On Thursday, July 27, 2023, the Supreme Court of California ruled on the disciplinary charges against attorney Margarita Salazar accusing the latter of misappropriation of client funds, commingling personal funds with client funds, and failure to return unearned fees.
The case is entitled “In re Margarita Salazar” and was brought by the State Bar of California, Office of Chief Trial Counsel, under case no. SBC-21-O-30475; SBC-22-O-30880 (Consolidated).
The charges cited Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 1.3(a), 1.15(a), 1.15(c), 1.15(d)(4), 1.16(c)(2), and 1.16(e)(2).
The rules of professional conduct can be found on The State Bar of California page.
The Notice of Disciplinary Charges charged Salazar with 12 counts of misconduct, accusing Salazar of intentional misappropriation of client funds, failure to maintain a trust account, and repeated failure to diligently represent a client in a restraining order action. Salazar was further alleged of commingling personal funds into a client’s trust account and paying her personal expenses and that of her law firm from the trust account. Additionally, in two separate client matters, Salazar was also alleged of failure to promptly refund unearned fees.
The filing states:
“On or about June 28, 2021, respondent withdrew Ms. Fairbee’s $1,999 advanced fee deposit from the client trust account, resulting in an ending balance in the client trust account of $0.38, when respondent was obligated to hold $1,999 of Ms. Fairbee’s advanced fees in the client trust account because respondent had not yet earned the advanced fees as of said date. Thus, respondent willfully and intentionally misappropriated $1,999 in advanced fees paid by Ms. Fairbee which respondent had not yet earned.”
The filing continues:
“On or about July 23, 2021, respondent deposited the entire $20,000 retainer fee from Vivera into her Wells Fargo Bank business account, account number ending 8419 despite the fact that she had yet to perform any work at that point to earn $7,400 of the retainer.
Respondent failed to deposit the $7,400 in funds received for the benefit of Vivera in
a bank account labeled “Trust Account” or words of similar import.”
The filing further alleges:
“ Between July 23, 2021, and July 29, 2021, respondent made a series of withdrawals from her Wells Fargo Bank business account, account number ending 8419, to pay for personal expenses, and failed to maintain Vivera’s $7,400 advanced fee deposit which respondent had not yet earned. As a result of transactions initiated by the respondent on July 30, 2021, by August 2, 2021, respondent’s Wells Fargo Bank business account, account number ending 8419 was overdrawn and Vivera’s advanced fee deposit of $7,400 was entirely depleted before it was earned.”
The filing additionally notes:
“Respondent failed to refund promptly, upon respondent’s termination of employment on or about November 2, 2021, any part of the $7,400 in advanced fees paid by Vivera.”
Accordingly, the Court ruled against Salazar and entered an order disbarring the latter for her violation of the above-cited rules of professional conduct.
The disposition reads:
“The court orders that Margarita Salazar (Respondent), State Bar Number 224649, is disbarred from the practice of law and that Respondent’s name is stricken from the roll of attorneys.”
Salazar was ordered to pay restitution to Patricia Rodriguez, totaling $12,662.42 with an additional 10 percent interest per year starting from November 18, 2019. Similarly, she was also ordered to pay restitution to Vivera Pharmaceutical in the amount of $7,400 along with 10 percent interest per year starting from July 23, 2021, and the Sulivan Group of Court Reporters, Inc. in the amount of $5,128.21 plus 10 percent interest per year from March 5, 2019.
Salazar was further ordered to pay monetary sanctions to the State Bar of California Client Security Fund in the amount of $5,000.
Ms. Margarita Salazar attended Howard University School of Law. She maintained her law practice in Chula Vista, prior to her disbarment. Salazar had been admitted to practice in California in 2003, license no. 224649. Her info can be found on the State Bar of California page.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.