If our sources are correct, it looks like Atty. Joel Bander will not be tried after all because a settlement has been reached between him and the State Bar. The criminal lawyer was facing charges after allegedly violating California State Bar rules relating to the loan litigation program his law firm initiated but failed after signing up over 800 clients in 2008 and 2009.
Although the court calendar on Friday still posted Bander’s trial that’s supposed to begin on Monday, April 8, the two parties – Atty. Joel Bander and State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Ross E. Viselman – have apparently reached an agreement after Tuesday’s voluntary settlement conference (VSC) with a judge. A call to the State Bar late Friday confirmed that the five-day trial was taken off calendar.
Earlier, Clerk of Court Johnny Smith, who is assigned to VSC Judge Richard Platel, told Weekend Balita that although the two had met, he was not aware of any settlement though there were no further meetings that were scheduled after Tuesday’s conference. Smith added that if an agreement has indeed been reached, it will not be made public until the terms have been submitted and accepted by the judge.
Bander’s latest State Bar case that was filed last December 20 involved 20 cases based on complaints by 10 homeowners. Prior to Tuesday’s VSC, a pre-trial was held last March 28 at the courtroom of Judge Richard A. Honn – who is supposed to hear the case – where Bander tried to exclude this reporter from covering the conference, which was marked “Public Matter.”
Weekend Balita was supposed to cover Bander’s five-day trial after Judge Honn approved our request to be present in the courtroom. It was Judge Honn who earlier instructed both Bander and the State Bar to settle the case, calling it “costly.” We tried to reach the State Bar on Friday and left messages with Viselman, who has yet to return our calls as of this writing.
Bander served a three month suspension last year after multiple cases were filed against him by the State Bar in 2011. He was also placed on a three-year probation after pleading no contest to the charges.
Meanwhile, a review of Bander’s disciplinary record showed that it was also Judge Platel who was assigned to the first case of Bander. The same record indicated that Bander also tried to “Modify Terms of (his) Probation” and that he also filed a motion to extend the provisions regarding restitution, both of which were denied by Judge Platel last January 24. Court records showed that the first complaint against Bander racked up more than $20,000 in fees that Bander will have to pay.
Apart from the suspension, Bander must pass a professional responsibility test. The State Bar also stated that Bander’s “misconduct evidences multiple acts of wrongdoing or demonstrates a pattern of misconduct as there were 20 client matters involved.”
When the settlement was reached in the first complaint and approved by Judge Platel, it took another six months before Bander served his actual suspension that took effect last June and ended in September.
In the second State Bar complaint, Bander is also facing 20 cases. Just like most of the complainants in the first one, the new cases were all about homeowners who signed up for the so-called “Save Your Home, Sue the Banks” loan litigation program, where Bander promised to sue their lenders and force the latter to reduce their mortgage payments or modify their loans.
A few attorneys who have dealt with Bander in the past and who thought that Bander’s three-month suspension was a “slap on the wrist” were not surprised to learn that the same attorney, who is described as a “public figure” on three different Facebook pages, was again charged by the State Bar.
According to San Francisco-based State Bar defense lawyer Jerome Fishkin, “some attorneys, because of the severity of the offense or the little likelihood of success, will choose to resign rather than face State Bar prosecution. Others will lose a contested case and will be disbarred,” as posted in his website http://www.fishskinlaw.com.”
As to give a semblance of how attorneys as defendants are treated in a State Bar, Fishkin described that “The State Bar is an adversary system” and that the “people do not become State Bar investigators and prosecutors (like Viselman) because they want to help attorneys. The prosecutorial mentality in general is to find fault and fix blame.” Fishkin also warned that “in recent years, State Bar prosecutors (have) become seemingly petty and mean-spirited.”
Although Fishskin recommends that lawyers get a State Bar defense counsel, Bander has so far represented himself. Bander, who did not have any disciplinary record prior to last year’s suspension, seemed determined to face trial unlike the last time where he agreed on the suspension that is permanently displayed under his name in the roster of attorneys.
Our sources, who are supposed to appear at the trial, indicated that although the terms of the settlement in the second case are “still unknown…it likely will result in a lengthy suspension.” However, the same sources have yet to know the details of the settlement and if Bander will only serve a suspension without disbarment.
Viselman had told the court that he is supposed to call 35 witnesses against Bander, including former clients and lawyers of the Bander Law Firm.