On December 13, 2022, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility recommended the disbarment of San Diego attorney Pablo A. Zamora for misappropriation, neglect, failure to keep complete records of entrusted funds, failure to give sufficient notice of withdrawal from the representation and failure to refund unearned fees. 

The charges cited Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3(a), 1.15(a), (b), and (e), and 1.16(d) which state:

An attorney shall represent a client zealously and diligently within the bounds of the law.

Prohibits misappropriation of entrusted funds. Misappropriation is “any unauthorized use of a client’s funds entrusted to the lawyer, including not only stealing but also unauthorized temporary use for the lawyer’s own purpose, whether or not the lawyer derives any personal gain or benefit therefrom. 

Requires that all trust funds be deposited with an approved depository

Failing to obtain the client’s informed consent to deposit the advance legal fees in an account other than a trust account;

In connection with any termination of representation, a lawyer shall take timely steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests, such as giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled, and refunding any advance payment of fee or expense that has not been earned or incurred.

The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here. 

The Respondent handled an immigrant client. The Respondent filed a U Visa application for the latter that protects the non-citizen crime victims from deportation for four years while they cooperate with law enforcement. In the process of fee agreements between the respondent and the client, the Respondent charged flat fees for both representations, and the fee agreements stated that the entire fee would be earned upon receipt. Allegedly, the Respondent was unaware of the requirement to specifically notify the client about any risks or consequences of not holding the client’s funds in trust, and he did not believe there were any material risks that required further explanation. 

The filing states:

Q: “Do you have to notify the client about any risks or consequences of not putting their money in a trust account?” 

A: “You know, I’m not entirely sure if I understand the rule to say that, exactly.”); Tr. 379 (I would describe [informed consent] as notifying the individual of what it is they are consenting to, giving them the opportunity to ask questions regarding whether there are any issues with that or if they have any concerns, and then at that point, it is up to them to determine whether they would agree with whatever they are consenting to.”). Respondent also testified that, in his view, there were no material risks at issue because he would have refunded any unearned fees:”

The filing continues:

“On August 15, 2016, T.S. paid a $3,800 flat fee in the removal matter through a cashier’s check. FF 53; DCX 22 at 717. On August 16, 2016, Respondent cashed the check and placed the funds, as cash, in his safe. FF 53. Pursuant to his retainer agreement, Respondent believed that the funds were his property, and he was not holding them in trust.  There is no evidence as to whether Respondent spent those funds.”

The filing further states:

“After the Respondent withdrew from the representation, T.S. requested a detailed bill to account for the flat fees she had paid. In response, Respondent created a statement detailing his work in both the U Visa and removal matters. Respondent had not kept contemporaneous time records, so Respondent estimated the time spent on each task based on his notes and experience. Based on those time estimates, Respondent believed he had earned the full amount of the flat fees and did not owe a refund. T.S. did not request a refund at first but later filed for fee arbitration. The Hearing Committee concluded that Respondent had earned only S5,050 of the S5,800 he collected because he mishandled aspects of both representations, and, thus, some of the work reflected in his itemized bill provided no benefit to J.A.”

On March 1, 2021, in a Report and Recommendation of the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee, the Hearing Committee finds that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3(a), 1.15(a), 1.15(b), 1.15(e), and 1.16(d), and the majority of the Hearing Committee recommended that Respondent be suspended for eight months. The majority further recommends that the Respondent be required to complete a continuing legal education course regarding flat fee billing practices.

The Board concluded that the Hearing Committee’s findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record and that there was clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent’s conduct violated the aforementioned rules. However, the Board disagreed with the Hearing Committee majority’s conclusion that the Respondent’s misappropriation was only negligent, and instead, it adopted the Hearing Committee Chair and Disciplinary Counsel’s conclusion that the misappropriation was reckless. The board, therefore, recommended that the Respondent be disbarred.

The Disposition states:

“For the reasons discussed above, we find that Respondent violated Rules 1.3(a), 1.15(a), (b), and (e), and 1.16(d) and recommend that he be disbarred for reckless misappropriation with reinstatement conditioned on his payment of $750in restitution to T.S. and J.A., plus interest at the legal rate from January 11, 2017. We further recommend that the respondent’s attention be directed to the requirements of D.C. Bar R. XI, § 14, and their effect on eligibility for reinstatement. See D.C. Bar R. XI, S 16(c)”

As of today, Mr. Zamora is listed on the website of the law firm Scales of Justice, LLP as a practicing attorney. His info can be found on Linkedin. He attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, graduating in 2009. Zamora practices in San Diego, California. He is licensed in the District of Columbia with license #998467, as well as in California.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.