Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Undeterred By State Bar Suspension, California Attorney Continues Peddling Foreclosure Relief Services

In Modesto, California, The Modesto Bee reports:

  • A Modesto attorney suspended for botching real estate cases continues offering services similar to those that got him in trouble.

    John Villines acknowledged Monday that his advertisements might mislead potential clients into thinking he's still practicing law. He will change wording and ask again that his landlord remove building signs indicating his office is a law firm, he said.

    Without running afoul of discipline imposed by the California Supreme Court, Villines intends to offer help to thousands of property owners in danger of losing their homes, he said.

    "I'm no longer representing anyone in court," said Villines, whose nine-month suspension began June 20 and could end in March if he passes an ethics exam and repays five former clients $46,205.

    Villines believes the suspension does not prevent him from negotiating to halt foreclosures or arranging loan modifications, services that landed him in hot water with prosecutors with the State Bar of California.

    According to court papers, four of five complaining clients lost their homes after Villines made legal blunders. The other obtained a loan modification without his help.

    Twice, Villines waited longer than the law allows to file lawsuits against lenders — in one case, more than a year after he was hired and three months after the property had been sold in foreclosure. In two other cases, he failed to file lawsuits for his clients but kept their money.

    One lawsuit was worthless because Villines "discovered that he had not named the proper defendants," a document says, and he dropped two other lawsuits without telling clients.

    "The suits had very little value, if any, for the clients," reads a stipulation that Villines signed in November, admitting wrongdoing as alleged. He kept fees and gave no accounting as required by California attorney Rules of Professional Conduct, the document says.

    Four years' probation

    In what amounts to a plea bargain, Villines agreed to two years' suspension with all but nine months stayed, or forgiven, if he repays the money and complies with other requirements. He will be on probation for four years, the court order says.

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