Department's recommendation because Rose was experiencing "severe emotional problems and seeking professional help." Rose said he went to a therapist for help, and continues to do so occasionally.

"He was a paragon of virtue" before the problems, said Clare, who formerly was prosecutor for the bar for 13 years.

Rose, a former fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, was paralyzed when he ejected from a jet in 1965. He got a law degree from Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles in 1970. He was a co-founder of the California Assn. for the Physically Handicapped and once served on the board of directors for the National Center for Law and the Handicapped.

He has been a staunch advocate for the rights of handicapped people. In 1986, in a class-action suit against the U. S. Postal Service handled by Rose, the postal service was ordered to modify an estimated 30,000 of its leased offices to accommodate disabled persons.

In another case, which was eventually made into a television movie, Rose represented a quadriplegic in a suit that eventually established the right of a severely disabled person to be a custodial parent in a divorce.

Both Clare and Rose maintain that the disbarment recommendation was motivated in part by recent pressures put on the bar to better discipline its members. State legislators have been critical of the bar's record of disciplining its own members, and have mandated that it reduce the backlog of complaints against lawyers by the end of this year.

"They are under a lot of pressure to hang a few folks," Rose said.

Don Mike Anthony, a Pasadena attorney who is chairman of the governing board for the bar's discipline committee, said the bar recently has assigned more employees and spent more money to work on attorney discipline cases. Therefore, he said, the number of disbarment recommendations has probably increased.

In 1983, the bar recommended that 13 attorneys be disbarred, compared to 38 in 1986 and 27 through July 20 of this year, he said.

Nevertheless, Anthony disputed the notion that Rose was treated unfairly because of pressure brought upon the bar. "I think Mr. Rose is using that as a rationalization or an excuse for the fact that there is a disbarment recommendation."

The Review Department's recommendation came after a bar hearing panel recommended that Rose only be suspended from practicing law for one year and put on probation for five additional years. Rose said he was prepared to accept the hearing panel's recommendation, on the advice of his attorney.

However, the Review Department subsequently voted for the disbarment recommendation. Anthony said it is not unusual for the Review Department to go beyond a hearing panel's recommendation.

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