California State Bar:Â US lawyer committed’ willful violationsâ€™ relating to client fundsÂ
By Rhony Laigo
Joel Bander, the lawyer who was called by many as a â€œfraud,â€ is facing suspension from the California State Bar because of complaints filed by homeowners many of whom have lost their property along with the thousands of dollars that they paid to Bander.
The news about Banderâ€™s pending suspension from the Bar came after he and the staff of Pinoywatchdog â€“ the newspaper that he â€œfinancesâ€ â€“ held a â€œnews conferenceâ€ last Wednesday in a Los Angeles restaurant where he apparently wanted to portray that he is a good member of the society and serving the â€œinterestâ€ of the Filipino-American community.
In the complaint filed by the counsel for the California State Bar, Bander had committed a â€œmultiple pattern of misconductâ€ and will be suspended from practicing once approved by the California Supreme Court.
Stipulated in Banderâ€™s suspension order, although stayed, was a provision that that heâ€™d be suspended from the practice of law for a year and along with a 36-month probation. Bander, however, will have an actual suspension of 90 days and will have to attend an ethics school within a year and pass an ethics test.
According to the State Bar Attorney Brooke A. Schafer, Bander violated several Business & Professions Code because Bander, while allegedly did not act on the cases of his own clients, also failed to account for the monies paid to him and his Bander Law Firm.
In addition, Schafer said Bander â€œfailed to refund promptly any part of a fee paid in advance that has not been earned, in willful violations of Rules of Professional Conduct.â€
Banderâ€™s pending suspension stemmed mostly from the loan litigation program he launched in 2008. Bander used to run full page ads in a competing newspaper, where he also served as legal counsel that urged homeowners to sue their lenders with the hopes of saving their properties from getting foreclosed.
In that loan litigation program, the Bander Law Firm (BLF) was able to sign up at least 800 homeowners and that was maybe from southern California property owners alone as more clients from northern California and in Las Vegas also availed of this service. Each homeowner who signed up were to pay the BLF $8,000, according to the California State Bar.
Of the 20 cases filed against Bander, Schafer listed Korean Justim Kim as probably the one who paid Bander the most without getting the proper legal service in return. According to Schafer, Kim hired the Bander Law Firm in February 2009 for three rental properties in Cypress, California. Contrary to Banderâ€™s ad, however, Kimâ€™s agents â€œsubmitted loan modification applications for Kimâ€™s properties instead of pursuing mortgage litigation.â€ They were denied, Schafer said, because loan modifications â€œcould not be offered on rental properties.â€
A Filipino client, Cesar Redoble hired the BLF in November 2008 and paid the firm $5,000. Eight months later, Redoble received a trustee sale for his property. Schafer said â€œAt no time did BLF file a lawsuit on Redobleâ€™s behalf.â€
Another Filipino client, Joseph Pascasio, also became a BLF victim, whose house went into foreclosure. He paid BLF $6,000. But just like Redoble, Pescacio was not provided the legal service he was promised. Schafer said â€œAt no time did (Bander) provide an accounting, and at no time did (Bander) refund any of the advance fees paidâ€ to Pescasio.
In the stipulation that Bander signed last December 7, Bander pledÂ nolo contendere, subject to the approval of the State Bar Court, meaning he neither admitted nor disputed the charges.
Balita was the first Filipino newspaper in the U.S. to have exposed Bander. The series of articles that appeared in Balita began when a few property owners â€“ Filipinos and Koreans â€“held a news conference in Glendale in December 2009 to reveal what was happening to their cases, which according to them, were going nowhere despite paying the BLF thousands of dollars. Worse, some had lost their homes or were in the process of getting foreclosed because the BLF failed to act on their cases.
Aside from those mentioned above, those who filed a State Bar complaint included Fred Silao, Bach Quiaonza, Daniel de Leon , Chil Soo Kim, Lisa Resuta, Ji Chang, Carol In and Ted Yoon, and many others who narrated their ordeal to Balita.Â After more than two years of waiting, their complaints may have been answered, although perhaps not to the kind of punishment that many of them had wished would happen to Bander.
At least two homeowners, Carol In and Ted Yoon, told Balita that â€œBander should no longer be allowed to practice.â€ Yoon even went to the extent of saying that â€œHe (Bander) is a criminal.â€
BLF filed for bankruptcy in February 2010. Atty. Mark Geragos, who represented some homeowners, stated that the BLF showed it had a more than $4 million revenues in 2009.