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Thursday, April 29, 2010

State Bar Suspends Attorney for Improper Communications with Represented Parties

The State Bar of California recently suspended an attorney who directed his client's direct settlement negotiations with the plaintiffs in a wage and hour case. Unfortunately, we have seen quite a bit of this type of activity in the last two years. I am posting this report as a cautionary tale for any attorneys who may be tempted to engage in such tactics. This report appeared originally in California Lawyer magazine (
Suspended: Jonathan Wesley Birdt, State Bar #183908, Los Angeles (October 6, 2009).

Birdt, 39, was suspended for 30 days and placed on two years of probation for communicating with a represented party and engaging in acts of moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In 2004 Birdt worked for a law firm that defended a company in a suit filed by nine employees for wage-and-hour violations. In July 2005 the company’s director of operations met with Birdt to discuss the case. During the meeting, Birdt said he could not speak directly with the plaintiffs, but the director could do so and would be paid to convince each of the plaintiffs to settle the case. He also requested that the director have each plaintiff sign a release prepared by Birdt. Four of the plaintiffs signed releases. Birdt did not have authority from the plaintiffs’ attorney to enter into a settlement with the company.

The next month the plaintiffs’ attorney filed an ex parte application for an order to stop Birdt from communicating further with the plaintiffs. Birdt filed an opposition, including his declaration that the director negotiated directly with the plaintiffs without his involvement in the settlement process. The State Bar found that Birdt made misleading statements to the court, and by doing so engaged in acts of moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.

In aggravation, the misconduct caused significant harm to the public and to the administration of justice. In mitigation, Birdt cooperated with the State Bar by entering into a stipulation.

The order took effect November 5, 2009.

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