A Woodland Hills lawyer was recently disbarred from legal malpractice due to ethical violations.
Attorney Richard Thomas Ferko was suspended from practice on August 6, 2014, according to an opinion from the Review Department of the State Bar Court of California.
Disciplinary hearing judges found that Ferko committed at least five ethnical violations in a single case including the “negligent misappropriation of over $50,000 in settlement funds.”
Ferko has been a practicing attorney in California since June 1978. He represented many clients in criminal and civil matters, including Ricardo Olmedo. According to court documents, Mr. Olmedo ran up $45,000 in legal fees which he could not pay.
Mr. Olmedo’s nephew was shot and killed on a Utah highway in 2009, and Mr. Olmedo referred his sister Alma, to Mr. Ferko for legal help.
According to court documents, Mr. Ferko took Alma’s case, despite not being licensed in Utah, and negotiated a settlement with a Utah-based Progressive Insurance agent. The insurer ultimately settled the case for $53,000 and sent checks written to Ferko and Ricardo Olmedo.
Both Mr. Ferko and Ricardo Olmedo testified that Alma told them to keep the money to resolve Mr. Olmedo’s outstand legal fees, which a California Review Board found not to be credible.
According to court files:
“Alma did not know about the settlement and never authorized Ricardo to endorse the checks on her behalf or to use the funds as payment for Ricardo’s legal fees. In fact, she only learned about the settlement after calling Progressive to inquire about the status of her claim. When she discovered that Ferko had received the settlement, she directed certain friends and family to call him about the insurance claim, but they could not obtain a direct answer from Ferko or his legal staff. Thereafter, Alma hired a Utah attorney to assist her with recovering the additional $51,000 in settlement proceeds from Ferko. She also complained to the California State Bar.”
The review board found that Mr. Ferko did not properly fund is client trust account and lied to Alma about the amount of fees that he obtained from Progressive Insurance. Further, there doesn’t appear to be any written authorization from Alma for Ricardo to use her settlement money to repay his legal debts.
Ultimately Richard Thomas Ferko was found culpable for:
- Failure to Maintain Funds In Trust
- Moral Turpitude
- Failure to Notify Client of Receipt of Funds
- Unlicensed Practice of Law in Another Jurisdiction
- Illegal Fees
“Ferko misappropriated significant funds from a non-English speaking mother who was distraught over her son’s death,” the state review judges wrote. “Moreover, he committed other serious misconduct and fails to recognize his ethical responsibilities as an attorney. We conclude that disbarment is both necessary and appropriate.”
Citation: In the MATTER OF Richard Thomas FERKO, A Member of the State Bar, No. 80029. Case No. 12-O-10827Filed August 6, 2014. 2014 WL 3889184.
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